Ranch Diaries: Selfie culture meets rustic ranch life

We miss a lot with a device in front of our eyes, a filter between us and the real world.

 

Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

On my way into Ruidoso last week, I was trying to find a radio station when I caught a story about a man who was hospitalized after taking a selfie with a rattlesnake. His excuse? He'd grown up with one. I guess that didn't help, in his case. But it got me thinking about the self-documentation craze that has reached even those places once deemed wild and inaccessible. Anyone with a smartphone can prove they summited, cliff jumped, found a rare bird, braved rapids, or saw a trophy bull elk. There seems to be a growing societal need to prove our experiences, rather than simply being in the moment. There's an overwhelming need for approval, in the form of comments, likes and shares, which overshadows the original subject. It's become more about reaction than reality.

I'm not immune to this phenomenon either. I usually take my cell phone along when I'm horseback. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to get service, and I stop somewhere to let my horse rest while I catch up with friends and family. I use the Voice Memo feature to keep an audio record of how many cattle I've seen, and where. With close to 1,000 animals (cows, calves and bulls), in a 14,000-acre pasture, it's a useful feature for me. I've been able to document dead animals, stray cattle and new calves, with pictures. If Sam or I ever got hurt out here, a cell phone could be useful in an emergency. In all these cases, my phone is a tool, not a toy.

  • Putting up Please Close the Gate signs.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Sam welding new pens for Cow Camp 2.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Sorting in the new corrals.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • The author's geldings.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • A winged visitor.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Billie, a dogie calf I adopted from the neighbors.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Curious pairs.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • A great crop of blue grama.

    Laura Jean Schneider

But lately I've found myself slipping into self-documentation mode more than I'd realized. When I discovered I'd left my phone on the dash of the pickup last Tuesday, I was more disgruntled than I would have imagined. The perfect shot was right in front of me, from the shadows to the shiny sorrel horse Sam was riding, and I had no way to capture that moment. As he trotted off to get around some cows, I realized I was actually more upset that I wouldn't get any reactions to the photo. I had already jumped from the actual experience to the Internet. It was an afternoon so nice I was just glad to be on my horse, trotting through the muddy pasture, soaking up the brilliant sunlight, yet I had prioritized an electronic image over the real thing, which was happening in real time. I was chagrined.

While I think it's important for people to share pictures – in our case, so readers and other interested folks can get a feel for just what we do – it seems judicious to keep some of one's own experiences private. Documenting every last detail of our lives takes away some of the delight and mystery of being human. There's a lot we miss with a device in front of our eyes, a filter between us and the real world. I'm going to try to be more conscious about what I'm photographing, and why. From now on, my phone will spend more time back at the camper when I'm horseback: It's time for me to return to experiencing nature without reaching for my phone on autopilot.