A Happy New Year to you!
As I look out of the window this afternoon heavy rain is falling on already waterlogged ground. The fire’s on and instead of being outside I’m spending some time reviewing last year’s outdoor and blogging activities and looking ahead to what might be in store for 2018.
2017 – The ups
Looking back at some of my most memorable photos from last year it seems I got out and about and achieved quite a lot. This time last year I wrote a similar post anticipating ten likely adventures – and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed all bar two (I’ve hung up my running shoes since I want to preserve my knee joints and the tentative fishing trip didn’t happen).
- Camping – in a tent, wigwam and campervan
- Climbing mountains
- Sea kayaking
- Bungee jumping (at night, in the dark, without any lights)
- Cycle touring
- Island hopping
Early in 2017 I spent a lot of time upgrading my blog in more of a ‘magazine’ style. Hopefully it’s not only easier to navigate but it shows off my photos much better. In terms of blogging stats 2017 was certainly a good year: I published 35 posts, received 535,000 views and Above the clouds featured on WordPress Discover and subsequently gained almost 500 likes from mainly new readers.
2017 – The downs
But you may have noticed I’ve been pretty quiet lately. House improvements saw me with a paintbrush in hand for most of October and November and a family holiday, a busy time at work and other family-related activities also took up most of my spare time over the Autumn too. ‘Life’ took over.
So all in all, I haven’t been active on my blog or social media at all for about three months. At first, this bothered me. After all, I regularly posted two or three times a week when I first started blogging, falling to once or twice a fortnight in 2017. But taking a break from social media in particular has put a new perspective on things and now I’m in quite a different place to where I was a year ago.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole social media thing. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest can be invaluable sources of news and inspiration you really have to search hard to find the golden nuggets among the sand. There’s so much in the way of distractions, misinformation and manipulative content (read my recent post on clickbait, fake sites and the outdoor community) that if you let it, it can take over your life.
I agree with the views of Chamath Palihapitiya, former Facebook vice-president of user growth, who recently said that “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works”, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”
Much has been written about the way social media creates internally-reinforcing ‘tribal’ communities that reject opposing voices and instill norms that govern behaviour. At its worst it’s an echo chamber where likes and clicks drive mutually-reinforcing behaviours. And unfortunately, time away from my devices and PC shows the outdoor community to be no different.
I’ve just examined my own social media feeds:
- Crowding out the inspiration and insightful thoughts on Twitter are sponsored posts, corporate promotion, automated content posted by bots, trivial musings and the over-posting of self-publicists, obsessives and people waging personal vendettas
- If you’re in the right mood I find Instagram full of inspiring photos. But on a bad day I look at it and wonder how many of these people truly live the airbrushed life they portray? (But that’s what social media does: promote the good and ignore the bad)
- Despite Facebook generally being regarded as the best way to promote your blog I’ve always found it to be trivial and superficial. I closed down my original account and now only use Facebook to communicate with my DofE groups using private groups.
Interestingly, my blog receives more referrals from Facebook than any other social media platform, just ahead of Pinterest and with four times as many referrals as Twitter. Instagram, Reddit, Pocket and Yammer barely feature. Yet all of these are completely dwarfed by referrals from search engines. So for me at least, social media is really only a source of (inward) information and not a route for outward engagement: a one-way street, you might say.
So what does 2018 have in store?
So (following this little rant) … what do I conclude and what am I going to do about it?
In short, 2018 is going to be a year of simplifying my life. I want to get back to basics, to give my time to the things that really provide me with rewarding experiences. I live a busy life at work and don’t need any additional stress or pressures to ‘compete’ with others.
Here are four things I’m going to be doing differently from now on:
1. Ditch social media
… well, I probably won’t ditch it altogether but I certainly won’t be posting regularly and will only look at Twitter or Instagram if I’m looking for ideas and inspiration. I’ve never really used these platforms as ‘social’ meeting spaces – I don’t have the time – and the data shows that 95% of people discover this blog from Google in any case.
By its very nature, social media is restricted to short soundbites and images designed to provide immediate impact. Sure, it’s accessible and easy to follow a large number of people but these advantages are also its shortcomings: it tends to be superficial, blunt and open to misinterpretation. I’ve rediscovered blogs as an ultimately much more powerful format, able to communicate ideas and feelings in a way that social media platforms find very difficult.
2. Focus on quality over quantity
Having take a three-month break from my blog I now feel much less like I’m ‘on a schedule’ to post every so often. More importantly, having recently passed my five year blogging milestone I’m now much more selective in finding the things I want to say.
Content is king. That’s always been true and always will be – in spite of what the social media marketeers will tell you. So I’m going to continue to focus on ideas that have traction, stories that need telling and my personal experiences that are worth sharing.
I’ve also realised after five years of blogging (sometimes things take a while to seep into your consciousness) that it’s the creative writing process that’s therapeutic and rewarding. Creative thinking stimulates a part of my brain that often doesn’t get enough use in day to day activities, and this is a world away from bog-standard trip reports that seem to be the standard fodder in many people’s blogs. So I want to focus on improving the quality of my writing in my blog (and any other magazine articles, reviews or book ideas that come my way).
3. Focus on my main passions
Over the years I’ve never shied away from trying something new. Whether it’s doing a night bungee, going land yachting or taking up climbing or sea kayaking I get a kick out of new adventures and challenges. But if the goal this year is to simplify my life there’s no better way to do that than to consolidate what I already enjoy doing.
That doesn’t mean I’ll stay within my comfort zone of course – don’t be daft, life would be boring if we didn’t expand our horizons – but does mean I want to spend most of my time in the outdoors doing the things I love: walking, camping and cycle touring. I always have a bucket list of challenges on the go and nearing the top of the list is my ‘compleation’ of the Furths (by climbing the 13 3000-foot mountains in Ireland), backpacking in Scotland, cycling in the Western Isles or the Yorkshire Dales, and skiiing in the French Alps. On top of this I’m also leading a Silver Duke of Edinburgh group for the first time which is going to be a new challenge but really enjoyable.
4. Give my time to things that give me something back
Talking of enjoyment, isn’t this what it’s all meant to be about? Life’s far too short to spend it competing with the Joneses or worrying what other people think of you. Work/jobs/stress will all still be there the next day … so enjoy today while you can. My wife tends to be more successful in living this motto than I am but I need to get better at it: slowing down, living one day at a time and being more spontaneous.
A big part of this for me relates to mental wellbeing. I get stir-crazy when I’m cooped up inside too much and the mountains are calling. As a classic introvert, getting outdoors and enjoying some friluftsliv gives me the solitude I need to recharge my batteries so I return renewed and happy.
Finally, having just asked my wife to review this post, she’s suggested a fifth goal which will help us lead a simpler life. So it looks like I’m going to have to bite the bullet and finish clearing out the garage and loft this year too …
Tune in this time next year to see if I’ve managed to be true to my word and live a simpler (and clutter-free) life.
Whatever your aspirations and goals for 2018 I hope you achieve them – and have an enjoyable time in the process!