I returned home from my annual girls backpacking trip last summer and proudly presented 62 Avenza placemarkers to my husband. (If you’re not familiar with Avenza, it is a mapping app that works whether you have phone service or not.) Over our five-day, 35-mile expedition I had marked just over 60 points on an interactive map and taken a photo at nearly every spot as well. What a great tool to help preserve and share outdoor experiences.
Over the course of his youth, Stu spent months backpacking, fishing and exploring this same area with one of his best friends. Some of his fondest memories were made along those trails, and sadly, his buddy passed away a few years back. As the four of us girls covered the same territory, I marked our spot frequently because I knew Stu would be happy to see all of the parallels.
To say he was less than impressed with my efforts would be an understatement. Trying to look at tiny photos and on an even tinier map on my phone was not his idea of connecting over a shared experience. I’d anticipated sitting down and showing him every photo from every placemarker and listening to him recall times he and his friend had been in the same locations. On the other hand, Stu had looked forward to sitting down with me and simply talking about my journey. Clearly, we had diametrically opposing perspectives on the matter.
Was I disappointed that my husband had no interest in immersing himself in the virtual tour I had thoughtfully created just for him? Absolutely. Was Stu equally disappointed that his wife had wasted her precious time in the Wilderness on such frivolity as marking spots on a map and taking excessive photos she will likely never look at again? What is a word that means drastically more than absolutely?
I’ve reflected on this experience many times in the past year and a half because of the correlation it draws to a national conversation happening around geotagging. While there are plenty of folks who wish it weren’t so, there’s no denying that technology and social media are prevalent in and seriously impacting the realm of outdoor recreation. What many people see as progressive and beneficial advances, others see as the inevitable demise of good old fashioned exploration and adventure.
Case in point: whether or not we, as outdoor recreationalists, should identify the locations of our ventures by tagging the photos we share on social media (aka geotagging) is not something everyone agrees upon. In fact, it has become such a hot button issue that the impeccable folks at Leave No Trace have addressed it extensively on their website. You can read their advice at https://lnt.org/new-social-media-guidance/
While you may be excited to tell the world exactly where you climbed, skied, fished, camped, or canoed on that most recent epic adventure, have you considered the possible impact your sharing may have on that special place you treasure?
Julie Greer is a member of the Wyoming State Parks & Cultural Resources Commission.