The recent New York Times article on social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) and climbing has spurred a fair amount of discussion on other sites and in other places. It was an interesting piece that really asks a basic question (and a potential follow-up): Does social media have a place on the mountain, and if so, how much of a role should it play? From the article….
“Caldwell updated his progress on Facebook using hisiPhone, which he charged with portable solar panels. His fans, a group that grew to more than 4,000 during his climb, could follow along in real time with commentary from the climber himself. No need to wait days, weeks or months for a print article or video. The Dawn Wall, as Caldwell’s project is known, is the latest example of what has become an increasingly accepted practice among professional climbers and in the wider climbing community: from-the-route social media. Observers enjoy it, sponsors encourage it and climbers get to share what is inherently a selfish pursuit.”
The primary argument against it (in the article) was because climbing has traditionally been a solitary type of engagement. Even when others are involved, it’s a small number of people actually going up the wall or making the trek up the mountain. So does posting the progress of a climb or expedition on Facebook and/or Twitter destroy the solitary nature of the sport? Does it invite an unwelcome element?
I have no idea. I haven’t done this enough yet to really know what that potentially negative effect might look like. But, what I do know/see are some real and potential positive effects.
First, take the example of Alan Arnette‘s recent Seven Summits bid to raise money for Alzheimers research and treatment. Here we have an incredible sportsman dedicating his efforts to the raising of money to treat a horrendous disease that took his mother from him and effects millions all over the world. As a budding climber I watched Alan’s efforts with awe, and as someone who has seen the effects of that disease on loved ones first hand, I saw the incredible and selfless value in his efforts. But no matter how many summits he made, without his exquisite use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, his blog), the fundraising wouldn’t have been possible. The excitement that I found in his efforts was made possible by the fact that I was kept up to date, in near real time, of his progress on the world’s seven highest summits. It inspired many to donate money to his cause. That increased awareness has allowed him to follow-up his climbs with speaking engagements at the US Capital and on radio and TV stations nation-wide. In this case, the combination of social media and climbing did a world of good.
Second, there was a recent thread on SummitPost asking whether mountaineering is in decline. And it’s a legitimate questions, I think. The golden age of exploration is passed us- all of the highest points on earth have been climbed (many times). Kids and young adults are no longer seeing the expeditions up these peaks and getting inspired to do it themselves. From my vantage point, I think it’s hard to argue that mountaineering and climbing has the appeal that it use to (at least to the non-initiated). But….that doesn’t mean all is doomed. In fact, I think the very question the NYT article asks is the answer to this particular issue. Younger and newer generations find their inspiration in different places than did earlier generations. Like it or not, Facebook and Twitter and the internet are where a lot of “the younger folks” spend a lot of their time. Using these mediums as an outlet for live or real-time information on climbing allows more and more people the opportunity to get exposed to it, maybe get excited about it, and maybe even give it a shot. Their experience might be like mine: the first time they do it, they’re hooked.
The question isn’t settled, and the path really only leads to more and more integration of climbing and the live electronic path it makes through the internet and social media. I think the key for the climbing community is to figure out how to harness the potential and use it for good, much like Alan Arnette has already done.