Topic: Rural recreation: digital technologies and our (dis)connection with the outdoors
Keywords: technology, social media, recreation, outdoor identity, social practices
Digital (smart) technologies are becoming an important part of outdoor recreation, with apps and social media offering new ways to plan, navigate and share experiences. This not only influences people’s individual adventures – with literature debating whether technologies enhance or diminish experiences – but also has potential wider implications for recreation practices and the rural landscape.
Debates on the impact of technology on outdoor experiences have mostly been based on theoretical and philosophical considerations, while we lack empirical understanding about how digital technologies are used in natural environments. Our study explores the changes new digital technologies bring to outdoor practices by drawing on observational and interview data gathered in The Cairngorms National Park and wider areas of Scotland. In walk-along and semi-structured interviews, hikers, mountain bikers and nature photographers where asked about their experiences with apps and social media.
We found that social media worked to organise where people went and how they interacted with rural areas. While nature organisations and tourist agencies make good use of this engagement potential of social media, there are unforeseen impacts to consider. Where the rural landscape for example sparked a longing for remoteness and wilderness – a motivation for outdoor recreation -, social media increasingly seemed to stage experiences in a planned and narrow way. We use these findings to discuss the impact of digital technologies, with their potential for data recording and online communication, on notions of authenticity, unpredictability and identity in outdoor areas.