Pics or it didn’t happen: The Struggle of Social Media

First, I want to say a big thanks to my fellow co-worker, Kelsey Ivey, who both got me blogging on our EverGreen site, and inspired me to make this blog look a little cooler.  You can find the EverGreen Escapes blog here, a post on my cold-as-hell adventure up Three Fingers here, and the sustainability series I’m putting together here.  Kelsey’s work is all over EverGreen’s site, and I’ll put up some links to her other blogs in a few days!  And now, the newest post.

Mt. Shuksan, my first day in the backcountry
Mt. Shuksan, my first day in the backcountry

I felt the magnetic pull of my smartphone every time I crested the ridge at Stevens Pass.  The sky burned a brilliant blue, highlighting the sharp relief of Mt. Daniel, Glacier Peak, and much of the Cascade Crest.  Yes, we are sorely in need of a real winter here in the PNW, but the snow was the perfect mix between frozen and slush.  I couldn’t tear down the mountain for fear of exposed rocks and trees and such, but the simple act of cutting turns was enough to reach mindfulness.  And this was why that incessant need to document the day kept tearing me out of where I should be–cutting turns, tunes pumped in the headphones, sublime.

I wanted to post some pictures of skiing, of the endless ridges of (lightly) snow-capped peaks;

Only 15 minutes from the parking lot...
Only 15 minutes from the parking lot…

I wanted people to be jealous and think, “Damn, Travis is out and about.”  My need to show others my adventures was keeping me from pure skiing.  I love taking pictures, showing others what is beautiful about wild places, but was I doing that?  Or was I feeding into some image I had created of myself within the confines of social media?  Going through my Facebook feed, picture after picture of the high and lonesome pop up.  Is this due to wilderness’ centrality to my identity, or am I shaping my experience to create a Facebook Me who is always up on some rock or trail?  I’m not posting pictures of my daily chores, my frustrations, my simple existence as a normal human being.  I’m crafting the perceived me.

On the other hand, I love seeing others’ adventures.  It gives me ideas and inspiration, and burns that perpetual stoke that leads to the feeling of deep excitement when packing the car at 6:00am or earlier.  Do I want to see the mundane details of my friends’ lives (or for that matter, do I want to know the minute-by-minute breakdown of Tommy Caldwell’s life when he isn’t climbing?)  On Instagram I follow some folks I have never met who take amazing pictures, but when their feeds turn to photos of their newborns or last night’s meal, I am at once bored and left feeling like I’m a violator of their personal lives.  I want to see photos of peaks climbed, routes attempted, sunsets enjoyed.

Is Second Beach less beautiful because it's a mile from the road?
Is Second Beach less beautiful because it’s a mile from the road?

Yet still.  Still I fall into this false competitive narrative:  Who has climbed the most awesome thing?  Who has been outside the most?  Who is doing something so amazingly breakthrough, I can’t even begin to fathom it?  Where is this scale, where is this point system, why am I subscribing to it?  That competition is unhealthy.  It takes away from my enjoyment of simple time in the mountains and corrupts it.  It makes me question my motives–am I climbing this or hiking that just so I can post something slightly dangerous or cool on Facebook?  It makes me overthink decisions again and again–what will be the most photo-worthy hike, where will I look badass, what will impress this faceless crowd the most?

What does my number of followers or total likes say about me?  Quite honestly, nothing.  But that hit of endorphins when I see a large number of “thumbs up” is a real thing.  I think many of us outdoorsy folk (and non-outdoorsy, too!) struggle with these new realities–we are long-term performers, always smiling, always living life to its fullest, amid set-pieces of mountains and rivers–it’s exhausting.  When I lived in DC, it was the same game flipped for who knows the right people, who snagged the coolest job, who is traveling where and why and with whom?  Rather than stick around to win, I left.

But I can’t leave the mountains–their sheer faces are the mortar of my soul.  So I’m

Serenity.
Serenity.

trying to make peace within my own struggle. I love Facebook because I can follow friends’ lives in a way that I never would have in the past (honestly, I’m a terrible letter writer, but wonderful Facebook stalker.)  I love Instagram, because my friends and family are absolutely awesome, and in this mobile world, I can feel I’m still connected even across oceans and deserts.  I love scrolling back through pictures of great times and reliving those memories.  And yes, I’ll still post photos and snippets from an epic climb or joyous powder day or incredible concert, because I want to share.  I want people to engage in my stoke, I want folks to cut off a slice of my love of the wild for themselves.

There is a road sign on US 2 as you head towards Stevens Pass. It’s one of those green and white squares announcing who is responsible for upkeep of that section of the highway.  This sponsor is simply, “Be Here Now.”  I kept trying to think of that sign whenever my hand automatically moved to grab my smartphone.  It was a beautiful day, the snow light, the runs wide open, my music coursing through my whole body, and my skis electric on my feet.

Be here now.

2 thoughts on “Pics or it didn’t happen: The Struggle of Social Media

Add yours

  1. Interesting read Travis.

    As someone who has been on the other side of your waves of beautiful pictures on social media, I’ve actually wondered about exactly the questions you are asking in your blog. Does he do anything but climb mountains? But, on the other hand, no. I don’t want to see you doing dishes. I’ve seen you do that before, and its not that interesting.

    Anyway, thanks for the post.

    1. I think I do some awesome dish washing!
      It’s honestly something I really do think about (the posting, not the dishwashing) and wonder if it’s a type of one-upsmanship…or whether it’s a way to keep up the stoke…
      argh.
      -T

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