Does Social Media Destroy the Magic and the Mystery?

I can remember the first time I really became aware of the use of social media by hill walkers.

I was on the TGO Challenge and walking for a week or so with Phil Turner, who was a lot younger than me. Phil spent much of his time playing with a very new innovation — Social Hiking — which I don’t think was quite available to the public then. Phil and I were taking a very early stroll through the Balmacaan Forest. There were no tracks here (well not back then, pre wind farm). We bashed on through the heather on a gorgeously clear morning. Phil rushed on ahead. Every now and then I would loose him. I’d stop and look around up above me. There I would find Phil on the highest point he could easily reach, trying to get a signal on his mobile phone.

This seemed quite eccentric at the time, if not harmless. But as the years have gone by and smartphones have become more ubiquitous. On a number of occasions I have been asked whether I will be live tweeting or Facebooking as I take a long walk. I have always politely declined. I really don’t see the point. Fair enough, when a trekker gets into a supply town or village then why not?  But I’m not really that interested in tracking people day by day. A few years ago I thought it might be interesting to follow Colin Ibbotson on one of his mammoth treks — Colin always has his satellite tracker available. Of course, Colin was walking through big, big country and day after day his beacon seemed to be in the same place. I soon got fed up of this. I have a low boredom threshold.

This year, as you all probably know, I am sitting this year’s TGO Challenge out. I quietly assumed that there would be a couple of weeks of silence before I started to hear all those Challenge stories. But of course, they are hear every day. Facebook is the main culprit. I can see tents erected in lonesome glens, stealthily hidden in church graveyards as well as in campsites. I can see that some have driven off the high ground by bad weather and (somehow) into a friendly pub. I can hear all about the injuries and sadness of those who have had to pull out of the event already.

But do I want this? No, not really.

The TGO Challenge is certainly an individual challenge but it is not exactly a walk through a huge wilderness.  I like to preserve the mystique of walks like these though. Waiting a couple of weeks for the new suits me. Waiting a few months for online diaries sounds about right to me.

So, perhaps this is just another sign of me loosing contact with the modern world. But walking and hiking are about taking it slow, about time to contemplate and reflect, about the opportunity to observe the world in a more natural way.

The instant news of the social media world just seems wrong somehow.


  1. Steve took a work call at the top of Scafell Pike last week – laughter from those around us, with one bloke cheerfully shouting “there’s 4G up here!!”

    • A few years ago I was on a munro trip in the Cairngorms. One lunchtime I stopped at the top of Ben McDui where there is a stone wall shelter. As I ate my lunch there was a guy on the other side of the wall talking to his office — as if he was on his way to a client!

  2. Andy: it is not you loosing contact – read Ben Elton’s Blind Faith for how far social media could go. Going outdoors is about being away from the constant churn of social media (& not about doing things so I can tick them off the list); to me the whole thing about doing it is to get back to where I can smile in my own time. Gen Z might want to blog every step – their choice, but I want to live the enjoyment in real time…

  3. I decided to go further along the no-tech line when my watch broke down last year and not wear one. However, I don’t think I am going to be able to hold out much longer. particularly as my wife is fed up of being the speaking clock…

  4. chris yapp says:

    Andy if ever you feel like “getting away” from facebook etc you only have to go walking in the elan valley . there`s no signal what soever and it`s funny as hell listening to teenagers moan about .

  5. Solved the social media problems rather quickly by closing the Farcebook and Twittering accounts after giving them a three month trial as a means of proving their worth. Also swapped the smartphone for a dumbass talk and text phone. Cheaper to run, longer battery life and no temptation to check emails either…

  6. Apathy says:

    On a slightly different note, I was going to look for the Slugain Howff and was doing some guessing on possible locations using Google maps, paper maps, and various blogs, etc (wasting time at work) when I found that some sod had taken pictures and tagged them with the location. Totally took the fun out of it all. I know it’s the “best kept secret” of the Cairngorms, but still!

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