Wilderness as the Antidote to Social Media Culture

Regrettably, I live in the 21st century.  I have always thought I belonged to another time, but things being as they are, social media is a necessary evil.  I share pictures of my child with my family through Facebook, I promote this very page through GoWild and I promote my photography through Instagram. And like everyone else, it’s a somewhat calculated and contrived persona I have created for myself.  I am not posting photos of my pasty white beer gut or rambling on and on about the difficulties in my life.  For those who don’t know me well, I live a life of joy and adventure with nothing but intellectual and spiritual pursuits.  And I do live that life, but that’s only part of the story. 

Studies show that anxiety and depression are on the rise, especially with the younger generations.  I am not sure if we can diagnose social media as the cause, but there is certainly a correlation.  When you constantly compare yourself to the carefully crafted images of your friends and media personalities, it’s hard not to feel like your life just doesn’t measure up. This is why, as a culture, we take such pleasure in seeing celebrities fall from grace.  When we find out they have drug problems or cheat on their spouse, it brings them back down to earth from the stratosphere.  

Wilderness is the perfect antidote to the virtual rat race.  Not only is it healthy to get away from your devices for a while (please, please, please do not sit on a rock overlooking a beautiful vista and play on your phone, or blare crappy music from a Bluetooth speaker), but the clean air and exercise will make you feel better.  If you do it enough, it’ll make you look better too.  When you’re in the wild, you’re faced with no competition but yourself.  No one knows how fast you hiked up that mountain.  No one knows how labored your breathing was. No one knows what else is going on in your head.  You only have to compare yourself today with yourself of yesterday, with plans to be better tomorrow.  True growth comes in competition with yourself, not with others.

My daughter is growing up in front of a camera lens.  I am partially to blame because I am constantly taking pictures of her and my wife.  This will get worse once she’s older and into the world of phones and tablets.  At least now she’s wise enough to say things like, “Dad why are you always taking pictures?”  She understands there’s more to life than being in front of the lens. This is because we make a concerted effort to get out into the wild and I only take the camera out at certain times. It’s great to document our family adventures, but it’s important to experience them and be present as well.  As the kids say, YOLO, you only live once.  Do you want to spend your time living or do you want to spend all your time manufacturing a life you wished you lived?

Hey Guys, Can You Tell Me Where to Hunt?

If you’re a hunter and you’re on social media, you’ve inevitably come across this situation.  Someone posts some variation of the question, “Hey, I’m looking to hunt this area.  Can anyone tell me where to go?”  Then the comment section is mostly filled with people ripping this guy a new butthole for not doing the work themselves.  

I admit, I’m as tired of seeing this as most people are, but I have mixed feelings about both the question and the response.

First off, as an adult onset hunter who has depended on the kindness of my fellow hunters for a lot of information, I’m sympathetic to those needing help getting knowledge.  You don’t know if the person asking the question is a new hunter or perhaps they’re doing an out-of-state hunt and they can’t come in early to scout.  However, I’m also a big believer in doing most of the work yourself.  When I have the patience, I’ll respond kindly by suggesting they invest $30 in OnX Maps so that they can see topography, watering holes, possible feeding grounds and other things animals gravitate towards.  

Secondly, I’m empathetic to the hunters who are being asked to, essentially, give away their spots.  Most of us hunt units that we return to year after year and the last thing we want is more people competing for the same animals or even worse, setting up in our spots. There are exceptions to this, such as discussed on a recent MeatEater podcast where they were hunting a unit that was only able to be drawn every seven years. Some folks had just hunted it and were willing to give some help because only so many people are allowed in each year no matter what.  

So, I have the following advice to give…

…to the folks asking the questions: 

·     Do your homework first.  This allows you to ask specific questions instead of “hey, where should I go?”

·     Be clear. If you’re a new hunter or coming in from out-of-state, say that.  Ask nicely and don’t expect much of anything.  Stating your case and saying, “any help you can give a visitor would be appreciated” goes a lot farther than a vague question that implies you couldn’t even be bothered to put any thought into what you’re asking for.

·     Expect vague answers.  Yes, I know I said to ask specific questions, but don’t expect anyone to give up too much information.  

·     Build relationships.  Instead of asking folks from your group, who are strangers, for information.  Say, “Hey, I’m going to be in this town for hunting season, if anyone’s around and would like to get a beer, hit me up.”  Maybe after talking hunting with you for an hour over a beer, the person will volunteer some tips to help you have a better hunt and you won’t even have to ask.  

 

…to the folks responding to the questions:

·     Don’t be a jerk. This is pretty much it.  If you don’t want to offer some kind of advice, just scroll past the post.  If no one responds to the post, they will get the same feeling as if forty curmudgeons tell them to “do your own damn work.”  If they say they’re a new hunter though, please show some kindness.  You don’t have to give up any specific information, but it’s an excellent opportunity to mentor them a bit and point them in the direction of finding things out for themselves.  Post a link to a website that sells topo maps, or suggest OnX, or tell them, “post rut, bull elk really look for sanctuary spots, look for those.” 

Hunters can be a lot like the identity politics crowd, “yeah you bow hunt, but you don’t know how hard it is for me because you shoot a compound and I shoot a recurve.”  Point being, we can be our own worst enemy.  Asking for help from your fellow hunters can be a tough thing to do, but I hope people keep asking smart questions and I hope people keep sharing their knowledge with newer hunters. While I fully support having an internal dialogue within the community on a number of topics, we also need to remember we’re all on the same team and, most of us anyhow, want the same thing.

The Future of the Outdoors on Social Media is Now

I am a lot of things, mainly a father, husband, friend, hunter, conservationist and I’d like to believe, a thinker.  One thing I am not, however, is a media expert.  I know some media experts and I’ve learned a thing or two from them, but I think the thing that matters when it comes to the future of media and social media is human behavior, which I do know a little bit about, and I believe the technical aspects will follow human behavior.  

We used to live in a world where we could hold our beliefs fairly privately, go to the voting booth and not tell people who we voted for.  That same world allowed us to learn from our mistakes without, for the most part, screwing up our entire life or reputation. Unfortunately, those days are gone and they’re not coming back.  

Examples of this are in our newsfeed every single day.  Sometimes, the crime is egregious, such as Michael Richards being recorded saying a word he shouldn’t have used.  I understand why people were upset at that, however, earlier this week, a professional baseball player was questioned about a five-year-old social media post in which he supported the 2nd amendment. He had to give the obligatory, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” but refused to back down from his support of the Constitution.  

Those of us involved in hunting, or most of us anyhow, are always involved in two hot button issues: guns and hunting.  

The world is now such that if you were to go apply for a job, you could be denied because there’s a photo of you teaching your child how to safely shoot a gun on your Facebook page.  All that needs to happen is there to be someone in Human Resources who is anti-gun or a vegan.  It’s not fair and it’s not right, but that’s the world we now live in.  Some of us, we choose to be outspoken about our rights, our passions and we’re not afraid of the consequences.  I honor and respect that choice and it’s a choice I’ve made myself. I applied for a ton of jobs in the time we’ve lived in Colorado and didn’t even get a phone call for about a dozen that I was perfectly suited for.  Is it because of my social media presence?  I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in at least a few cases.  

Another recent issue is social media censoring or banning conservative content.  I keep hearing conservatives say, “Why won’t a billionaire conservative step up and create a platform that honors free speech?”.  It’s a good question, it really is.  The good news for outdoors enthusiasts is that some non-billionaires have stepped up to the plate and created a platform for us, it’s called GoWild. 

GoWild is more than just guns, hunting and fishing.  It encourages you to share your gardening, hiking, ATVing and other experiences as well.  They want to see you and your kids outside.  It’s also a place where you can share without worrying about hate mail and threats from those who disagree with you.  If someone is not into hunting, the way the app works, they’ll probably not see your picture unless they’re following you.  If you don’t like a picture you see, you scroll right past it. However, if you see something you don’t agree with, the folks at GoWild encourage its users to talk about it in the comments.  Maybe it’s a new hunter or a young kid and no one told them what they’re doing isn’t ethical. Instead of having them banned or saying nasty things to them, we (the users) encourage them to think about what they’re doing and to make better decisions in the future.  They’re trying to keep some of the old school mentality of using mistakes as an opportunity to grow and be mentored rather than an opportunity to shame the person.  

One of the cooler things about the app is the ability to connect with folks outside your core group.  While most of us hunters prepare for hunting season all year long, the things we do also overlap into other hobbies.  We backpack, canoe, target shoot, train our bodies, and just generally love being outdoors. We also appreciate the responsibility of producing our own food and often have gardens.  These other activities, the way the app is built, allow us find common ground with other folks who might not be hunters.  This is of the utmost importance, because as I and many others have written, we’re about 5% of the population and both hunters and animal rights activists are small minorities fighting for the approval of the vast majority.  

So, the question is, are you going to focus your social media energy on apps owned by California urbanites who are trying to control what you see and hear so that it fits their agenda or are you going to engage with others in the outdoor community in a way that grants you the freedom to share what you choose to share?  I’m not saying you should leave Facebook or Instagram, those are still great places to be connected to people personally and professionally and share parts of your life, I’m simply asking if you want to be a part of the solution to the attacks on our lifestyle and be a part of growing the next generation of conservationists?  

We might be waiting for a long time for a place of political free speech on social media, but for a place where you can share your grip ‘n grins without fear of death threats on your family, the future is now.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way professionally involved in GoWild other than as a user.  I do know a couple folks from the company and they are based in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky so I would be a big supporter of them even if they had a knitting app because I’m always supportive of good people doing good things.  However, my passion for their product and the community it fosters is legitimate and I encourage anyone reading this to go to Apple, Google or wherever you download apps and give it a try and I also recommend checking out their podcast, Restless Native.