Into (and out of) the (Social Media) Wild

There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.
-LORD BYRON, Childe Harold

I took the month of June “off” from Social Media, mostly.

It wasn’t any great social statement. I was gone most of two weeks at Scout camp, untethered from the ‘net, with work projects on deadline before and after. The choice found me.

It seems like we simply can not appreciate what we have unless and until we find ourselves without it. We don’t appreciate our families until we go off to college far away, or they are taken from us too young. We don’t appreciate walking downtown to the corner cafe, until the Fast Feeders move in and the cafe closes down. Man does not appreciate freedom until we’ve spent some time in chains.

This is one reason I am drawn to wild places. Lonely places. Walking into the wild clarifies things. It is just you and your wits against God’s world. When you give up everything, that which matters most becomes quite clear.

I was quite taken in by Jon Krakauer’s story of Christopher McCandless and his journey Into the Wild.  I was living in Bozeman, Montana, when the book came out, taking my own expeditions ’round the Big Sky state, and young Alexander Supertramp would have been my peer.  I felt his burning desire to set aside the ways of the world and test himself against the Great Unknown.

As you likely know by now (after the movie came out) this hero’s journey did not have a happy ending.  Sometimes even Hollywood can’t put a smiley face on tragedy.

Joseph Cambell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Through legends and lore all of us share in the “boons” of the hero’s journey.  Through the story of his ill-fated adventure, we have a chance to assess how we ourselves might find new appreciation for what we have if we found ourselves in McCandless’ shoes.

Social Media is a story with a billion authors.  It is the blogs and tweets and emails and facebooks of a growing interconnected world.  My social media is the everyday stories of my “friends” from as near as next door and as far as the world is wide.  Your social media is what you make of it.

Many of us approach Social Media as consumers.  We read what we see, like man has done for millenia with books and newspapers, at the Agora or on the television.  You can do that, but like peanut butter without the jelly, it’s only half of the story and less than half as satisfying.

After watching the movie again recently, it dawned on me that the story isn’t necessarily about one man’s adventure “into the wild”.  There is a revelation to the hero, as he falls into the abyss.  The true boon he has won is not in finding himself, but in bringing so many others along on his adventure.  It is the social network he wove–those who taught him how to hunt and butcher elk, who took him in and let him find themselves in his journey.  It is less about finding ourselves in McCandless’ shoes, as about finding ourselves finding the McCandless’ of the world in our everyday lives.

So today, a challenge.  Take a break from being a consumer.  Stretch your habits.  Instead of complaining about the quality of content in your media, create something.  Turn off the TV and take some pictures or video your kids just being kids.  Give a friend a compliment on FaceSpace that goes beyond “kewl”.  Submit a guest blog somewhere.  Retweet somebody you haven’t retweeted before.  Recommend a policy change to a politician.  Write a letter to the editor.  Comment on this blog.

I dare you.

Put some jelly on your Social Media sandwich today.


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2 Responses to Into (and out of) the (Social Media) Wild

  1. Cat says:

    Like I need a reason to speak up on the web! But you got me thinking about the McCandless story.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about story telling lately. From a hero story perspective, I think the McCandless story could not end well, because he didn’t have adequate motivation to do what he did. In all stories, the hero is compelled to go on his journey by outside events or forces. They all start out reluctant to go on their journey but eventually have no choice.

    But there was nothing reluctant about McCandless. So, the fact that he didn’t make it as a result resonates with us and everything we know in our mythology.

    Thanks for an inspiring post. It’s good to see you online again.

  2. John says:

    I had not considered the motivational aspect but yes, indeed. Arthur is the only one who does not believe he can pull the sword from the stone. Robin is cast into the forest, not a willing out-law. On the other hand, Beowulf falls into temptation on his epic journey (dismissing the symbolism of his fall, treating it simply as Failure) he wants it for all the wrong reasons.

    I’ll attempt to pull this back to Social Media with one word: TRUST. Advertising isn’t about trust, as much as the suits wish it were. Advertising is a one-way conversation where somebody is trying to sell something. The magic of Web 2.0 is the dialogues we create, which create trust.

    And that’s worth telling a story about.

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