The part of me that is a curmudgeonly old man found herself musing last week that perhaps many problems in our world could be solved if we could somehow slow ourselves down.
I mean that in the most grandiose way possible, of course. My imaginary old man-self doesn't think small. Maybe what we need to ditch is technology. Go back to carrier pigeons, or even just ditch email in favor of good old-fashioned mail.
After all, snail mail is called that for a reason. It is relatively slow. It takes so much care to hand draft or even type out a letter, review it, use your whiteout, crumple it all up and start over, and finally, fold, address and send. So much time to rework and deliberate. Unlike, say, an email that can be fired off in the heat of the moment (I've done that and immediately regretted it — who hasn't?).
What, you may wonder, does this all have to do with the outdoors? Fair question, and we are getting there on this wraparound porch of mine as I rock on my chair and smoke my cigar.
According to a recent study, the average American spends almost 12 hours a week consuming media on a smartphone. I refuse to find out how many hours I spend because I'm afraid to know the answer, but I can tell you that between working full time, writing and painting on the side, seeing friends and hauling my butt on foot, bike, or ski across trails, I am not THAT plugged in. Yet. I know I'm still addicted.
Last week, realizing there are big things I want to accomplish and not enough hours in the week, I deactivated my Facebook account. Done. My account is still there somewhere on a server for Mark Zuckerberg to mine for data — and so I can retrieve photos if needed — but dormant, and perhaps most importantly deleted from my phone.
The heart of my problem lies within a vicious cycle of inauthenticity online, made fast and therefore worse by a perceived need for immediate response. And here is where the outdoors come in.
I may live out in the boonies in Palmer, but I've met an "influencer" or two in my day. The deal is you can make some cash or at least get some cool opportunities by gaining a solid following on social media platforms. Especially for photographers or adventurers, Instagram is a choice platform to share simple content that features photos over text.
And like anything, there is a psychology behind it.
People like seeing people who could be a stand-in for themselves, one photographer explained to me. So a shot of a beautiful place, perhaps with an interesting feature that beckons the viewer to explore, and behold! There is a woman opening the door, or silhouetted on the trail, or standing on the summit.
It inspires awe that doesn't come without envy. I would like to be the woman in the photo. But I am on my couch because I'm tired, I have to work tomorrow, and I used up all my vacation time already. Alas, Baja will have to wait for next year or five years because I have a mortgage to pay. So much for #vanlife. (I like the post anyway.)
I do not see this as intrinsically bad. I don't think photographers or adventurers who use the Internet to make a living are doing something insidious.
What I do see as a problem is when the bottom drops out on the soul of real, lived experience. That can happen to the "influencer" who becomes so obsessed with getting the right shot they may not appreciate life as they live it. (Side note: that happens not just to people who are paid; I catch myself thinking in captions and it's scary and I hate it).
If my life doesn't look or feel as perfect as those Instagram posts, I wonder what I'm doing wrong. Then my time in the outdoors becomes a chase. If I'm not careful, I run the risk of losing the tremendous value of my time spent doing what I love in the incredible Alaska outdoors and turning it into a caption, a hashtag, a vile comparison to others' lives.
A little comparison and competition never hurt anyone. But believing that life and adventure is always as sweet as those photos is at best misleading and at worst demoralizing.
There's a photo out there of a woman floating on a rectangle camping pad on a glacial pond so completely clear and placid it looks like she is flying or hovering.
I've stared at that photo and wondered if the woman feels the way the photo looks. She isn't looking at the lake because she is face-down on the pad. Who is the moment really for? The photographer? The audience — that is, me?
Hopefully it's for the woman, too, who knows she's in a pretty cool corner of the world experiencing a bluebird day. But the whole "living her best life" thing feels contrived.
Who knows what's going through her head? Maybe she has to pee. I have the craziest thoughts sometimes, even — especially — in the most beautiful places. I crave potato chips, or I kick myself for that stupid thing I said last week.
The point is, when I'm outside I have time finally to clean all of that out of my head. That's not to say I go outdoors and my head is miraculously clear. It takes time. I have to think thoughts first, and then shake them out of my ears into crystal-clear mountain lakes. I would hate, in addition to needing this time to scrub my brain out, to also feel pressure to have a pure experience with the perfect photo and compact caption to share with the world afterward.
Being outdoors, like life, just doesn't work like that. Nor should it. How will I know when I'm having a great time if I never have the worst time?
So, back to my curmudgeonly self who wishes she could slow down time. Or at least slow the pace at which we do things. I believe this would create more fullness in various acts — writing a letter, taking a photo, sharing and experiencing that photo.
There are ways of experiencing and sharing life that are genuine. There's even a way to look at click-bait content with a healthy grain of salt, knowing it's like any other performance — part talent, part stage. Just a slice of life, not its entirety.
Ultimately it's on me to slow my roll. It's no longer uphill both ways to school. The world has become more seamless and in many ways easier. And so much faster. If I want my porch where technology doesn't exist and memories curl up in front of me with my cigar smoke, I'm going to have to stake it out and sit on it. I'll need to go do my thing and maybe not even share it.
I don't have a caption for that.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.