Connecting with Nature

NatGeo Cover.png

The other day as I scrolled through my Instagram feed, wasting my spare time in between classes, I noticed a National Geographic magazine cover (shown above) amongst the stream of Saturday’s tailgate and Oktoberfest photos. Beneath the cover was a brief description. National Geographic is looking for millennials to share photos of themselves at a national park or enjoying nature via #WilderNextGen.

The idea of social media connecting people to nature stuck with me throughout the day, so I later looked on National Geographic’s website for more information. I found an article written by Timothy Egan, where he shares an anecdote of exploring the Grand Canyon with his son Casey.  The article contrasts how baby boomers and millennials experience nature, and expresses concerns about the future of national parks due to younger generations spending more time online than outdoors.

The Issue of Millennials

Okemo.png

In the article, Jonathan Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service, directly addresses the issue of the declining popularity and preservation of national parks saying, “young people are more separated from the natural world than perhaps any generation before them.”  He goes on to state that “there are times when it seems as if the national parks have never been more passé than in the age of the iPhone.”  The facts certainly seem to back up his claims with 71% of millennials stating that they would be “very uncomfortable” on a one-week vacation without connectivity (according to a survey by Destination Analysts) compared to only 33% of baby boomers.  Another study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that young people spend more than seven hours a day on electronic media, and children 11 to 14 spend nearly twelve hours a day on electronic media.

Yes, millennials do spend (and waste) lots of time on social media and online.  However, I think that advancement in technology has not hindered the youths interaction with nature, but simply changed how we choose to interact with it.

The Issue of Minorities

park-city

National parks are not only struggling to attract young people; they also have a problem of diversity.  Nearly one in four Americans is under the age of 18 and half are racial or ethnic minorities.  The typical park visitor is white and middle-aged or older.  In 2013 only 24% of the population visited a national park.  Of those visitors 21% were millennials, and 77% were white.  Intuitively this makes sense though, since a large portion of millennials are growing up in urban environments with little exposure to national parks.

There is a prevalent and growing concern amongst baby boomers that our national parks are falling subject to corporate interests to develop infrastructure that will take away from the genuinely natural experience.  Millennials would rather tuck into a warm and comfortable hotel bed with wifi than lie wrapped in a sleeping bag on the cold ground. This poses a problem for the future preservation of our land, since each generation is spending more time scrolling newsfeeds and less exploring nature.  Our national parks need to do attract more millennials and minorities to parks to ensure their continued preservation.  The National Park Service has decided to update their digial presence to reach out to all millenials, no matter race or ethnicity.  They decided to begin using a constantly updated website and social media outreach.  The article describes it best, “they decided to use screens to try to get young people off their screens.” By embrassing social media instead of condemning it, the National Parks Service was better able to reach it’s target audience and was rewarded with a record 307 million visits in 2015.

Saving the Parks

caye-caulker

Although millennials are perceived as being detached from exploring the wilderness, I believe that social media has provided us ways to reconnect with nature.  Personally, I grew up always wanting to be outside and playing sports with friends.  I was late to get a phone and video game console when I was younger, so I wasn’t very familiar with social media or technology until high school.  Thus, I have always felt passionately about making time for adventures and leisure outside.  My love of the outdoors, paired with my interest in photography, have had a large impact on my social media use.

vic-falls

The three social media apps that I use the most are Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, which all incorporate photos.  I use these apps to share my experiences with my friends.  I love taking trips, both locally and internationally, to see and explore new parts of the world.  Instagram is a prime example of a platform that allows users to share memories from a certain location with their followers.  I find that the app allows millennials to connect with nature in a new and different way.  Instagram and Facebook allow people to share their location in posts, and Snapchat’s uses geotags to share peoples location.  I believe that sharing our location on social media excites other users to go out and explore.  It also provides a valuable recommendation to our friends of nearby places worth visiting.

Below are a few examples of posts with various locations:

squaw-island

Squaw Island – Hyannis, MA

lebombo

Kruger National Park, South Africa

 

lake-tahoe

Eagle Rock – Lake Tahoe, CA

One day this summer I was looking for a good place to hike in the greater Boston area. When I searched online I found a laundry list of hikes of various lengths and difficulties, but none stood out as the obvious choice.  I decided to consult Instagram to see if any of my friends had been hiking in the area recently.  I quickly came across a post from a friend who had recently been to Breakheart Reservation, so I immediately texted him to get his first hand account.  After hearing his high praise, I picked up another friend, and we headed out for the hike.  Technology and social media enabled us to easily find a recommendation from a reliable source, so we could get the most out of our experience.

breakheart

I think #WilderNextGen is a brilliant initiative that will reach out the more than 60 million people who follow National Geographic on Instagram.  It will also create a space for millennials to share amongst themselves the best hidden gems to visit and explore.  Additionally, I applaud Google for their recent work with the National Park Service.  Together they have released interactive tours at multiple national parks, which allow you to virtually tour the locations with a guide.  Unlike a traditional video however, you are free to look around in a 360° view of the park and move about each location at your own pace.

I believe that initiatives like #WilderNextGen and Google’s new tours of national parks, along with continued sharing over social media, will allow millennials to gain a greater appreciation for nature.  There will always be those who seek to profit at the expense of nature and its resources, but if millennials are able to gain and pass on an affinity for exploring nature we will be able to preserve our national parks for many generations to come.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein

Shoutout to Collin Reik for letting me share his Instagram photos.

 

10 comments

  1. francoismba · ·

    Loved reading this post. The statistics you included were extremely impactful – it’s sad that millennials spend so much time connected to technology. I think National Geographics’ social media campaign to increase the number of park attendees is a great idea. (Fun fact: One of the girls in the National Geographic cover is a girl that I went to high school with). Millennials seek out places, adventures, and experiences on social media sites; therefore, national parks should increase their social media presence. Personally, I have an album on my phone that contains screenshots of places I’ve seen on Instagram and hope to go in the future. Do you think Google’s tours of national parks will actually deter people from visiting the park, considering they have already “experienced” the park?

  2. I really enjoyed this post! It made me think of digital business in a much different way. So far in class, we have looked at business in the traditional sense- completely forgetting about business such as national parks. In fact, national parks are probably an area of business that are impacted most- particularly if people start to spend more time on electronic devices than they do in actual business. I think the #wildernextgen is an interesting initiative- it will be cool to see if national parks grow in popularity or if there visits per year increase. While social media is cool, nothing beats seeing what mother nature can show us.

  3. Nice post. I wonder if part of the trend away from nature/ national parks is the lack of viable cell/wifi service at many of the remote locations. Although we don’t necessarily need to be on technology all the time, I know I start to get jumpy when I can’t be reached if I need to be. Great post. Was just in Park City last winter. Great time skiing.

  4. Really cool topic and post! I agree that it gets very difficult to find places to explore or hike when just googling something like “hiking in Boston”. Though Instagram is doing well providing an immediate solution, I wonder if people will want a more filtered version to sort through different parks to visit. Besides the various articles online, there isn’t one place a person can go to search through places to go in nature. While many companies have tried to create location based services for other attractions, I don’t think anyone has moved into the “nature exploration” space. Really interesting to see that there’s definitely a need for it!

  5. holdthemayo4653 · ·

    Great post, I was actually thinking of writing about how social media can help people reconnect to the outdoors. By appealing to millennials through their medium of choice, social media, awareness of opportunities can be spread. I have to admit Professor Kane’s post makes me nervous. I feel like nature is the one place we can be free from our phones. Putting wifi in the national parks will enable people to miss out on what’s going on around them. I hope that there will continue to be initiatives to reconnect with world to the outdoors.

    On a personal note, I broke my phone on the beginning of my ski trip to Jackson Hole last year. For the first 24 hours you would have thought that someone ran over my puppy. Once I got past the devastation it was so liberating to disconnect and enjoy vacation, nature, and fully connect with everyone around me. Given my phone was dead I was pretty unimpressed when people around me were on their phones…

    When I got back from vacation I waited a week to get a new phone. A WHOLE WEEK. Unimaginable right? I had gotten use to not having it and wanted a break. It really makes you realize how over connected we are and how unnecessary it is.

  6. emmaharney21 · ·

    I think this is an exceptional post about a really interesting topic. We typically think of technology as what keeps us indoors. Social media is was keeps us glued to our phones instead of enjoying the world around us. Your post definitely added a new and interesting perspective to that traditional way of thinking. This post reminded me of a company called TenTree. TenTree is a social enterprise that plants 10 trees for every product they sell. They use their social media presence to encourage their target customers to get outdoors and engage with nature. This helps them to promote the social mission of their company but also helps them create a more engaged social media following. They encourage similar posts as to the examples you provided of individuals sharing their experiences outdoors. Thoughtful post!

  7. I think that everyone assumes that technology has taken us away from the outdoors, but you really did a great job of quantifying it and seeing the stark contrast between the young technology users and the baby boomers. The argument was very well written and consisted of very good examples to back up your points. I do find it ironic however that social media is the cause and could very well end up being the solution to getting millennials back into the outdoors. I do worry about correlation not leading to causation for outdoor social media posts. Traffic on nature posts might not necessarily encourage people to go outside as much as the impact it made on social media. People enjoy the views, but are not necessarily ready to go to the outdoors when they can just look at in on their phone (and with a filter).

  8. Great post. Enjoyed sharing trip to Vic Falls and experiencing the great outdoors in South Africa with you…What a live changing experience!

  9. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I had a similar experience when social media influenced my friends and I to take a weekend trip hiking this summer. We were looking to take a trip and we noticed an instagram of people at the top of a mountain. It looked like a fun idea and we decided to plan a trip. During the planning process we found a website that listed all of the trails in the New England area. They were ranked by difficulty and there were reviews about each hike. It turned out to be a great trip. One issue that I had with social media and planning the hike was that I wanted to be surprised by what we encountered on the trip. Because the hike planning website was so detailed, even including photos along the way, almost nothing was a surprise.

  10. Great article, thank you for sharing. I agree that Social media definitely has benefited nature and it has hindered it as well. I am very into hiking and when I spent three weeks west coast this year, I was able to use Instagram to check spots that my friends had hiked, and even see pictures of where other people went and what they recommended. I couldn’t agree more with when you said, “Technology and social media enabled us to easily find a recommendation from a reliable source, so we could get the most out of our experience.”

%d bloggers like this: