Social Media – Hubris in the Mountains

May 13, 2015 D'Arcy McLeish

There was an article published recently on the Powder Magazine website by The Jaded Local, who is one of my favourite writers out there in the world of action sports, and it was about something he called ‘Hubristics’. In the piece, he discusses the recent revelations in the world of avalanche risk management. Heuristics, or put more simply, the human factor, is on the cutting edge of those looking at mitigating the risk of avalanches and why people get caught in slides in the backcountry.

Does an Instagram account have a place in the mountains? Photo - Steve Rosset
Does an Instagram account have a place in the mountains?
Photo – Steve Rosset

But what the Jaded Local hit on, in a deeply tongue and cheek but also serious way, was important. Hubris, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, is defined as: excessive pride or self-confidence. The origins of the word stem from Greek tragedy; excessive pride toward, or defiance of, the gods. Heuristic is defined as: allowing someone to discover or learn something for themselves. Hubristics, which the Jaded Local came up with, is, “The science of the effect of cameras, free goggles, sex, cocaine, and other Incentives on Heuristic Factors In Avalanche Terrain. In other words, the things you think about immediately before shrugging and saying (out loud or otherwise), “F*ck it.”  I don’t know about you, but I have been guilty of doing just that. In one instance I almost paid for that little decision with my life. Not fun.

Are we starting to do this because of social media or because we really enjoy it? Photo - Caton Garvie
Social media or not, this will always be fun.
Photo – Caton Garvie

But that’s where things seem to be headed. The world of skiing (and maybe action sports as a whole) is reliant on social media and riddled with, well, Hubris. Social media seems to come before everything. It seems more important to have an Instagram account than the right gear, knowledge and experience before heading out into the mountains. We read, time and again, about avalanche incidences and they are so often attributed to bad decisions. In a word, Hubristics. So what gives? Where can we make changes or evolve into better decision makers?

Not gonna lie. Like the rest of us, it's nice having proof sometimes... Photo - Aurelien Sudan
Not gonna lie. Like the rest of us, it’s nice having proof sometimes…
Photo – Aurelien Sudan

While there are lots of factors that go into human decision making in any situation, what I see out there is that social media is one of the contributors to bad decisions. Documenting yourself doing something has become as important, or more important, than the act itself. But more than that, social media puts pressure on us to take it to the edge. Amateurs are out there, pushing terrain, often when they shouldn’t be, and often at the behest of their social media feeds. Professionals are victims of this as well. Having the need to post how awesome our life is, has become a real, albeit strange, form of social pressure. If it wasn’t, Instagram and FB wouldn’t be worth a zillion dollars. That pressure seems to have a tangible influence on how we make decisions.

Unless you're with a guide, and even then, when you're out there, bad decisions can have catastrophic consequences.  Photo - Jun Yanagisawa
Unless you’re with a guide, and even then, when you’re out there, bad decisions can have catastrophic consequences.
Photo – Jun Yanagisawa

I’m a victim to it as well, posting anything and everything about how hard core I am. But every time I post a photo on Instagram or FB I feel that I lose a little bit of myself. When I’m out in the mountains and feel that constant need to document what I am doing, it takes away from the adventure. This is something I’ve written about before. But when our need to fit in to our instaworld is helping us down the road of bad decisions, bad things tend to happen.

Sometimes it's better to just chill out and enjoy the moment and forget about your phone, your feed and your posts.  Photo - Steve Rosset
Sometimes it’s better to just chill out and enjoy the moment and forget about your phone, your feed and your posts.
Photo – Steve Rosset

So next time you’re out there, try leaving the phone and camera at home. Take some time to be conscious of what you’re doing and do it because you want to do it. Don’t do it because it would look cool on an Instagram post. Do it because it’s worth doing, not because it’s worth posting. More and more, the experience of being in the mountains seems to get tarnished by smartphones and social media feeds. Who cares if no one, ever, sees you ski touring or riding your bike or having lunch in some remote, mountainous place? Isn’t the most important part of any experience the fact that you are there in that place, at that moment, doing that activity, and has nothing to do with documenting it? Being present and ignoring the pressure to do things for a result or some strange, external form of social acceptance, might just lead to more fun and better decisions down the road. Backing off when you need to back off will always go down more smoothly than dying because you were trying to prove to your Instaworld that you were cool.

Be safe, ski hard and leave your phone at home.