Social media is one of my favorite topics. I love to hate it. I got off of all social media this year and instantly felt happier and more content. I would highly recommend deleting your Facebook and Instagram to anyone who asks. There were a few reasons I kicked social media to the curb, but the biggest one was that it began to feel fake, especially Instagram. It seemed like every single post was an ad. However cleverly disguised, it was still product placement and a shout out to a sponsor. I started wondering if ANYONE on Instagram WASN’T sponsored. It rubbed me the wrong way because it felt inauthentic.
Not only did I have to scroll past ads, but now they were INSIDE the posts that I came to Instagram to see. Advertising was everywhere and I began to feel almost stalked by ads. I couldn’t escape them. They had seeped into content, making the content less authentic. Instagram became one giant advertisement.
Turns out my gut feeling about Instagram was right. Many of the photos and feeds I ogled were not real. I heard about an account called @youdidnotsleepthere that calls out photographers for posting fake camping shots. I had no idea that people even did this, but apparently photographers go set up tents in places you’re not even allowed to camp and set up perfectly poised shots with models holding steaming mugs of coffee and wearing fuzzy socks, probably next to an adorable dog. But it’s just a photo shoot with models in spots you aren’t even allowed to spend the night. The tent gets torn down and the gear shoved back in the van. Nobody went camping and no adventures were had, but they got a beautiful shot that makes people think that THIS is what camping is. It’s completely inauthentic.
Authenticity these days is hard to come by. To me, it’s the one thing an advertiser can’t buy, and the one thing the consumer desperately wants. I don’t get annoyed when I see a logo or brand name in a photo on social media.That’s relatively unobtrusive. But the sponsors can’t stop there. The Instagrammer has to mention the product by name in the caption and post a cheesy shout out to the sponsor, like, ” I just love my new Brand Name Tent. It makes all my adventures so much more epic!” It doesn’t though, and everyone knows it. The Instagrammer is just getting paid to say that it does.
I think I have a sixth sense for authenticity. I think it came from growing up on an island that was a tourist destination. I can spot a tourist a mile away. I remember as a teenager working various jobs in the tourist industry and noticing how people dressed when they came to the beach. They wore their board shorts and flip flops and carried their brightly colored beach towels and they stood out because it was all new and the brands were not the ones locals wore. The local surfers wore ripped up board shirts and didn’t usually bother to put a shirt on. The local fishermen wore any old thing, but it was stained with fish blood and usually threadbare. If they had on new board shorts and a t-shirt with no stains, they were on their way to church.
There was a clear difference between people who lived on the island and those who visited. It was evident in everything from attire to attitude, and it wasn’t something anyone could fake. To this day when I go on vacation, I love spotting the locals around town going about their business. It’s a fun game to play when we go to Colorado every summer. I see the local ranchers having lunch at the diner. They are deeply tanned, wearing jeans with a few holes here and there, boots that are scuffed, hats that have perfectly conformed to the shape of their heads, and belt buckles that they won 10 years ago at the local rodeo. If you know what to look for, you know who they are. They’re authentic. They’re not trying too hard. I could put on jeans, cowboy hat, and belt buckle, but it would be a costume for me. It isn’t who I am. It’s not authentic. I would look like I was trying too hard.
Advertisers try too hard. They require people to write up cheesy shout outs that come off as forced. I miss the old days when ads came BETWEEN the content, when I could mute them on the TV or scroll past them on the feed. Now they’re everywhere, all the time.
I’ve been going to YouTube more frequently now for gear advice and inspiration. YouTube has a 5 second ad at the beginning of the video and then I get real content. People make money on their YouTube channels, and I love that. I am a capitalist, after all! But on YouTube the advertising is separate from the content. YouTubers, at least the adventure channels I watch, aren’t reciting cheesy lines fed to them by sponsors. They may be riding a bike or carrying a pack given to them by a sponsor, but they tell you that and then get on with it. I get to see the pack or the bike in a real life situation, not an Insta-worthy photo shoot, and make up my own mind whether I think it’s worth buying. To me, that is how honest advertising works.
In the age of social media, photo filters and sponsorships, I think people are longing for authenticity. Instagram started out as a radical idea because it gave ordinary people the ability to create stunning images of things in their world, and we all got to be voyeurs into those worlds, often so different than our own. I liked Instagram when it was more raw, more real.
I edit the photos that appear on this blog, but nothing is fake about my adventures. I really go to all these places with my kids, and I don’t make any money from it. I just enjoy chronicling our adventures and hopefully inspiring other people to get out and explore. My biggest hope for my blog is that someone will come here, see a trip I did with my kids, and then go do that trip, or create one of their own!