A friend emailed me the other day with the following question.
Some friends and I were wondering if there’s a connection between people getting into difficulties in the back country, and the wearing of GoPro helmet or ski cams. The idea is that because “personal cams” encourage YouTube video uploads, they might also encourage riskier behaviour. With your SAR experience, you might be able to supply or hint at a data point here: what is the rate of increase in number of GoPro (or Contour, or similar) personal cams attached to rescued adventurers?
My answer was that I don’t really have an answer, just some more speculation.
I’ve certainly noticed the prevalence of GoPro cameras and other wearable sports cameras out there, I have one myself. Additionally, may SAR people have them (counted 5 on my SAR team of 45 people). I have not, however, noticed an increase in camera use in the people we rescue, most of which are not doing extreme sports.
Certainly the promotional material for these cameras shows people doing what are usually classified as “extreme sports”. The cameras are small, wearable, rugged and usually waterproof, and they are cheap compared to other digital cameras so they lend themselves toward use in harsh environments where you might not want to risk damaging another camera.
Another factor is that people who do interesting things and go to fascinating places have a desire to share their experiences. I think fully half of the fun for an adventure sports enthusiast is to write/blog/brag about your accomplishments and video is the best way to show off.
My other thought is that the internet and YouTube are beginning to change what we consider to be “normal”, and I’m not the first to have this thought. In a recent esssay entitled The Improbable is the New Normal, the author writes
The improbable consists of more than just accidents. The internets are also brimming with improbable feats of performance — someone who can run up a side of a building, or slide down suburban roof tops, or stack up cups faster than you can blink. Not just humans, but pets open doors, ride scooters, and paint pictures. The improbable also includes extraordinary levels of super human achievements: people doing astonishing memory tasks, or imitating all the accents of the world. In these extreme feats we see the super in humans.
Is what we consider to be normal, commonplace, and perhaps imitable changing because we see so many extraordinary things on the internet? Or is this just unreasonable moral panic, like that caused by the show Jackass when parents worried that kids (of all ages) would try to reproduce the stupidity?
Certainly we’ve had our share of unprepared people attempting feats they don’t have the training or ability for, but in my experience by far the majority of our rescues are for regular people who, as I’ve written before, make just one or two bad choices, coupled with a little bad weather. Without some serious trend analysis, I have no way to tell if cameras are having any effect on our rescues, other than documenting them.
What do you think, is the ability to document your foolishness causing people to try the same things as you? Is it any different than when someone writes about it?