For several summers the selfie-stick has been the subject of a love-hate relationship for many travellers. Now there’s a new tech gadget emerging to mar the world’s beauty spots, and it’s even more annoying.
I first noticed it on a beach in Corsica, where couples enjoyed the solitude of a perfect summer’s day. There was a buzz, then a whirr, and suddenly, the beachgoers started pointing. Above them, an eye in the sky looked down – a camera toting-drone capturing holiday memories for some invisible fellow traveller. One couple gathered up their towels and sarongs and moved away, another shook their fists at the airborne intruder.
A similar scene was repeated in the historic centre of a town in Puglia, as the drone pilot captured a wedding as well as many of the tourists who’d stopped by to visit the historic church.
And as the sun set over Santorini during a recent visit, drones swept over hotel pools, balconies and terraces capturing on video proof their owners had perched on the cliffs of the world’s most Instagrammed destination.
Never has a device been more aptly named. It drones, all right, intruding on bucolic picnic grounds, peaceful parks, remote beaches, historic villages. It spies on young women in bikinis, people picnicking poolside in the “privacy” of their backyards, travellers taking in the sights anywhere and everywhere.
Like a mosquito that buzzes around the bedroom in the middle of the night, drones are an almost invisible annoyance. At worst, they’re as irritating as gardener’s leaf blower on a perfect summer afternoon.
In Santorini, the waiter sighed when we asked how often his diners were buzzed by drones. “All the time. It never stops”.
Elsewhere in Greece, a local hotelier shrugged: “there may be laws, but there’s no one to enforce them”.
In Australia, drones have gone rogue a few times. Choice reported this year that one had crashed into the Sydney Harbour Bridge, another had struck a triathlete in Perth, a third had crashed during a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.
There are privacy concerns too. Governments have for several years been concerned about the implications of drones’ ability to spy and stalk. But under current laws, if your neighbour decides to film your backyard antics from on high, keeps their drone in sight, no closer than 30 metres from other people, they’re within the law.
Drone owners are not supposed to fly them over or above people. That last rule seems to be largely ignored, as amateur aerial photographers can regularly be spotted gathering footage of populated beaches, parks and sporting events.
You can report unsafe drone pilots to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, but good luck with that – you need proof, such as conclusive video of both the drone, and the pilot.
On the up side, technology is allowing us to record our travels more efficiently and beautifully than ever before, with gadgets like the brilliant and tiny GoPro, and our phone cameras as well as drones.
But sometimes things get out of hand. When I stood before the Mona Lisa and found myself looking at hundreds of fellow travellers with their backs to it, taking selfies of themselves without actually looking at the painting, I thought the world had gone mad.
Yes, the selfie stick was a clever gadget that allowed tourists to capture happy snaps without having to accost fellow travellers with the time-worn, “excuse me, but could you take our picture?”.
It also intruded on the travel experience with a long-armed irritant that seemed to poke itself into every experience and Kodak moment, let alone every fellow-traveller’s eye. Footpaths and squares were blocked with people, poles outstretched, capturing selfies.
In Jerusalem, outside the church said to mark the spot were Jesus was crucified, I spotted a woman whose selfie-stick posing would have done a Kardashian proud.
So, a plea to the travel cinematographers among you. Use your drone –like your selfie stick – sensitively and briefly. Then put it away. Please. Don’t make me drone on.