Why do we watch Bear Grylls? Does Facebook make you long to be alone in the wild?

It turns out that survival role-model Bear Grylls isn’t quite so much of a wilderness guy as he makes out.  According to an article in The Sunday Times  – TV ‘survival king’ stayed in hotels – he enjoyed the pleasures of civilisation a little more frequently than might have been expected during the making of his TV series Born Survivor, where we see him devouring a wide variety of raw and live food – see the stomach-churning video on the Sky site – and doing other Tough Man things. Must have been tortuous, especially if, for example, he had just enjoyed a tasty boxed lunch from his hotel, the Bass Lake Pines Resort in the Sierra Nevada.

So why do we watch so many TV programmes about nature red in tooth and claw and why do we want to believe them? Why are we fascinated by people like Bear Grylls, with his ridiculous name and his faux wildness?  Or, for that matter, Grey Owl, aka Archie Belaney, the Englishman with the capacity for deep deep fantasy who I wrote about in Hello World and who, I suspect, enthralled my grandparents at a talk he gave in Leicester in 1930s as well as the young Richard and David Attenborough, also in the audience that night.

But I digress. There are many reasons why we fall for this, and I’m exploring them in my research,  but right now what I’m wondering about is the connection between this phenomenon and  social networking sites like Facebook. Think about it. Time was when watching TV and reading books were considered anti-social, but recently the isolation of solo consumption has taken a new turn – now it gives us respite from the endless pressures of social networking. At home, by ourselves or with our intimate friends and family, we watch Bear Grylls make his way in the wilderness alone, and we are there with him, or we even become him, our imaginations plugged into his – or at least, into his producer’s.  But log on to a site like Facebook and  you’re thrust into a noisy city. 

I’ve only been on Facebook a few weeks and as an old-time online community person I’ve been hugely impressed by the sophisticated functionality which informs me about everything that everyone I know is doing. Indeed, it can only be a matter of time before I will be informed, real time, of the exact moment when anyone takes a pee. Well, I’m quite sociable myself sometimes, and I like to be in contact with people I know, but I don’t want to be Zombie, or Compare People, or create a map of my best friends as opposed to those friends I presumably care less about. Every time I access someone else’s feature I do not want to be offered the opportunity of installing it for myself. It’s all too much, just too too much.

Bear Grylls and his enterprising TV crew at least offer me the fantasy of solitude, and that’s starting to feel preferable to the fantasy of civilisation that I’m getting on Facebook. So how can I survive in the seething naked jungle which is Facebook? Excuse me while I bite the head off this Zombie.

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