If a photo isn’t posted on Facebook, did the event even happen?

This is the existential question of our time, a modern-day take on “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I ask because this time of year, when families and friends go on spring break, I am overwhelmed with pictures online of people skiing, snorkeling and generally enjoying life somewhere other than Atlanta.

So if you spend a vacation lining up the perfect photo, were you even on vacation? And that is to say nothing of the poor, innocent children being exploited online for “likes” and “follows.”

Somewhere in our attic, there are photos of 6-year-old me in a snazzy blue blazer posing around my grandparents’ vacation home. I remember nothing about that day, but I am thankful we didn’t have social media back then.

I also have clear plastic boxes filled with photos from my grandparents’ vacations. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out after my mother died. There is something alien about seeing these barely recognizable people, young and virile, smiling and carrying on.

I knew them when they were old and more severe.

We have a drawer filled with photographs from our various vacations. There are hundreds of images that may be seen only by our children for a moment as they dump the contents into a trash bag once we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The photos were from a time before digital cameras, cell phones and the World Wide Web. We took the photo and forgot about it until we developed the film weeks, sometimes months, later. Getting those photos back was like getting a letter from a good friend you haven’t heard from in a while.

Fifty years ago, people watched slideshows of recent vacations projected on a screen in living room. Unlike the highly curated affairs appearing on social media, these included tons of pictures.

Even the outtakes made it to the big screen. Laughter ensued.

Today’s Facebook and Instagram posts are more like Christmas cards: carefully scrutinized, one of many attempts, scrubbed and filtered — perfect families in ideal locales. It is a way of showing off without explicitly saying as much.

My generation had an effective and subtler way to brag about our far-flung adventures; T-shirts.

It couldn’t be any T-shirt. They had to be from a restaurant or hotel, like a Hard Rock Cafe. The most coveted was the Hard Rock Cafe’s London location T-shirt: plain white, with its brown and cream logo on the front and the city spelled out in block letters.

You wouldn’t dare wear it unless you had actually been to the Hard Rock Cafe in London. See? Subtle.

Surfing was a big deal when I was coming up. Everyone wore floral print board shorts that hung down past your knees for at least three summers. To complement those shorts, you had to find a shirt from a local surf shop, like a Ron Jon in Florida or Town & Country in Hawaii. The more obscure, the better.

I preferred the simple sophistication of the classic Sea Island T-shirt. There wasn’t much to it, just the cursive name in signature green on the front of a white shirt. I don’t recall buying one. They were a byproduct of tennis camp.

I coveted mine.

I pivoted to universities in the places I visited around high school. I wore a T-shirt from La Sorbonne — Université in Paris until it fell to pieces after about a decade. I also found a shirt from the University of Seville in Spain. It was dark blue, with yellow lettering and an old-world university seal.

If you think posting photos on Facebook is boorish, try sporting a T-shirt from a college you never attended and that most people have never heard of to make people think you are cool and well traveled.

I spent a good amount of my time in Paris that summer tracking that T-shirt down. It begs the question, “If you spent your vacation looking for a specific souvenir, did you even enjoy the vacation?”

I certainly did.

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Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at tkennedy@prsouth.net.

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