#VANLIFE, The Bohemian Social-Media movement

Like the best marketing terms, “vanlife” is both highly specific and expansive.

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Scroll through the images tagged #vanlife on Instagram and you’ll see plenty of photos that don’t have much to do with vehicles: starry skies, campfires, women in leggings doing yoga by the ocean. Like the best marketing terms, “vanlife” is both highly specific and expansive. It’s a one-word life-style signifier that has come to evoke a number of contemporary trends: a renewed interest in the American road trip, a culture of hippie-inflected outdoorsiness, and a life free from the tyranny of a nine-to-five office job.

Vanlife is an aesthetic and a mentality and, people kept telling me, a “movement.” S. Lucas Valdes, the owner of the California-based company GoWesty, a prominent seller of Volkswagen-van parts, compared vanlife today to surfing a couple of decades ago. “So many people identify with the culture, the attire, the mind-set of surfers, but probably only about ten per cent of them surf,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to tap into.”

… We had been in Ventura for two soggy days. Smith described the waves as “garbage,” and, because he chooses where and when the couple travels, he decided that it was time to move on. He had heard about a hot spring in Los Padres National Forest that he was eager to check out, and King wanted to get back to the woods, where the opportunities for content creation were better.

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App life: my day living by smartphone alone

Rhik Sammader

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“There’s an app for that.” The punchline of our age. We have outsourced our most basic needs to the gleaming oblongs in our pockets. Whatever you need to do, eat, get, fix or have sex with, let your smartphone take the slack. Every desire is on demand.

But is it true? To put our brave new world through its paces, I’m spending an entire day living exclusively through on-demand mobile service apps to see what our lives might be like in the near-future. Spoiler: quite weird.

At 7am I’m woken by a 60-second phone call from a stranger, Dylan – in America, judging by his accent. This is Wakie, a community of people who act as each other’s alarm clocks. “I’m actually Canadian,” Dylan says. “Wake up!”

“Sorry,” I reply. “I don’t mean I’m sorry you’re from Canada,” I add groggily. Mild awkwardness is a great wake-up call, and 30 seconds later I’m out of bed.

First, let’s get work off the table. I browse People Per Hour, a skills shop in which you can commission experienced freelancers, or “hourlies”, at knock-down rates.

“Can you write my article for me?” I type. In short, yes. In addition to photographers, graphic designers and coders, there are writers who’ll research and write 600-word articles for between £10 and £20. As a writer, I know this is too cheap; I feel faint stirrings of ethical unease. I commission some background research from Kuru, a PPE graduate and copywriter, and move on.

 

Escape From the Internet!

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John and Sherry Petersik built a cult following with their website, Young House Love. Then they tried to walk away.

…As the social-sharing economy expanded, so did the Petersiks’ business, which is when that happy setup started to break down. Grace Bonney, the creator of Design Sponge, points to shifts like the rise of Pinterest and Instagram, which, she says, “have all but killed blogs. We all have homes, we all talk about the pretty things we want to buy; that’s not unique anymore. The only thing that sets us apart is who we are and what our lives are.” Bonney explains, “You will not find a single blog with that kind of cult following that doesn’t have a personal connection. But what creates that kind of devoted following can also be problematic. At some point you have to ask: Do you want your life to become your business?”

By 2011, YHL was getting over 5 million monthly page views (with a million unique visitors), and the Petersiks were regularly working a second shift after Clara’s bedtime and throughout weekends and vacations. Family outings had to include something “bloggable,” like a stop at an antique store. Each holiday required fresh seasonal content. The Petersiks were also picking up all those side projects that felt like huge wins, but required a tremendous amount of additional work. They admit the blog made money “a nonissue” in its final years. “For a long time, we thought we were doing okay if we could duplicate our salaries from our old advertising jobs; then it got to the point where we could bring in much more,” says Sherry. “But I kept saying, ‘I don’t want more money, I want more time.’” She’d spend school field trips sneaking onto her phone to respond to comments from the zoo or the aquarium. “I felt like any day where I was being a great blogger, I was being a bad mom and vice versa,” Sherry says. She and John both worried that their marriage was being reduced to “essentially co-workers.” …

Meanwhile, their audience’s demands to be let in on their lives only grew. Back in 2010, it took them four days to mention the birth of their daughter on their blog, but when Teddy was born in 2014, John says, “It was like, okay, we have a few hours to get something for Instagram.” Sherry pauses when he says that, but she doesn’t disagree. “Where we ended up was kind of a reality show in itself,” she says. And like all successful reality stars, the Petersiks had built an audience that simultaneously knew everything about them and didn’t really know them at all.

Negativity Online: An Essay Inspired By 200,000 Comments

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Most bloggers (and stat counters) will tell you that people don’t say much online anymore. Comments are being replaced by shares, likes and pins and unless someone has an extreme opinion, they tend to just read and move on. But when we read something that touches a nerve, or worse — an insecurity — the meanest parts of us can come out.

…When I read through comments on [DesignSponge], I get a very clear message that there seems to be some sort of unstated consensus that “normal” is best. People want to see homes and ideas and products that shock them with their creativity and beauty — but only to a certain degree. If it goes “too” far or is perceived as having been made with “too” much money or effort, it immediately tips over into negative comment land.

…Here’s what I see happening in the comments here at DS:

  1. We assume we know what someone is like because of one small glimpse inside their home/life. Just because someone cleaned up their house for their home tour or doesn’t have a pile of clutter doesn’t mean they have a team of house cleaners or think they’re better than anyone else. The amount of times people have commented that someone is probably “not a good” parent for NOT having toys shown on the floor of a child’s room blows my mind. The same goes for how clean someone’s kitchen looks (“they must never cook if it looks that clean”). The bottom line is — people clean up when they put their lives online. The only thing we can truly know from that photo is that they took the time to straighten up or, like a lot of us, shoved everything messy to the left of the photo.
  1. We assume there is a magic “normal” we can find that will somehow make everyone happy…
  1. We assume that people who are perceived as wealthy think they are better than other people or have it easier than others. Those people are then deemed fair to attack because they think they’re “above” us…

…After reading through 200,000 comments, I think a lot of the upset that people feel comes from wanting to see more diversity, more honesty and more transparency online. And I think that challenge is one for me and other content producers, and not homeowners or the people who share their lives online.

Photo by Oddur Thorisson from Manger