The Outdoors and Social Media: My Love/Hate Relationship

What I’m about to say might sound a little silly. However, I promise though that I’ll try and form this post into a semi-coherent and complete thought. You might even agree with me.

For a lot of reasons, I’ve begun to develop a very mixed reaction to the whole “adventure lifestyle” photography that we see with increasing frequency on social media. I think you know the type of photography and sharing I’m referring to. Let me paint a picture, and show an example that I am admittedly guilty of.

Scene: Beautiful mountain lake, mountain, or just generally gorgeous landscape shot. Tent in the foreground, sometimes with a person wearing the perfect vintage-yet-utilitarian outdoor styled gear and clothing. Deep reflection about nature, life, etc. The perfect example is the very talented Chris Burkard, whose work I really enjoy.

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And then there’s my own posts. For example:

So what’s not to like? Why the mixed reaction? Don’t get me wrong, I generally adore the fact that I can fill my eyes with these types of gorgeous scenes on a daily basis, all from the comfort of home. I love Chris Burkard’s work, I love that people get to see things via photography that they might never see in their own lives. I love that my friends can have a moment during the day to think “wow, our planet is beautiful.” However, here are moments when I have another more overtly negative reaction to this types of sharing, partially because of my own experience of having to work full-time, in an office, at a desk, while having access to all these gorgeous windows into the outside world.

Over many years, I’ve purposefully curated a newsfeed that is pretty dominated by outdoor related posts and news. Namely, gear companies I like to follow, other backpackers, and outdoor adventure lifestyle photographers I admire, all of whom regularly post a nonstop barrage of beautiful outdoorsy things. It’s fantastic, and has been a great resource for me as I mentally add things to my “must see” list. As mentioned, I also really enjoy sharing my own experiences via social media, both as a reminder to myself, and as a fun “look at this” post for my friends. In fact, I’ve had numerous friends plan trips to places I’ve been based on seeing a photograph I posted. This is all awesome!

The darker side of this type of sharing, of the non-stop feed of beauty I have access to at any time, is the lost opportunities for my own experiences of adventure. What do I mean by this? I mean, if you look at my own social media, I seem to get out a lot, which is true. However, there are days when I probably spend more time looking at other people’s adventures, feeling a little annoyed that it’s not my own. I don’t think this kind of reaction is true for everyone. We all have life commitments and various reasons for not getting out as much as we’d like, whether that be family or jobs, and I’m sure that having a glimpse into the “adventure lifestyle” of another person can be as inspiring to one person as it can be frustrating to another. For me, I experience a mix of both. I feel inspired to be outside more, to see more things, but also experience a pang of loss, and a deep sense that sometimes I’d rather be out there doing more and spending less time living vicariously through others.

Furthermore, I’ve found an interesting reaction by others to my own social media feed, which is something I’ve been feeling compelled to briefly address. On numerous occasions, close friends have commented on the frequency that I must spend outside. I’m there all the time! They wish they could do that too! Just to be clear: social media presents the “self” that we want to show others, rather than any reality that we experience on a daily basis. I don’t post about all the annoying things I have to do on a daily basis. The grant reports, the sitting at my desk feeling stir crazy. I only get out to backpack once a month sometimes, more if I’m lucky. It’s wonderful, and I feel fortunate to do that stuff as much as I can. That being said, despite what my Instagram tells you, I too have to balance everyday life with my constant urge to go hike pretty trails.

My point is: through sharing, social media can inform and inspire. For me though, it’s also a double edge sword. I find new places and learn new things regularly through social media. I also spend more time than I would like wondering how all these “adventure photographers” live such fantastic free lives. Lately though, I’ve learned something really valuable through my interaction with sites like Facebook and Instagram: it is whatever you want it to be, and you have the choice of what that meaning is to you. For me: I want to continue to be inspired by others, while spending more time DOING and less time wishing I was doing while scrolling through someone’s Instagram.

Speaking of which: Happy Monday! Get out this week, even if that means planning something for the weekend. It’ll be here soon!

 

6 Comments on “The Outdoors and Social Media: My Love/Hate Relationship

  1. Ah, yes – it’s an interesting phenomenon. So much of social media is aspirational – Pinterest boards, lusting after other people’s adventures on Instagram, etc. etc. etc. It often creates a massive sense of FOMO – I suffer from it, as well, and hell – I’m outside nearly every weekend! I loved a recent post by Trevor Lee on one of his Instagram posts – pointing out that while he loads his feed with stunning shots of Yosemite & his other adventures, he has a regular day job just like most people – he does these things on the weekends, mornings, after work, etc. I appreciated that he said that, because not only does it make his adventures more relatable, but it also makes it seem more attainable for folks to find adventure in their own lives, in the free time that they have. Great post!!

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    • Well put! I think the whole FOMO thing is actually the perfect way to describe what I’ve been thinking about! I’m also outside so much, and still tend to experience that “ahhhhhh why are all these people at waterfalls and not working all day.” It’s somehow comforting to think that even the Trevor Lee’s of the world have to make time for adventuring. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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  2. Can so relate! I have been thinking about these things as well.
    I also worry that the expectation of taking a stunning photo distracts me from being present and missing out on the small bits of beauty around me- for example, an interesting rock or a small bed of flowers. It seems like adventure photography is often centered around HUGE, stunning, colorful, vibrant landscapes and vistas.
    There is certainly a positive side and negative side…

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    • You’re so right about this! I also love all those little things that you see out on a trip, but I definitely also fall victim to that “I need this awesome vista shot for my Instagram” thing too. There’s definitely a positive and a negative to it all, and I guess I just try and be aware of those things 🙂

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  3. I think I fell victim to the FOMO thing until I realized that most of the “adventure” feeds I follow aren’t necessarily posting pictures of things that they did that very day. It may seem like everyone is outside ALL THE TIME but I don’t think that it’s really the case. And as I’ve become more active on Instagram, I find myself doing the same thing (posting pictures of killer views while I’m in my kitchen, drinking my coffee …). I LOVE Instagram for all the inspiration it provides – you just have to keep it in perspective.

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    • I totally agree! Something I’ve been doing is starting a running list of places I’d love to see, partially based on instagram posts. It’s fun to dream… Thanks for the comment Jen!

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