Updated: Jan 5
As people we are all well aware of the negative impacts of Social Media, the recent Netflix release The Social Dilemma shed a light on how addictive and manipulative the various social platforms are; and highlighted disturbing statistics on child suicide, as well as other mental health issues such as addiction and anxiety. In contrast to this, the Outdoors is often hailed as an elixir of the soul, a place to recharge, to unwind, and to escape. This is exactly why I wanted to take a closer look at the complex relationship between social media and the outdoors. Has the prevailing motivation to visit natural beauty spots begun to shift from experience to exposure, and if it has what, if anything, can be done to accommodate the modern adventure seeker.
I happen to firmly believe that we all have an equal right to visit, explore, and yes, even queue up on the side of Mt. Snowdon to get a photo, regardless of the motivation. I understand that this isn't a widely shared opinion across the outdoors community, but one I hold nonetheless; and I hope that I will at least go some way to justify this by the end of the article.
There are of course two groups involved with the consumption of social media content, the dealers, and the users; and just as you find with other dealer/user relationships in society the two groups are not always exclusive to one another, but the function of each is distinct. The reason this is important to note, is to establish which group should shoulder responsibility, in the context of drug-use the dealer is always penalised more than the user; but can the same be said within our own 'adventuring' social media bubble; and to what extent is sensationalism and marketing to blame for the increase in footfall from those not accustomed to the etiquette of enjoying the outdoors?
A recent poll posted on our Instagram page found that 65% of respondents believed that photography's role was to document 'the outdoors' as opposed to 'sell' it; this is obviously not a large scale scientific piece of research, but it does sit at odds with the
64% of respondents to our survey who stated that they had either re-taken, staged, edited, or exaggerated about a photo that they have posted on social media.
One hypothesis could take us back to the dealer/user relationship, where as individuals we know what we expect and what we want from social media, but as dealers we know what is going to be consumed the most. There seems to be an ever-growing blurring of the line between, editing a photo to maximise the quality, and editing to the extent that what is being portrayed isn't necessarily reflective of reality; something I'm sure we can all relate to when you see the advertising for any fast-food chain, and something which is problematic if the role of photography is to document the outdoors, and even more problematic when this is being carried out not only by advertisers, but the consumers of the 'product', in this case 'the outdoors' too.
Interestingly when asked if social media was a positive force for the UK Outdoors industry the responses were overwhelmingly positive, with just a few concerns around environmental and inclusivity issues. This has been the first time I have referred to the 'industry', because that really is what this is, it isn't just the outdoors. It's about jobs, prosperity, education, and conservation. The outdoors has become an object of consumption, you don't have to look to hard in any outdoors magazine and you'll find lists of peaks you need to bag this year, views to take in, lakes to dive into, and roads to camp out on. This isn't a tide worth fighting, this is the reality right now.
Once again, we're taken back to the dealer/consumer relationship, each year around Spring time a flurry of 'Guides to 3 Peak Challenge', 'UKs Top Mountains', 'How to summit Snowdon' articles will be released; why? Well that's obvious, because this is when people will begin to search for such things, and magazines and websites want the clicks. How can the outdoors 'community' hold outsiders in such contempt when the only window into it is so small. Surely the people putting this content out are more responsible than those who consume it? A crude experiment, but
try plugging the search term 'Mt Snowdon' into Google and you'll get over 1,230,000 results; try it again with 'Cadair Idris' and you'll get nearly 10x fewer, 130,000. I think this goes some way to demonstrate just how small the window really is.
Why does it matter? It matters because large groups of people cause problems; such as parking, traffic congestion, and littering; which perhaps to the surprise of some, is not something which only occurs on mountains, there are literally entire teams of people employed to pick up litter in almost every town centre in the country. I am not condoning littering, at all, it's disgusting. But it's disgusting everywhere. This is an habitual societal issue, and not one which shows particular disregard or disproportionally affects the countryside. This last year the footfall has been remarkably reduced, and after filtering through the Trip Advisor reviews of Mt Snowdon every review left in 2020 was 5 stars. Is Snowdon any better this year, of course not, but for those who were able to get out and enjoy it, they could do exactly that.
If something doesn't change this cyclical relationship between Social Media & The Outdoors will continue until our outdoor industry becomes a caricature of itself, and in the absence of any overarching marketing strategy; what we can all do instead is take personal responsibility for the content and information we not only create, but consume too.
The UK has some awe inspiring vistas, peaks, and landscapes; and whilst it might not be to the taste of many; could embracing the pseudo-adventure by providing safe environments and even framed or staged points of interest to maximise Instagram appeal, be crucial in restoring and preserving the outdoors, and it's economy?