Living On A Stage

The NY Times had a piece last Friday about how social media and frequent sharing has seeped into the world of climbing.  The article was entitled, On Ledge and Online: Solitary Sport Turns Social.  It used, world-renowned climber Tommy Caldwell as an example of how climbers are using social media and always-improving mobile technology to keep their followers abreast to the details of their conquests.

As an avid climber myself, I have been captivated by Caldwell’s multi-year quest to climb the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Cap, 20-some pitches of 5.13-5.14 climbing on a nearly featureless wall.

But, I’ll resist the urge to geek out and get on to my point.  The article focuses on the potential effect that freqeuent sharing through social media has on the mindset of the climber.  The crux of the article (no pun intended) is this:

“In the last six years, more climbers have started engaging in almost-live updates from the mountains,” said Katie Ives, the editor of Alpinist magazine. She says she worries that “instead of actually having the experience be the important part, it’s the representation of the experience that becomes the important part — something is lost.” David Roberts, a writer and climber, said from-the-route media “introduces a fatal self-consciousness” to a climb. It removes the “blissful sense of being alone out there.”

This is great stuff.  When climbers are interacting with their fans through Facebook and other channels they’re removing their focus from the present moment, and into, as Ives says, a more representational state of consciousness. [Note: we should probably give Tommy a break, he was, after all, sleeping on the side of a 3,000 foot wall for 16 days.]

But, what’s really important here, is that this state of existence is real for everyone who chooses to live a digital life.  Whether we’re at a concert, out to dinner, or catching a ball game, we’re tempted to capture that experience and/or provide some commentary about it.  No matter how you look at it, we are removing ourselves from living fully in the present moment.

The question though becomes, what effect, if any will it have on us as humans over time?  Since the invention of the camera, man has been stepping out of the present in an effort to preserve special moments.  Furthermore, research has shown that preserving memories through keep sakes like pictures tends to increase the strength and positive affectations that we associate with them, which in turn adds meaning to our lives.

So, could our incessant documenting and sharing be somehow beneficial?  Since the invention of Twitter, I’ve certainly noticed that after reading or watching some piece of content, I’m much quicker to explore my mind for unique thoughts, insights or perspectives to pair with the link I’m sharing.  Not necessarily living in the present, but I doubt this sort of critical inquiry could be harmful.

I certainly don’t have an answer for this.  But, would love to see some longitudinal research that tracks the emotional states and overall quality of living for heavy social media users versus non-users.

Thanks for reading.  Any thoughts?

[image courtesy of Brett Lowell/Big UP Productions]

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