On Saturday, 6/16, I joined the San Diego Hikers on a sunset hike to the summit of Cuyamaca Peak. Having seen sunsets from there before, I knew that there’s really no better place in San Diego County to watch a sunset. And on this night, the sunset did not disappoint. A thick stratus of marine layer washed up against the base of the peak at about 5,000′, and it was into this sea of clouds that the sun sank.
Along the way, I had a few disjointed conversations with some of the other people in the group. On of the conversations touched upon social media, as the hiker was disrupting her hike and pulling herself out of the moment in order to add to her social media story. It happened just before the fire road reaches the patch of conifers that survived the Cedar Fire and at a time where the sinking sun was producing its most dramatic lighting.
I made my point, perhaps a bit less delicately than I would have liked, that it seems like the screens are always trying to suck us out of the moment to proclaim just how great the moment is. Nobody took offense (outwardly at least), but it did prompt a conversation about the merits of social media and its impact on the actual experience of hiking. After ruminating over that conversation for a while, I’ve come to a few conclusions.
A lot of people use social media as a way of showcasing the experience that they have had or are currently having, in some cases. But in doing so, they are actually showcasing the moment where they interrupted their experience in order to catalog the experience to show it off to the world as an experience. In that sense, it represents an interrupted experience interfaced by a screen that in real life is bookended by a return to normal experiences.
We already know that people often show punctuated highlights in their life on social media, which tends to give the impression that everybody is having a grand old time. Of course, nobody posts Instagram stories about drinking coffee in the shower or about the huge blowout the toddler just had. You don’t get likes that way. If people were only to judge me by my Instagram, they’d think I never changed a diaper or never had to multitask by drinking coffee in the rare ten minute window I have for a shower.
(Note: I also check Instagram in the shower, so don’t think I’m sparing myself from this critique)(Also note: the shower is the one place I can check Instagram without my toddler interrupting me)(Also also note: when I post a beautiful picture of a lake or a mountainscape, there’s a good chance that I did it naked while covered in Dr. Bronner’s).
I think this is part of why Instagram has always left me cold. There’s some good information and good photo feeds here, but it often feels just a bit empty to me. I’m actually grateful for this since it means I can maintain indifference and not get sucked in the way I did with Facebook.
All in all, I can’t shake this weird feeling I get every time I see people hooked into their phones on a trail, taking selfies and disrupting their experiences by posting their stories on Instagram. I also can’t help but think about how I tend to use Instagram. I scroll through and click the heart a few times and very rarely leave a comment. I imagine most other people use it the same way. If that’s the case with most users, all of these interruptions we cause ourselves in the service of telling our stories might just be falling on a population of humans with chronically overactive thumbs.
Note: All of the pictures in this blog post were taken by a guy who stopped to interrupt his hike so that he could pull out his cell phone and take a picture for future self-aggrandizement.