The landscape of outdoor recreation is changing. Going bush is becoming more accessible and desirable as values change and as technology continues to improve and impact our wild experiences. Everyone is heading outside; in this article Tim Ashelford asks “why?”
Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly why I head outside. The wide open spaces, grounding interactions with natural beauty and disconnection from the ever accelerating digisphere almost speak for themselves.
But the hills and the valleys aren’t changing, they’re still kicking it like they have been for hundreds of years. They’re a little bit warmer since we discovered how to burn things on an industrial scale but for the most part, they’re unchanged.
So what’s going on?
We’re Pushing Back
As television, computers and the dreaded smartphone have slowly pervaded our everyday life, it’s easy to read the narrative of an increasingly sedentary race. You only have to look to modern sci-fi to see predictions of holographic girlfriends (Bladerunner 2049) or artificial natural environments (Cloud Atlas) that seem hauntingly close.
It may be however, that humans have a tipping point past which they will simply reject further artificial intrusions into their lives. We know deep down that spending time in natural environments is good for us and recently this has received some scientific backing; perhaps we can only cope with so much.
Regardless of whether we’ve already crossed an imaginary threshold or not – there are a few factors worth considering.
Gosh Darn Millennials
Surprisingly, recent studies in the States have shown that millennials are camping more often. That’s right, the generation that experienced the rise of video games and the internet in its youth, and is therefore bound to be chained to wifi for time immemorial, is actively seeking out time under canvas.
Some of the main factors possibly bringing on this change include the rejection of technology and social media, its counterpart: the experience economy and the desire to share increasingly noteworthy experiences.
Have We Reached The Tipping Point?
I might be being dramatic with that headline, but it’s also pretty valid. The concept of “logging off” or “escaping” technology, especially social media, resonates incredibly well with audiences whenever it’s mentioned. Unlike most addictions however, people seem to crave the withdrawal symptoms of a digital detox and look to camping and hiking as a means to literally disconnect.
I’d like to suggest that there’s more at play than just the peace and quiet of receiving less notifications-per-hour.
When you head out bush with the crew you’re forcing yourself, consciously or not, to directly share time together. Digital disconnection, along with the possible hardships you might encounter on an adventure, pave the way for strong social connections that no messaging service or Skype call could ever replicate.
For the solo adventurers, you’re engaging entirely with your natural surroundings and reaping all of the psychological benefits of contact with nature.
Add the resetting of your body clock and the relaxing effect that nature has on a stressed-out brain and suddenly removing social media and technology becomes just part of the puzzle. Maybe we should stop calling them “digital detoxes” and start thinking of going bush as “digital replacement therapy”.
The Experience Economy
There’s another side to social media however, it’s the experience economy and the growing desire to document, share and curate our lives. Could this be the hidden, slightly-less-romantic reason we’re heading outside?
The ability to take boundless photographs and share them with hundreds of friends and acquaintances has sparked rapid changes globally. Instead of the materialism of the 20th century, people in the 21st century are championing experiences over goods; adventure tourism is on the rise globally.
Those pesky millennials are back again, they’re the driving force behind these changing values thanks to their high social media use and the levelling effect of experiences. While some of us are heading out to escape technology and engage with reality, for many, it’s the mystique of that sunrise summit on Instagram that’s drawing us outside. This has led Ruby to question the effect of Instagram on #adventure.
This behaviour isn’t always healthy. Entering the natural world with the sole purpose of stroking one’s ego, or adding to the endless curation of a constructed online reality, probably isn’t nurturing your mental wellbeing or helping you to remain grounded – in fact it could be seen as materialism in a more digestible form.
A Triple J listener recently admitted to encouraging her friend to come explore a hidden waterfall, with the secret underlying motivation of getting a photo that made her look outgoing, to thirst trap a boy who followed her on Instagram. Surely this works against the natural benefits of time spent outdoors that I mentioned above.
But I might be coming across a bit cynical, there could be some positives to all of this posting, sharing and thirst-trapping after all. Suddenly we don’t have to pick up a magazine or watch a BBC documentary to see jaw-dropping natural wonders and hidden gems. They’re right there in our feed, often with another regular human standing dorkily front and centre. All of a sudden, they’re achievable.
Get Out There
The reasons we’re heading outside more often are numerous, personal and often conflicting, but the driving force that binds them together is a deep desire for real and memorable experiences. An intuitive human desire for the authentic and the natural. It’s why we’ll always revere a perfect tropical beach, regardless of our spiritual outlook, even when modern engineering could produce an identical replica. It’s why climbing a mountain trumps 1000 steps on a stairmaster every time.
Whether you’re heading out to escape your feed, looking to replicate an adventure you’ve seen (on We Are Explorers perhaps?), chasing some nature therapy or planning to snap a selfie for the ages, the end result is the same: you’re getting out there and engaging directly with nature.
So go on, get out there.
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