On Being Human

Sex sells.
But humans sell too. The smiling face of a baby adorns boxes of disposable nappies. Coca Cola advertisements sell a lifestyle as much as a product. And Old Spice is a household name thanks to actor Isaiah Mustafa.

Similarly, humanising something makes it more engaging.

Compare these two passages:

The Budawangs are a rugged mountain range largely located within the Budawang National Park and Morton National Park in New South Wales, Australia. The Budawangs have been declared a Wilderness Area.

I had an interesting experience once when confronting a cat owner who was transporting his supposedly exotic (but terrified) moggy up the bushwalker’s route that follows the tail to the top of The Castle (Budawangs, NSW). “This is a very valuable cat. Do you think I’d let it get out of here into the wild?” he protested loudly. No acceptance of the fact that the cat’s presence was contrary to the law and regulations governing National Parks.

The first is taken from Wikipedia. The second is from the a forum in Chockstone, a climbing website. They are talking about the same place. However, unless we are looking for facts about the Budawangs, we are unlikely to continue reading the first passage, nor remember it well. Conversely, the second is memorable, partly because it is amusing, but mostly because it is humanising. It is not the description of a mountain, but of an eccentric experience of a mountain.

There has been a move in photography in the same direction. Don’t get me wrong – landscape and cityscape photographs are fabulous, and they’re mostly what I take – I’m getting to that bit. But for many of us, the best photographs will be the ones of our family or friends. Selfies* are popular for precisely the same reason. Who cares whether a restaurant exists? What matters is that I was there.

A photograph of the Castle landscape may be spectacular, but it does not do justice to the climb unless a person is also included in the shot.

Blogging works in the same way: blogs that are eccentric and personal tend to engage a wider audience than those with a distant narrator.

Which gets me to my point. A week ago WordPress wished me a jolly anniversary for having started writing this blog a year ago on May Day. I duly noted this, contemplated following the usual pattern of writing some anniversary post about… what I’d learned from blogging in the year, or being generally reflective about myself, or whatever it is that people usually write about… and then I decided to go back to whatever I was doing.

Like many people, I don’t mind other people being reflective or personal. I just don’t often feel compelled to do this myself. This blog proves that nicely: ostensibly about me, all of my posts in the last twelve months (except for the first) have been about adventures that I have been on. I’ve relegated myself to being the narrator, and although I will use the first person, I have nevertheless managed to write in a somewhat detached tone. This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it something that I am likely to change (this very post, for instance, does not open in the first person either).

But I was forced to think on this again last week, when I was congratulated on being a human.

You see, Canberra (which is the capital of Australia, though few outside Australia seem to know this) has always had a poor reputation, and in a world-first tourism advocacy campaign† run during the Canberra Century of 2013, 500 social media users were invited to Canberra for a weekend of activities. The ensuing social media outpouring became the Human Brochure, the brochure of people experiencing Canberra in the here and now.

A year later, Visit Canberra are running the local version of the brochure, for 101 Canberrans in Canberra’s 101st year, and I am one of them.

For some people there might be qualms about selling themselves and their audience to public relations. Not me! I feel no obligation to write about anything that does not interest me, and if it does interest me enough to write about it then it must be reasonably awesome. I genuinely think that Canberra is a pretty cool place. Moreover, taking free stuff is not the qualm of any student anywhere.

I know that some of my fellow humans feel imposter syndrome. There is the sense that they do not fit in, that their social media audience is too small or too ignored, that their social media output is unprofessional or untalented by comparison with that of others. But that’s the point. We were chosen because we are locals‡, and we have our own subjective experience of Canberra, and that is enough. Everyone’s opinion is valid! Besides which, more than 1150 people applied, and only 101 were chosen, so we all must be a bit special in our own way. Certainly, I am far from suffering imposter syndrome for this brochure: not because my social media abilities are exceptional (far from it – we’re meant to use Pinterest? And Instagram? I barely know what the former is, and I don’t have a smartphone for the latter!), but because my entire reserve of imposter syndrome has been drained into my PhD candidature. No one rocks imposter syndrome like a postgraduate researcher.

No. For me, what worries me about this is… being human. Sure, I can write to my heart’s content about what a fantastic Centenary artwork the Skywhale is, or take photos of wildflowers and sunsets in the High Country, or edit a video of kayaking in Kangaroo Valley. What is much more difficult is writing about my personal experience of something, or taking a photograph of myself.

The campaign is clever. Humans sell. But humanising makes something more engaging, and perhaps it is time for me to embrace that. Even in academia the humanities are letting in the first person.

Perhaps it is time to embrace that I am human.

Me on the Castle

You can also read the trip description and see more photos from my adventure on the Castle, from which the photos in the above post are taken. The best part is that we wore cocktail dresses and suits at the summit!

Cocktails on the Castle, formal

* Before you complain about Oxford Dictionaries making “selfie” the 2013 Word of the Year, read my discussion of the matter. And yes, this quite possibly says something about the cult of the individual that reigns in this generation, but that is precisely the point that I am making in this post.

† As student of journalism and public relations, I have to admire the genius of the human brochure campaign. You can read the very short description from the PR company here.

‡ Apparently one is upgraded to “local” status in Canberra after only a year! Conversely, Tasmanians usually reject anyone not born of the island.

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4 thoughts on “On Being Human

  1. Pingback: On Being Human | The Antipodean Neo-Victorian

  2. Pingback: Raising the Winter Sun: Reflections on the Antipodean May Day | words and wilds

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