How many times do you reach for your phone to capture a moment before letting the moment be captured and appreciated by your own eyes first? Every dawn patrol run with a spectacular sunrise, a frolic in the fall foliage of the forest or a tour winding around a wintery mountain peak. How many of those moments did you capture for “the sake of the ‘gram,” and how many of those moments did you truly capture for yourself?
Social media can be a double edged sword. Photo sharing platforms such as Instagram have helped blaze the way of opening up the outdoors like never before. Wild landscapes, beautiful forests and adventurers crafting daring lines up in the mountains are all accessible with a quick scroll through an app. The race to post the best photo, gain the most likes, comments and followers is the sad aftermath. In some cases, photo sharing is no longer authentic, but more of a popularity contest. The biggest downside to this popularity contest is the damage that geotagging is causing the environment.
I will be the first to admit that I gain most of my trail running, mountain biking and skiing inspiration from my daily scrolls through Instagram. With the ease of geotagging I can find the most beautiful spots in the area and plan my next adventure to take me there. Having grown up in a small alpine town in the interior of British Columbia, I learned from an early age how to respect my surroundings. “Leave no trace, only footprints,” “pack out what you pack in,” was common knowledge. With some of nature’s beautiful spots now made so easily accessible, many people forget these unspoken rules.
Trailheads turn to garbage pits, sensitive habits become trampled and people ignore barriers put in place for both their own safety and the protection of the natural habitat. What was once a conscious effort to explore for the few, has become a quest to nab the best Instagram worthy shot for the masses. Ego outshines respect for mother nature, and the real appreciation of the moment is lost. There is nothing wrong with taking a selfie against a beautiful backdrop, but I urge my fellow Instagrammers to think twice about who you are posting it for and why you are posting. Can you appreciate the moment without taking a photo? Is it still worthy of your visit if it isn’t digitally captured and put on the internet? If no one sees your epic adventure, are you ok with that?
Yes, sharing nature has never been so cool, but what if through our sharing we brought some awareness to conservationist efforts? This is not to stop people from exploring the outdoors, but to travel more mindfully. For example, take the emerald waters of Moraine Lake, Alberta. Please don’t hop the barrier to get your shot, try bringing a bag to pick up any waste that you see littering the trail, and if the trail head is packed, maybe opt for a new adventure that isn’t as heavily photographed on social media. I urge you to take a look into local conservationist efforts, check in with your local trail network and volunteer an hour or two of your time to give back to the places you love to explore. Do your part to keep the wild, wild.
The city of Jackson Hole, Wyoming is leading the charge in protecting its wild places. The campaign put forth by the Travel and Tourism Board urges Instagram users to use the tag “Tag Responsibly: Keep Jackson Hole Wild” rather than geotagging exact locations in the state. The Tag Responsibly initiative hopes to put a damper on the environmental damage that mass crowding has caused many of its natural parks. If anything, this small initiative may spark more conscious decisions in traveler’s minds, and hopefully the effect is not limited to Jackson Hole alone.
One of my first running coaches urged me to incorporate weekly “zen” runs into my schedule. At its simplest, a zen run is the art of running without a watch. Pick a route and just run. Stop to eat the huckleberries, take a dip in the creek, move through nature by how you feel, not dictated by the numbers on your watch. I think the same should be applied to bringing a phone along (unless it’s a safety measure). Soak up the moments through your eyes, not a lens and I can guarantee you will gain a greater connection to your run. Draw inspiration and stoke while thumbing through Instagram, but bring your own authenticity to your outdoor pursuits. A little mindfulness goes a long way.
This is not to discourage posting photos or sharing experiences, but to stimulate thought into the reasons behind why we post. I believe that social media has done wonders to spark creativity and adventure in the outdoors for individuals of all abilities, and I also believe that social media can be a tool used to help protect and sustain these wild and raw places in nature for future generations to explore.