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A Camera that Won't Work at Tourist Sights

Instagram is bigger than you thought. This morning, Facebook (which owns it) announced there are now 400 million active users—that's up 100 million since the start of 2015. Soon, nearly half a billion people will be recording their experiences that way.

And look what that mentality has wrought. New, in things we don't need: An idea for a camera that won't let you take pictures of popular things.

As envisioned by its creator, a German designer, it's called Camera Restricta, and it would force work like this: When you try to take a photo with it, it detects how many other people have taken images in the same spot, and if that number is high, it simply won't let you snap the picture. The idea is to force originality. The developer calls his idea "a disobedient tool for taking unique photographs," which is a smarmy justification for snobbery if ever there was one.

The designer is dangling his idea as if to attract would-be manufacturers. "Camera Restricta could be a controversial tech product, promising unique pictures by preventing the user from contributing to the overflow of generic digital imagery."

Oh, and the imagined device would also come in a fake, 3-D printed case that makes it look like an old-fashioned camera. Because, you know, technology is bad.

If this is what the Instagram mentality is doing to travel photography, please permit us to be the old-fashioned sort of Instragrammers.

We're all for seeking out unique experiences when you travel—local intelligence is something readers have relied on Frommer's to provide for decades. But the opposite is not true: Iconic experiences are not automatically worthless.

This concept assumes many wrong things about travel, but its worst assumption is that we should all be traveling to impress other people. If a photo is taken for yourself or your family, why should location matter?

Sometimes tourist clichés became clichés because they are indeed wonderful. You can't tell me that people shouldn't want to record a visit to Rome's Trevi Fountain when that may happen only once in their lifetime, or that they should be denied a shot of the Sydney Opera House from Farm Cove simply because the view is widely accepted as emblematic.

This concept also assumes the wrong things about photography. We often take images to remember places and experiences, to mark the occasion as personally meaningful—not to brag to others. We also often may capture an oft-photographed spot in a new way—by getting up close, focusing on details, observing the people, or trying an artistic angle. This camera would deny that as well.

The whole idea comes off a bit like a joke or a questioning art piece and it isn't in production (yet)—and because it's so condescending, we hope that's as far as it goes. The designer has put it out there as if it's a viable notion, but let's hope no manufacturer would be so unwise. Rather than deriding communal travel experiences as useless, we ought to be investigating why, increasingly, people seem compelled to turn their memories into products intended to be competitively consumed by others.