Instagram and Social Media…the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Yesterday in my online journalism class we were assigned a project that focuses on social media, so I figured this would be a perfect time for me to talk about one of my favourite social media outlets; Instagram. It’s so much more than just another social-networking app. It’s a friend making, people connecting, idea inspiring, photo sharing, and business networking application. I have personally used the app for all of those things, and with 400 million monthly active users, I know I’m not alone. I love Instagram, and anyone who knows me is fully aware of that.

I absolutely love photography, mountains, being outside, and all things nature. I’ve been like this since I was a kid and that won’t ever change. Long before Facebook, Instagram and cellphone cameras existed, I was spending time in the mountains, going on road trips with my mom, and using cheap disposable cameras to document my travels. I would take my little cardboard wrapped cameras to a 1-hour photo drop and wait with anticipation to pick up my prints and look through them. Eventually cellphones were being made with cameras, point and shoots became affordable, and then I made the big step up to a DSLR. I shot photos on my “fancy camera” and just let the images collect dust on the memory card because I had no idea what to do with them.

Then Instagram was born.

Things didn’t really change for me when I first signed up for the app the year it was released, but I was so happy because I finally had a place other than Facebook to upload my photos that I had been collecting on my iPhone. How exciting! I started posting daily, and I loved that I could look at other people’s images and get inspired. I also loved the fact that I had people telling me that my photos inspired them too! Back then I didn’t even consider that IG would eventually become such a huge part of my life. Now, some great friendships, business relationships, and 13,000+ followers later, I can’t really imagine my life without it. (Although I’m certain that without it I would be just as happy and doing exactly what I am now, I just wouldn’t have met some of the friends that I have.)

Now…having said that, I feel a need to address some of the issues that surround this social networking application and the people who use it. While there are many different communities of people who post on IG, this is going to be more or less directed towards the outdoor community. I feel that people are being too competitive, taking things far too seriously, and I think that’s exactly what takes the joy out of IG and even out of photography itself. I also don’t think too many people stop to think about that fact that it’s a very real possibility that Instagram as we know it may not exist one day. Technology changes so rapidly, some day Instagram could be a thing of that past. What then? Would you still spend nearly as much time taking photos outdoors as you do, now that you have built up a massive following who stroke your ego every day when you post pretty photos of mountains and blue lakes? Personally, I truly hope you would continue to get outside and document those precious moments for your own sake. You should hike and climb for yourself and nobody else. Sharing your adventures with people via Instagram or whatever social media app you prefer is just the icing on the cake. Your self worth should NOT be measured on how many likes or followers you obtain and those numbers don’t make anybody better than anybody else. I have seen some accounts for professional’s that work for National Geographic and they have tiny followings, yet they work for one of the largest publications in the world. It’s like the saying “being famous on Instagram is like being rich in Monopoly, it’s not real.”

I didn’t want to ever get caught up in the conversation about what I’m going to write about next. This word drives me nuts and it makes me shudder to think that I am even about to type it out, but the whole “authentic” issue is seriously getting old. Honestly, who came up with that word when talking about people who hike? What truly makes someone authentic? Climbing more mountains than someone? Climbing higher and more challenging peaks than someone? Having more hiking knowledge than someone? Turning down a sponsorship because you don’t want to sell out? In my opinion, none of that defines a person in any way. If you want to promote a brand you love and have the opportunity to get a sponsorship from them, go for it! Anyone who say’s they wouldn’t want to be an ambassador for a company they love is lying. If you want to learn how to hike because you know nothing about it, awesome! There are people who like to come off as these seriously serious mountain people, who seem to look down on others that may not hike or climb as hard or as much as they do. Honestly, if you love the outdoors and you want to take your love to the next level by climbing a mountain and you have no idea how to do it, but you’re willing to educate yourself and safely give it a try, good for you! It isn’t right for someone that you’re hiking with to make you feel bad about your abilities, or lack thereof. It sure as hell isn’t right for them to get upset with you, talk down on you, push you too far out of your comfort zone, or leave you alone in their dust. Any good hiker (and friend) will NOT do that to you. That can be dangerous and just asking for trouble. Besides, we all have to start somewhere. Even that oh-so knowledgeable mountain climbing guru who is basically a billy goat and could climb a mountain in the dark, blindfolded (please don’t try that) knew nothing at one time or another. When it comes to hiking up mountains, everyone starts from the bottom. No pun intended.

Something else that I feel needs to be brought to light is the fact that IG is a powerfully influential app and anyone with a decent following should be acting responsibly, just as anyone in the “public eye” should be. If you’re a highly trained individual with a great deal of experience and you’re going to go do some daredevil type thing and photograph it, that’s great, but make sure that you’re letting your followers know that your actions should not try to be mimicked. Especially if it’s something you know could potentially get them hurt or killed. If you look at the photo comments on any accounts with a large following, you’ll see many people tagging their friends and saying “let’s do this” or “ we need to try this,” or the worst yet…”goals.” There are far too many young people attempting things that they see on social media, and it’s all because they see someone who inspires them doing it. I have seen photos of people standing dangerously close to cliff edges and sitting on rock ledges that look broken and ready to crumble, people hiking or going out of bounds in places that are closed for safety reasons, and people standing on rather thin looking ice in places they absolutely shouldn’t be. While it’s totally fine if you want to put your own life at risk for the sake of a photo (and I can admit that sometimes that’s exactly how some of the most beautiful photos are made) at least add some sort of disclaimer to the photo caption that warns people of the risks you may have taken to capture that image. Also, please don’t hike in cotton shirts and running shoes and then post photos of it for a mass of people who will think “oh, I can do that too!” It’s ridiculous and some of those followers may not do the research that they should and end up in a really bad situation like rolling their ankle and needing to be helicoptered off of the mountain, or worse. Yes, that may not be your problem, but if you have any sort of a heart at all why would you want to let that happen to anyone all the while knowing you could have prevented it?

While this next subject may be rather touchy, I am going to discuss it anyway. There are far too many hidden gem type places becoming overly photographed and over promoted, and they are starting to see too much traffic from people who don’t respect the areas. This sort of ties in with the “lets go here” issue, and I think sometimes a little bit of mystery can keep a location special. I’ve also noticed more litter and vandalism in some spots that were once well taken care of. While I don’t think social media is fully to blame for this, I do believe it plays a large role. I’m not one of those people who scoff at those that like to go to the more touristy places such as Two Jack Lake, Johnson Canyon, Moraine Lake, or Lake Louise, I just hope that we don’t turn some of our hidden gems into total tourist ventures. Besides, it would be way more fun for people do some research on their own to find some of those beautiful locations. I know I really enjoy doing that! I also want to mention that if you prefer those overly popular places that I mentioned and like to go hang out and photograph them, than good for you! There is a reason places like those are popular…they are absolutely stunning.

In my opinion, the best part of hiking and being in nature is the feeling of accomplishment when you reach your goal destination, whatever that may be, all the while spending time with some amazing friends. There is no better feeling. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to walk a short distance on an easy flat trail to a waterfall, or scramble to the top of a towering peak. Whatever you choose to do, make smart choices and be sure to put the camera down once in a while to take in the scenery so you can truly enjoy your time in nature!



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