My dad says that when he used to put me to bed at night I’d say “don’t forget me!” A phrase that basically sums up my current social media strategy. Short, glib, sometimes moody Tweets and status updates strung together like daisies to crown the heads of friends, family and followers. Whether they want a damn daisy crown or not. But in September I’ll be paddling through the Peel River Watershed from Whitehorse to the Arctic Circle, a long way from Wi-Fi. Awesome things will be happening every day, and I won’t be able to tell anyone about it. Not in real-time. Thoughts, images and emotions will have to be recorded and banked for later use. This process isn’t new to me, but I usually have the readily available social media steam valve when I need to shoot off little personal comedies and/or tragedies into the ether. Whenever I want to remind people I exist.
Two winters ago, I travelled to Thailand for four months. I was leaving Vancouver on a high note, having finished my year at the Writer’s Studio at SFU. I also won subTerrain Magazine’s Lush Triumphant award for a story I’d honed at the studio that year. My writing mentor, Timothy Taylor, had asked me to come back to the Writer’s Studio as his teaching assistant when I returned from my travels. This position, and my cheque from subTerrain would be waiting for me. Pretty sweet deal. But then I started to wonder if I really should leave the country. Surely not when things were taking off on the home front! What if, after four months away, people forgot how awesome I was?
I went to Thailand, because I’m not that insecure. Also, the tickets were non-refundable. But while I was there, I spent a lot of time on the internet. A lot of time. The Lonely Planet my friend Ben had lent me was a few years old, and claimed that Wi-Fi wouldn’t be readily available everywhere. It was readily available, for free, from Koh Lipe on the southernmost tip of the country, to Chiang Mai in the north. Sometimes the signal was crappy on Koh Lipe, but it was always there. And every day, before the sun came up and I went on my run around the island, past the plentiful island puppies and the young monks with their begging bowls who walked in single file and awkwardly avoided my gaze, past the kilometres of early risers with their eyes glued to their cameras, and their cameras trained on the sunrise, I updated my Facebook status. Blogged. Scheduled some Tweets. Posted about events going on in Vancouver that I would miss, because I was in paradise. People sent me emails, and I responded promptly. Bitched about the heat. Bragged about the heat. Updates: I’ll be home in three months, two months, two weeks. Here’s a photo of my omelette, my sunburn, my handsome, tanned boyfriend reading a book. We’re on the bus. In the airport. Bangkok, Shanghai, Vancouver. We’re home now. Going to sleep. Here’s the bottle of wine we drank to counteract the jetlag. Sorry about that 17 hour blackout. We were sleeping.
It’s not all bad. I did tons of great writing while I was there, and that’s what I was there for. But the internet was such a big part of my trip, I really can’t sit in smug judgement of the people who go on vacay and take ten million photos, who never stop looking through their camera lens. At least a camera lens is an extension of your eye. A windshield between you and your vacay, but you’re still driving the tuk-tuk. To look at the world through the social media lens is to gouge your eyes out, hand them to your online followers, and let them drive. You never stop thinking about how you should regurgitate your experiences for their amusement. If I had a dollar for every time I thought “Ooo, that would make a great Facebook status!” I wouldn’t still be in debt for that damn trip.
There will be no internet on the Peel River trip. Not for twenty-three days. No first gorgeous hour of the day spent elsewhere. No instant communication gratification, or rather, that gratification will come from good old fashioned verbal communication with my fellow intrepid travellers. Talk about real-time. But then there’s no control, no editing or deleting, no time to carefully consider what I want to say before I say it. I write because I’m not fond of the way I express myself verbally. It’s chaotic, unstructured, full of tangents. I tell people more than I intend to, or leave out important context. I forget names, places, dates. I’m my own worst critic, often pulling out of my body mid-sentence to watch myself from a distance and mentally roll my eyes. So it’s not as simple as a social media addiction, or whatever modern term we’re giving it. It’s also a stubborn unwillingness to just be myself. Be with my self.
“This will be good for you!” You say. Yes, I know that. That’s why I’m doing it. I kind of suspect that I’m actually pretty awesome, even without editing. And I’m way hotter in person. There’s that.