When I first became interested in the internet I consulted books. One was called Homepage Usability, and I went to the library and found another which featured good design. This indicates how long ago that was, when “cyberspace” was being explained and described in the print medium. The library book was a beautiful volume more about graphics than content. In those days – around fourteen years ago – you built a site using Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver. You endured shrieking modems, and a bandwidth which struggled with graphics and stole your telephone line. I enjoyed another book where alongside advice, explanation, and HTML, there were short poetic snippets. I forget the exact words but one snippet was something like “I build web pages and curl up inside them.”
I loved that because it expressed an underlying feeling I had about the internet as a communicative space, a retreat, a platform, simultaneously private and public like a diary you could share. It was the era of the “home page” when you learnt some code and built a few pages describing what you liked doing, how much you loved your wife and children, and how you worked at Joe’s Diner. I think the internet has lost its innocence and the integrity it initially had – naive as it was.
What happened next, around the time I studied the internet as part of an MA in Creative Technology, was a transition from style to content, form to function. The focus on beautiful design shifted to content. With the rise of the CMS – content management system – web sites changed from being artistic constructions to an approximation of magazines, catalogues etc, and the unique form of the blog: short, snappy, updated, linking to other web sites. Some of the early successful blogs emphasised the latter far more than you see today: they really were web logs – blogs – listing interesting material people had found. In that respect the internet has further changed. While I still think such blogs have a place everyone now Googles, surfs, and browses using their own initiative. We know our way around and can walk unaided, and we don’t use the term “surf.”
My hobby is walking combined with photography and writing and my centre of internet gravity is towards that topic. There are some great blogs out there, doing wonderful things, and I enjoy them as places a little separate from the general cacophony. Google the following. Walk ideas? Geoff at V-G.me. Banter, Scotland, and British wit? That’ll be Alan: that’s the one, Alan Sloman. Good advice on the Pyrenees and tales of city walking? He’s your man – Andy Howell. Intrepid tales of Cairngorm derring-do captured tenaciously with video: there’s only one Terry BND. Although with sufficient ale, he himself thinks there are two or three of him.
The bongo chap tells a pretty good tale and takes nice photos, and has a developing record of walks: James Boulter at backpackingbongos. David Lintern, with the street cred of serving the John Muir Trust, has another wonderful site with trip reports and a captivating photographic style. Martin Rye of Summit and Valley is a good chap with strong ideas (the Trailstar is brilliant! I’ve sold my Trailstar cos it’s rubbish!). He has a convivial spirit at Twitter but inclined towards combat if anyone takes the piss. I’m like that too. So is Alan. I have, in my time, engaged in serious fisticuffs now fortunately buried in dead archives where no one visits; nothing to do with walking. It’s ridiculous because it achieves nothing but some things seriously pissed me off and I went at it like a black belt: I knew my man, gave him a good beating, and when he landed a blow I got up and went straight for the throat. The only time I really ‘lost’ was when my protagonists became like animals, posting inane but hostile nonsense with every post which my comments enabled. The moral is, never get into a fight with a skunk because you will end up smelling bad. Such is the inherent stupidity of the internet.
There’s little of this at walking blogs because on the whole it’s civilised and jolly. What could there be to fight about amongst walkers? You’d be surprised. Paclite. Boots or trail shoes. Poles. Light or ultralight. Trail or TGO. You said this. No I fecking didn’t. That kind of thing.
There are other great walking blogs too; those few above are just uppermost in my mind and currently suit my tastes or might be the random connections I’ve formed. And it partly corresponds to connections I’ve made at Twitter where walking chaps of distinction hang out. It generally is chaps, although there are a few ladies of similar distinction: Tracy in Scotland (anyone want to wild camp with me??), the lovely HenLovesTrees (because someone’s got to), and another Traci who tortures winter battered Brits with tales of Californian blue skies. These people, as I do, have ecological concerns and a love for nature in various ways. On which basis walking culture on the internet is a rather lovely thing.
Which leads me back to where I began, with observations about the internet. The internet started quietly: first, as a genteel medium for academics. Then, it started murmuring sweetly with the babble of home pages describing domestic satisfaction and personal hobbies. Then it got noisier and giants moved in carving out their empires: Amazon, AOL, Microsoft, LastMinute, and then the social sites – MySpace and Facebook, followed by the micro blogging possibilities of Twitter. All these have their place and their function. And MovableType, then blogger and Textpattern and Wordpress, gave us all the chance of having a blog or web site quickly and easily.
What concerns me however is how fast the internet has become, how noisy. Information gets degraded, abuse and nonsense is common (in some places), myths, lies, and deranged ideas get circulated such as a secret group of people were really responsible for 9/11. No really, they really were, see? – coz, like, this is real and wot u fink iss not real, coz, like, wot is real anyway, really real, like, YEAH? and do your research – which generally means find some deranged nonsense on the internet or read a similarly deranged book. The term is not an invitation towards intellectual inquiry but like a thug saying “you want some??” when they are referring not to beer, tea, or chips but the quantity of blows their frame is capable of carried like a portfolio.
I think the degradation of the internet in such forms can be identified as noisiness. You can’t think in a room full of loud Led Zeppelin, crushed in with hundreds of jostling shouting people. You can’t think at Facebook or Twitter within such confines although the constraint of the latter (as Tweeter Stephen Fry has commented) is an interesting haiku-like challenge: how to condense your communicative process into a few limited words. How say all in 5.
Walking blogs are, generally, peaceful places where folk ruminate about hill walking and share their enjoyments. As such, I suggest they are quieter than other parts of the internet. They occasionally veer towards soapbox style and some have ‘loud’ commercial connections but the general mood (I think) is that of walking: the slow pace of feet, the fresh air, and the background implications of a constructive ecology. We walk these places, we care about them, we want them protected. All rather sweet: like the snippet in the internet book, about building web pages and curling up inside them.
This leads me, finally, to a lovely expression a French speaking friend recently conveyed to me. Les petits bonheurs de la vie translates into little joys, or little happinesses of life. Her YouTube channel is full of les petits bonheurs – simple moments of nature – and it’s charming and lovely.
When I can, I walk in big mountains. When I cannot, I walk in parks and nature reserves. When it’s raining I work on my photographs and show them on the internet, think and write about my hobby, and enjoy walking blogs. My photographs are a form of petits bonheurs, and I’ve started making videos with the same aesthetic. My photographs often show a large mountain view although not always, but in both cases the visual form is miniaturised – petits.
I get a lot of pleasure from my photographs and the power of photography to capture moments, synthesising an experience into pleasing pictures. It’s quiet. It’s a peaceful, healing activity balancing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and the cries and alarms in the dark night of the internet.