We were all standing in the sunset, the sky swallowing us, our minds not there, really. All attention pulsated toward our electric screens with their prosthetic limbs, capturing us only at our best angle, savoring all but the truth.
When I boarded the boat in Athens, Greece, I knew I was heading to Santorini. I saw all the photos: the sunset reflecting off the ocean, the white-washed caves. I had already put myself into those frames. But nobody warned me about the dystopian island I was sailing towards.
Stepping off the boat into this anticipated paradise was chaos. It was not so much due to the volume of people passing through; there was something else going on. It was as though these people were not here for a relaxing vacation; they had an important job to do, and it involved their selfie sticks.
When I arrived in Oia, I sat on my balcony to enjoy the view. The orange sky faded to a deep red as cries of a woman echoed in the air. It seemed that she was disappointed by her ocean view suite; it did not live up to her presumably Instagram-fueled expectations. Nothing could live up to mine, either.
I started to notice that it was not just the crying lady and I that were experiencing Santorini Syndrome. Every person I saw here was preoccupied with one thing: taking selfies. Everyone, including myself, had the primary goal of capturing the moment, rather than living in it.
There was a round of applause when the sun went down. The sunset was beautiful, but I wasn’t sure who we were giving our appreciation to. This wasn’t Disneyland, but it did have the overpriced gift shops, cheesy photo-ops and the cheers and applauses, right on cue.
The shadows cast by that famous Santorini sun represented something robotic: selfie sticks in the air, we no longer looked human. We all expressed an urgent need to create propaganda. Perhaps it was to justify the experience to ourselves and to the world. Maybe we were all so disappointed in the reality of Santorini that we needed to see it perfect again, through the convincing filter of our own camera lens.
With our cameras as our propaganda machines, why do we forsake a moment in order to capture it? Time is a fleeting thing, but we will never be able to hold it in our hands. Santorini felt post-apocalyptic to me: it was a prophecy of a future time, when digital finally takes precedence over physical.
There’s no such thing as a souvenir. All we have, all we ever will have, are these messy moments, flickering by. Let’s live in the mess rather than waste reality by trying to capture perfection.