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Alright, lets get real. Most people on the internet use Facebook or some other form of social media. Heck, I use Facebook! But what I want to talk about today is not how bad wasting your time on the internet is or how bad for the environment electronics can be, but rather, why social media is bad for nature and outdoor recreation.

I have a lot of friends on Facebook, but I don’t use Twitter or Tumblr… however, I do enjoy using Instagram. One day, while scrolling through climbing pictures a friend had posted to Instagram, something hit me. Looking at the pictures made me angry and upset at him. Now let me be frank: I love my friends and I try to treat them with kindness, but it is a very strange day when I start to hate someone. “What’s going on?!” I asked myself. Well, I did my research, and these are the three reason Facebook and social media wreck the outdoors.

First, using Facebook or other social media to show off your “amazing life” is only hurting you. Narcissistic behaviors have been linked with social media since the beginning of the internet. To quote Jean Twenge, “Narcissism clearly leads to more social media use, social media use leads to positive self-views, and people who need a self-esteem boost turn to social media.” Unfortunately, this cycle of narcissism not only affects your self esteem, it affects everyone who sees your posts. After viewing a post and accepting that life will never be that great, a person’s self esteem can take a big hit. I know that personally, when I see pictures of friends climbing or backpacking, it’s really hard for me not to compare myself to them.

Second, posting countless pictures to social media can destroy the purity and simplicity of the moment. I know we’ve all been there; the mountain top with an amazing view, finally completing a long backpacking trip, finding some wildflowers on the trail. All of these are special moments that are to be treasured, not whored out to the internet. And now, with a camera on every electronic device we carry, it’s almost impossible to escape this trap. It seems like every time I open my social media I am bombarded with pictures from moments that should have never left the trail. With all these pictures of incredible moments, what’s the point of going out my front door anyways?

Third, posting statuses and pictures about your amazing adventure can actually make your online friends hate you. In a recent study, researchers found that the more people post, the more dislike a viewer will have for that person. So, posting all about your camping trip and sharing hundreds of pictures may actually make people who see those posts dislike you! I am all too familiar with this, and it has hurt my community of climbing friends in the past. The general progression usually goes like this: I look at someone’s amazing adventure, I end up begrudging them of their trip, envy and resent sneak up, and it becomes difficult not to have hard feelings towards that person or their trip.

Wow. Take a breath, that’s some heavy stuff.

With this post, I don’t intend to hurt anyone’s feelings or call for a ban of social media. I just wish people would use a little more discretion, think about their motives, and learn about the deep implications their actions can have. On the flip side, social media can help spur on environmental movements or promote outdoor communities.

So think next time you’re about to post! And maybe on the next trip you take, leave the camera at home! Social media is a tool. And just like any other tool, it can be used to create something beautiful or destroy something that was once precious.

Your Turn: What’s your opinion of the relationship between social media and the outdoors?

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# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    Hey John, thanks for the great post! This is an interesting question, and I think it’s an important discussion to have. However, I disagree with you on most of your points.

    For points #1 and #3, I think it depends largely on the attitude of the people posting and viewing on social media. Posting your adventures doesn’t have to be narcissistic, and viewing others’ adventures doesn’t have to create jealousy and anger. Why the heck can’t we just be happy for one another? Also, I’ve found that generally, what goes around comes around: just because I see a Facebook “friend” posting photos while skiing massive peaks in Alaska, BC, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Utah, and everywhere that I might have missed in between doesn’t mean I need to be jealous of him. I just enjoy getting to see cool photos from his experiences… it definitely beats baby photos and crappy memes!

    Several months ago Relevant Magazine published an article that made some of the same arguments that you made. I wrote a response that I think responds well to some of the points that you brought up, and I posted it here: http://www.cranialcollision.com/2013/06/instagram-celebrating-beautiful-moments.html

    The short version is, I don’t see any reason why we can’t use social media to celebrate the beautiful moments in life. There are so many dull, boring moments, downright dirty, disgusting moments, so many instances of evil and abuse and greed and depression in this world, why can’t we enjoy the beauty of God’s creation? I think the desire to share those moments of beauty with the world with whatever means we have at our disposal is a natural and good tendency, not a bad one.

    Now, point #2 is something that I’ve struggled with. In the past, I held strongly to the opinion that you expressed here… but now, when I want to go back and check out photos from those journeys in an attempt to relive them, I don’t have any to look at! While being obsessed with taking photos and capturing the moment can often times ruin the purity of the experience, as I mentioned above I think a desire to capture and share that moment can be natural and good.

    My solution to point #2 has been to shoot photos sometimes, but not all of the time. Since shooting photos and writing about my mountain bike experiences is my job, spending time capturing the ride is just a fact of life for me. It puts food on the table. However, I try to look for opportunities to NOT stand around shooting photos for an hour. For instance, I rarely shoot photos on my regular after work rides on my local trails. I ride them all the time and cover them regularly, so I don’t need to really capture that experience every single time. Also, I personally try to avoid taking photos of sports that I’m not getting paid to participate in or document. Right now, that’s skiing for me. When I’m skiing, I can just enjoy the experience and revel in it.

    On the flip side, sometimes I still want to capture and share those experiences for the reasons I mentioned above. And to be honest, the rise of the smartphone has made it quicker and less intrusive than ever to grab a few snapshots. But even if I DO grab a few quick shots, spending maybe 30 seconds to do so, I try not to post those photos until I’ve returned home and am back in front of the computer. Taking a snapshot takes a second, but crafting a caption, posting to Facebook, and waiting for the photo to upload via a weak 3G signal takes a lot longer. So, I encourage you to just shoot some shots, and post ’em later!

    Like I said at the beginning, I think this is a great article that should trigger a very interesting and useful discussion. I think it’s important that we think about how and why we use social media, and that we examine its influence in our lives. As you concluded, “Social media is a tool. And just like any other tool, it can be used to create something beautiful or destroy something that was once precious.”

  • Jeff Barber

    I think there’s a potential for adding a #4: Social media can ruin hidden outdoor gems. Just imagine what would happen if say, Buzzfeed, were to run an article on the top 10 most unspoiled parks in the US. Those parks wouldn’t stay unspoiled for long!

    #1 cuts both ways: it can either inspire others to get outdoors and enjoy life or it can lead to lower self esteem for those who aren’t able to get outdoors more. But that’s not something the poster can control.

    Like everything in life, moderation is key!

    • Greg Heil

      #4 is definitely an issue… especially for places that are way off the beaten path (or if there actually ISN’T a beaten path to them), or for places/trails that shouldn’t technically exist… Sometimes the best thing to do is to not say or post anything at all 🙂

  • mtbikerchick

    Greg’s response pretty much says exactly what I was going to say. There are times when I think to myself, “I don’t want to put this moment on camera or on Facebook because I want it to be all ours” but those moments are rare. I try to do like Greg said and sometimes take photos and sometimes not. I hope that by posting those photos people don’t hate me, but instead think, “Maybe I should get out more so I can post some great photos too…” I like to be HAPPY for my friends when they post pictures of cool places or exciting things happening in their lives. Isn’t that how we should feel? If Facebook is causing people to have negative feelings then there’s something that needs to change in their lives; me not posting my backpacking photos isn’t going to make them happier.

  • John Richards

    I’m glad the first word in the title is opinion. In the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a famous photographer has been searching for the a rare snow cat. He finally finds it and is about to take the picture but decides not to take it and Walter Mitty asks why he is not going to take the picture. The photographer replies, “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention”.
    Sometimes one should just enjoy the moment and remember it that way. Other times it is meant to be documented. Either way, I very much enjoy seeing what my friends are up to. I am jealous of what they are doing and it makes me want to get out and do cool stuff. The Jealousy is my own problem, not the cool guy posting epic dynos, or inspiring downhill videos.

  • Scott Anderson

    “posting countless pictures to social media can destroy” … my interest. It drives me crazy when people puke out the entire contents of their memory cards to facebook, flickr, or what have you. When I see 50, 60, 70 pictures loaded of one event or trip I don’t even bother looking because I know the majority will be crap. And I don’t want to weed through someone else’s crap photos to find the stars. As someone who takes photography seriously as a hobby I do like to capture the beauty and specialness of the places I go and share those with others. Not to be narcissistic but to, maybe, inspire them to get out on their own adventures. I’ll take dozens, sometimes hundreds, of photos and I WILL weed through my crap so that I only share what I consider the best and most meaningful. Even then I often wonder if I’ve done enough culling.

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