The internet has changed the world. We can now be in constant contact with almost anyone in the world from anywhere at anytime. It does not matter anymore how far away you are, if you have a phone plan with data you will likely be able to get online and reach the world. This has brought about many positive changes, from increasing the availability of knowledge to decreasing distance between loved ones. During the five and a half months Kane and I were apart, literally on opposite sides of the world, we still were able to talk everyday, even if sometimes it was just a text or two. Pre-Internet era I would have had to place an expensive international call to hear from him or, even further back in history, wait months for a letter to make it by ship across the Pacific.
However, while the Internet era has brought many good changes, there are many negatives that have begun to invade our smart phone filled lives. With constant access to entertainment; Netflix, music streaming, stupid cat videos, etc; comes decreasing attention spans and the inability to simply be. Now it is no longer good enough to sit on a beautiful beach and watch the waves, no, now one must take an Instagram-able selfie and then semi-obsessively check to see how many strangers have liked their photo.
I write this in part with my head hung low in shame, because in the past month I feel I have become that person Instagram-ing on the beach. It is not a secret that I have been trying to get my blog to a wider audience and, recently, I decided to take a hint from the pros and use Instagram as a platform to find a wider audience for my blog. I started posting more regularly and trying harder to take like worthy photos, but it wasn’t until I took a good friend’s advice and started hashtaging that things really took off. To set the record straight, I’ve always kind of hated hashtags. I think they look tacky and attention grabby, but since I’ve started using them I have to admit, on Instagram, they work. So well in fact that I got over 70 likes on a rather mediocre photo of myself on a rather mediocre hike in Cape Range National Park. Good, right? Not necessarily.
The problem, I’ve realized, isn’t the hashtags themselves, but my use of them to gain a feeling of approval from a group of people I’ve never met, to bring myself a level of respect in the social media soaked world of travel blogging. In five years time I won’t give a damn that one of my photos got reposted by a tourism site or that a couple hundred people were watching my adventures. In five years time I will remember the adventure itself, the time spent traversing the outback with Kane, the time living our adventure. I will remember the two German backpackers who helped us break into our car after we locked the keys inside miles from phone service or any sort of town. I will remember drinking beers under a star-studded sky with friends we met snorkeling on a (almost) deserted beach on Warroora Station. I will remember Kane teaching me how to fish and me singing (incredibly loudly and off-tune) “here fishy fishes” in an attempt to catch something more than reef.
I am grateful that, in this remote corner of the world on the Ningaloo Coast, wifi does not exist and that I can only use data before 8 am or after 8 pm (and only close enough into town that there is service). Here I cannot check Instagram to see how a photo is doing. Instead, I take some photos, put my phone in my bag, and go for a swim in crystal clear tourquoise waters. I love that when we drive into Cape Range National Park we have no service to settle disagreements about whether a whale shark is a fish or a mammal. I love that we have to talk about it for an hour, mull over the possibilities, then, hours later, find the answer (which I was right about for the record, whale sharks are definitely fish).
It is a strange conundrum that travel writers, those who write about the beauty of being in a place, are often the very people staring at their phones, ingoring the same gorgeous locations they are writing about. We write about our travels for many reasons, the love of writing, wanting to share our adventures with the world, etc, but we do not travel to blog. We travel to see the deserted beaches of the world and to share beers with strangers turned friends. We travel to break free from the consumer culture that teaches us to be unhappy and unsatisfied. We travel to cut loose the shackles of normalcy. Our blogging should be something that adds to our lives, not detracts from them, and this is why I am glad to be as off the grid as seems to be possible these days. I needed to be forced to reassess my online habits and this time unplugged in the outback has given me that clarity. I can only hope to remember it once I’m back in civilization. For now I will continue travel blogging offline, happily free from smartphone notifications.