Can the “Selfie Generation” Save the National Parks?

Featured image by Corey Arnold, courtesy of National Geographic

by Tyler Hicks


National Geographic is a stellar read for any aspiring journalist or writer. I subscribed to the magazine because I wanted to expand my knowledge of science and nature while also supporting a great publication, but I soon discovered that Nat Geo has some of the best longform writing you’ll find anywhere. Typically, the stories involve recent developments in science or tech, or a sometimes haunting but frequently uplifting tale about an endangered species and the movement to protect it. But much to my surprise, when the October issue landed on my doorstep this week, I noticed that the cover story was about social media.

Specifically, the October Nat Geo declares: “Back to Nature: The Selfie Generation Get Outside.” But whereas you might expect writer Timothy Egan’s story to decry the end of national parks appreciation and the beginning of an era of selfish social media users, Egan veers away from cynicism and offers hope. His narrative follows him and his son’s travels through several national parks, as they leave behind email, texting and the pleasures of Instagram for the pleasures of the parks.

The October issue of National Geographic

In Egan’s story, several industry professionals point out that the parks’ centennial celebration has not changes the fact the average park visitor is white, male and old. However, Egan writes that, in a belated effort to mix things up, “the Park Service has joined the digital age” (2016). Their marketing materials highlight the fun adventures that can be had with friends, and several social media and tech-driven campaigns have been designed and executed to draw new visitors in and make the parks younger and more diverse.

For example, the Parks Service installed temporary kiosks in a few major cities, including New York, to showcase the beauty of the parks and show potential visitors what they’re missing. Furthermore, to cater to the preferences of millenials, the service recently launched an Instagram campaign in junction with Nat Geo, calling for park visitors to chronicle their adventures with the hashtag “WilderNextGen” so that the magazine can curate photos of young adventurers enjoying the wild.

Time will tell if campaigns like these lead to a substantial uptick in park attendance amongst millenials, but what these ventures and Egan’s piece both fail to account for is that the “selfie generation” is not strictly one generation. Social media and smartphone use is widespread across all age groups in North America and beyond, and the national parks offer limitless experiences for all age groups.

The National Park Service is smart to enter the digital age, but their target should not just be millenials: It should be everyone who enjoys using social media.


Egan, Timothy. “Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks?” Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks? National Geographic, 1 Oct. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

National Geographic. “To Celebrate National Parks, We Want Your Instagram Photos.” National Geographic Society, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

Published by

UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism