It seems like just yesterday that the usual pundits were filthy with glee in their wholesale conclusion that all print media was in decline and the almighty BLOG, the innumerable (if forgettable) voice of the everyman, was here to stay. But you know what? I can’t wait to read next year’s issue of ASCENT, and I’m bored to shit by today’s climbing blogs.
I have a nice little directory of climbing websites, blogs and forums bookmarked in my Safari browser, and throughout the day I’ll click through them, ostensibly to see what’s shaking in the climbing world. Part of my job, after all, requires staying abreast to climbing news.
But that’s not always what I’m doing when I scan through these sites. Often, increasingly, I’m procrastinating. Filling time. Essentially making, in the mostly heinously vapid way, flashes of color and words appear on my screen in order to stimulate my brain in some feeble, reptilian manner. The Internet is no different than a Vegas slot machine in that you can push a button over and over and randomly be rewarded for it when something interesting, funny or shocking appears on your screen. Jackpot! In labs, rats have been conditioned to neurotically press the same button just so long as it randomly dispenses a morsel of food one in a thousand times. I’m ashamed/appalled to admit to being no different than the rats, sometimes scanning 20 different sites in as quick as a minute and somehow having the stomach to do it again five minutes later. Perusing this the glut of content has become, for me, an entirely stultifying habit.
I’m not alone. According to digitaltrends.com, the typical amount of time spent looking over the average webpage was less than a minute, but the average amount of time spent online per month totaled up at over 30 hours. So we’re spending lots of time looking at stuff we either don’t care about, or don’t have the attention spans to digest. It begs the question: what the fuck are we doing!?
The pro climber blogs are updated infrequently, and when they are, it’s with the same diarrhea explosion of photos and words from their past month of travel around the globe to climb the same routes people have been climbing for the last decade. Only now they are either down- or up-rating them … so, you know, it’s interesting.
The so-called “issues” we face as climbers are endlessly recycled and spun through the blogosphere. The veracity and meaning of grades, environmental and first-ascent ethics, style of ascent, the role of media, access and so on. It’s the same two-bit opinions, inciting the same recurring “responses” to the first post, inciting yet more responses to the responses. Responses to the responses to the responses. BO-RING!
The sites that are the most successful, though, are the ones that don’t actually have to come up with anything new, or even recycle the old stuff; they just need to be updated and any content at all will do just fine. These “aggregators” have it easier in that they don’t have to create their own idea/video/article—they can just post a link to someone else’s, maybe make a snarky little remark about it, and sit back and watch as the hits and comments come diarrhea-exploding in. (Diarrhea explosions and the Internet go hand in hand, according to an article I read somewhere on the Internet.)
Why not just take it one step further, and make a site that aggregates the aggregators? Subsume your opponent like an amoeba; conquer them like Highlander. Beat them at their own game. It wouldn’t be hard: just make all your posts be links to all their posts. Links to the pages with the links to the real pages. Like nesting dolls. Like two mirrors facing each other. So obsessed with avoiding copyright infringement, it hurts.
When WordPress and Blogspot et al. gave anyone with a computer and 15 free minutes the power to make their own pretty sweet-looking website, there was an explosion (diarrhea-esque, some say) of fun climbing-related blogs to check out. But then they all started repeating each other. Then they started trying to outdo each other. Everyone tried to be original by imitating what the other guy was doing.
For awhile, all this was cool—but then it started becoming too much. For the bloggers, it was too hard to always update. For the readers, it was too hard to read everything. Just too much of Ev-ery-thing. Too many people doing more and more and MORE of the same stuff that everyone else is already doing.
We originally created these blogs for freedom: the freedom of expression. Yet we can’t possibly keep up with technology’s pace. So whatever creative deliberation we hoped to derive from these amazing platforms to an easy audience has instead become overwhelmed by the burden of needing to constantly update them—with, by necessity, increasingly trivial, watery content. Success isn’t measured by originality, let alone quality, but rather by hits. It’s all about fucking LIKES and HITS!
Now, I feel like it’s all collapsing on itself. Half the climbing-related bookmarks in my browser haven’t been updated in months. The ones that have, are boring.
It’s surprising to me to take a step back and remember how young the Internet is. And yet I can’t remember or envision my life without its own frightening shadow online. Facebook was cool, but now I’m sick of that, too. Do you know that Facebook has only been around for eight years? J.K. Rowling took nearly that long just to write the first Harry Potter book. How is it at all surprising that Facebook’s IPO tanked? What are you investing in? Like, dude, what the fuck were you thinking? These online juggernauts are unproven, all over-hyped trends. They’re hollow facades. Flimsy and easily replaceable every one.
I write all of this with the complete and difficult self-awareness that I contribute just as much, if not more, to this problem as everyone else. Two-bit opinions are cheap, especially mine that I’ve written here. It’s easy to criticize or speak of “the Internet” as if it’s this abstract thing existing on some other plane, as if it’s some construct of the universe, as unchangeable and uncontrollable as the stars. But, let’s remember …
WE ARE THE INTERNET!
The Internet is us! We are the ones making it. If the Internet is boring, it’s because we are boring. If the Internet is wrong, it’s because we are wrong. If the majority of content on the Internet caters to that vile, vapid, easily-distracted reptilian side of our brains, it’s because we are vile, vapid and easily distracted.
So really, this is less a criticism of what other people are doing, and more just my own cheap therapy. If I am bored by what these sites have to say, then why am I visiting them? I don’t have any good answer to that other than I wish I didn’t.
I’m always happiest away from my iPhone, e-mail and the never-ending stream of RSS feeds. There are many studies only now emerging that show just how much better, happier and more productive we are when we remove these new distractions from our lives.
One passage I recently read comes to mind. Peter Taras, photo editor for Surfing magazine, wrote an indictment of digital photography in the new issue of The Surfer’s Journal. The most relevant parts:
“Photography. If you can even call it that these days. I find myself asking people to send me their “files.” That file you shot is amazing. What happened? Where am I? …
“You go to school and they teach you how to shoot a good portrait and everyone thinks this is how you shoot a portrait. So everyone is trying to make the same beauty. Where’s the beauty in that? Let’s get wrong. Let’s make mistakes. It’s like bad photography is the new photography because at least it looks different. Kids pick up on Instagram on their iPhones and it instantly becomes part of their DNA … all from absorbing millions of photos. … They’re overloaded with visuals. … I think you’re going to see more of everything. Right now, the world is just “more.” I just feel like it’s overwhelming.Where do you go to get away from the madness?”
For me, that answer is always out climbing. To be out of reception and into a potentially deep, meaningful experience in the vertical world where I feel happiest and most engaged. To have my brain shut off and be absorbed in the movement of a hard route. That’s obvious. But the answer is also found, for me, sitting down in a quiet place and reading a book or quality magazine printed on real fucking paper. To be immersed in that contemplative experience of reading something that took someone a long time, even years, to write. To read something that wasn’t just diarrhea-explosioned out in between the pings of the e-mail, and the compulsive refreshing of the web browser.
To me, that’s where you get away from the madness.