Screw Your Selfie

The meaning of experience.

“We had the experience but missed the meaning. And approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.” —T.S. Eliot

It seems obvious, at first blush, to think that we recreate for pleasure. Because it makes us feel good; because of what we see and hear and sense in wild country; because the very word “recreate” stems from the Latin recreare, to restore. But more and more, it seems, the pleasure of experience isn’t the point.

I’m talking about GoPro and Strava and social medias that demand constant attention. Increasingly, our experiences outside are products for consumption rather than restorative journeys. There is a growing attitude that we must share an experience online—immediately—for it to be meaningful, and that the number of views, or “likes” or shares somehow determine the quality of the experience.

It’s bullshit.

Our experiences are our own. We should make of them what we need—not what’s trending on Twitter. When I ask someone how their run or ride or ski was, I want to hear about what it meant to them: what creatures they saw, who they met, how it compares to adventures we’ve shared or other places they’ve been. I’m not interested in whether they got great footage, or beat the average pace of someone in their online age group—because unless you’re Ken Burns or Dean Karnazes, your product or result just isn’t that impressive. It doesn’t have to be. It’s recreation.

When I see a real-time “selfie” of someone standing at the top of a mountain, I am not impressed or envious or jealous. It saddens me to think that rather than soak in the views, observe the wildlife, or talk with partners—real-life people, right in front of us!—we feel compelled to remove ourselves from the present in order to promote an image for an assumed audience. Recreation as performance art.

My point is not that we shouldn’t take photos or draw sketches or write stories about our experiences. I’m a writer for crying out loud—it’s how I pay my bills. Which sort of is my point: why make playing outside work if it doesn’t have to be?

In Bozeman, we live for recreation. It’s why many of us moved here—certainly not for the weather or the vast number of high-paying jobs or the low cost of living. This spring, we have every opportunity to run and bike and fish and ski—all in the same day if we choose—and it’s these experiences that define us as a town and as a community. Even without my GoPro, that seems pretty meaningful to me.