Me, taking a picture on my phone
Me, taking a picture on my phone

Mobile devices do not just extend the number of places that you can use social media; they bring social media to those places and, through the LBS [location based service], contribute to the construction of new cartographies of space. In other words, they provide us with new ways of mapping meaning to space and creating new places.
– Understanding Social Media, Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth.

I spent the last year working in social media and in my spare time I write about nature. These two aspects of my life always seemed very disparate – I even have separate blogs for my writing about nature and social media. But perhaps I’ve been wrong to think of them in this way, perhaps the two interact and mediate one another in ways I hadn’t considered before.

Although I now own a smart phone, I was very resistant to the idea. It seemed pointless to have a phone that you could also check your email, browse the internet, and take and edit photographs on, when all you really need it to do is send and receive calls and text messages. But then, as a teenager I insisted on writing on a typewriter and I swore that I would never own a laptop. Starting university and the need to submit word processed essays soon rid me of that particular conviction. But I still find myself feeling instinctively opposed to new technologies. I can’t see myself ever owning a Google Glass and I maintain that a virtual reality is no substitute for the real thing, but I’m willing to believe that I will one day change my mind.

It was starting a job in social media that finally convinced me to buy a smart phone. Now, I mainly use it for checking email, browsing the internet and taking pictures. Phone calls and text messages make up a small fraction of my phone usage.

I wouldn’t say that I am particularly possessive of my phone. Within a few months of owning it, I’d already cracked the screen and beyond a plain black case, I haven’t done much to personalise it. I don’t have that many apps and I only use a few of the ones I do have. I like to think I could lead a perfectly happy and productive life without it and I’m not always entirely convinced of its usefulness. Just the other week, I was in a new city and got lost. I tried using the Google Maps app, but soon gave up because I couldn’t figure out how to use it and I decided I’d rather enjoy my surroundings than stare at my phone.

However, I do take my phone with me everywhere. I haven’t quite graduated to taking it into bed with me, but it does sit on the floor at the foot of the bed at night. I don’t tend to check Twitter and Facebook whilst I’m out walking or cycling (although I recently found myself walking through the Nottinghamshire countryside, whilst chatting to my boyfriend, who was in the US, via Google Talk – which is a wonderful thing to be able to do, come to think of it). However, I do use it for taking pictures when I’m out and about and in this indirect manner, social media shapes the way I experience the places I’m walking or cycling through. For instance, I might take a picture specifically to post it on Instagram or Twitter. What’s more, I usually know if I’m going to write a blog post about a particular place or encounter with place before I’m even home – in fact, I’m usually writing the blog post in my head as I walk along – and I’m aware of the fact that the pictures I take will accompany and help me to write the post.

As a writer, this is a good thing, because blogging forces me to think about how I will describe the way the sky looks or to question how I really feel about a place. If it weren’t for social media I’d probably be doing this anyway with a physical nature journal, but I think having a blog adds an extra element of motivation. If I don’t write in a notepad no one but me is going to know. Having readers makes me more accountable. What’s more, knowing that someone will actually read what I’ve written and that it might even spark an interesting discussion makes the experience more rewarding.

However, I do wonder whether I’m fully able to enjoy and become absorbed in a place when I’m snapping pictures or in my head, wondering how I’m going to describe the landscape on my blog. Should social media be intruding upon my experiences of nature in this way? My gut feeling is that it is wrong. That somehow, my experiences of nature are less authentic if I’m simply using them as content for my social media profiles. I’m willing to believe that – as with laptops and smart phones – my gut instinct might be wrong and that this is a much more complex issue. It’s one I hope to explore it in more detail in a series of posts about nature and technology.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what my lovely readers think!

0 thoughts on “The social mediation of nature

  1. Interesting post, Naomi. I agree that a blog can be a great discipline for writing. For me, writing about walking has made me more attentive and given me a greater sense of connection with my environment. I’ve never thought about my walking experience being less authentic when it is the intended subject of a blog – maybe because I think of my blogging as a convenient outlet for my writing rather than primarily as social media. But maybe anything that you do with the intention of writing about it is to some extent ‘inauthentic’. I’ll have to think about that some more… I’ll look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this.

    1. It is debatable whether blogging counts as social media – but for convenience I define social media broadly as any form of online sharing. I agree, my blog has definitely made me more attentive. But at the same time, I’m perhaps not as engaged in the moment if I’m photographing it (which admittedly isn’t a problem unique to the advent of social media) or thinking about how I’ll tweet about the experience. And as you say, perhaps any attempt to write about an experience results in inauthenticity. One thing I hope to look at it my next post is how social media in particular shapes our memories of time spent in nature.

  2. Naomi/ Carringtonia,

    Aleks Krotoski has covered Memory in her Digital Human series on BBC Radio Four.

    This series shows the impact of the digital on our corporeal selves. It has been a fascinating set of programmes that I’ve listened to again and again. She has an enduring interest in serendipity especially the way that the algorithms that drive search processes online can limit not expand our knowledge base. The trick of being a ‘nature blogger’ is to have one eye looking outside of the camera frame or the text -input box so that the serendipitous can sneak in.

    Why Aleks’ work feels pertinent to this post is that the photograph taken out of context can project a memory in ways that are fallible. Also I think it was john Berger who told us that images are never accurate representations they always carry the value base of the maker so we need to question them carefully. Social media because it is so immediate and snapshot-like needs interrogation too but we tend to not take the time to subject it to rigourous consideration.

    Authenticity is different from this form of ‘inaccuracy’. We are trying to communicate our perceptions/beliefs about being human and those are changed by circumstance/ get influenced by trends. The change process doesn’t render them inauthentic just different.

    Blogging, social media etc increases the rate of our change in thinking and speeds up its circulation to others. Occasionally something numinous like a book comes along that slows down the process (whilst its contents are read and considered) changes the ‘meme’ and off we all go again.

    We authentically believe one thing till we authentically believe something else!


  3. Thanks for those links, David – enjoyed that post, and I will listen to that programme (if the BBC lets me). As a fairly recent adopter of social media, I’m very conscious of both the speed and noise that it creates, and of my need to be both selective and attentive in how I engage with it and with my own creativity. It’s really good to read what others are thinking about this.

  4. I think blogging can be included under the social media umbrella, more so when links to blogs hook into Twitter as does yours. the obvious space that a blog permits is well served by the hooks that the briefer Tweet advertises. Many of the blogs I now follow (like yours), I found first via Twitter. I too was a social media Luddite. I embrace it now as a means of sharing (still hate that term) with others, family and further abroad in every sense. Wouldn’t go back!

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