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!