Is Social Media Ruining the Modern Concept of Wilderness?

Greg Obernesser | | Post Tag for BrainsBrains
Gates Arctic Wilderness. Credit: VPR

Is social media ruining the modern concept of wilderness? This question occurred to me while writing my last piece about how social media is sometimes making us take unnecessary risks in the backcountry. If social media is making us venture further and deeper into places not traveled, I feel we interacting with wilderness in a way that was unforeseeable by the people that originally constructed the initial framework.

Mt. Wilson in the Lizard Head Wilderness. Credit: PEW Trusts

To start, what is wilderness? Why is it there? What is it supposed to do? According to Wild Montana, which uses the United States Wilderness Act of 1964’s legal definition of wilderness,

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The modern construct of the wilderness was born out of the conservation movement in the mid-1960s due to our nation recognizing that the long-term health and welfare of our country was at risk. These areas were zoned off to development because they were recognized as vital to the human spirit and the fabric of our nation.

Wilderness in the European Alps. Credit: Sofia DG

Through a critical prism of pure conservationism, one could make the argument that social media is degrading the land and ruining the modern concept of wilderness. As previously mentioned, the wilderness is an area where people go to interact with nature at a pure level and it is a place where people do not remain. In the post-modern, globalized, digital-era, two facts are starkly present, the world is a lot smaller through digital interconnectivity and there aren’t that many places where people haven’t been. The argument could be made that in this era of geo-tagging social media, the places where people by definition are not supposed to remain are littered with selfies and other digital traces of humans that will remain forever on the internet.

Capitol Peak in the Snowmass Wilderness. Credit: Denver Post

What’s the big deal if people use social media in wilderness areas? The more people post, tag, share, and like wilderness content, the less wilderness feels like wilderness. The more posts you see about a trail in a remote backcountry area, the less it feels like a rugged spot isolated from civilization and more like an artifice of what it was originally designed to do. Granted the people that drafted the bill and the unanimous Congress that voted to enact it had no idea of knowing what social media was or would do to our world, the original concept was designed to generate pure relations with nature.

So the paradox persists… are we preserving areas while littering them with digital content? What do you think?

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