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Your Route is Toilet Paper


One of the oddest episodes to emerge in pandemic times is how people caught the panic-shopping bug before ever catching covid-19. This particular sickness manifested as an inexplicable urge to buy butt-loads of toilet paper. It’s unclear why toilet paper became so coveted in covid. It’s not as though Hershey squirts and colon blows were symptoms of the virus, unless you were actually eating BBQ’d civet meat off the streets of Wuhan.

On the eve of covid-19’s arrival in Colorado, like many others I went out to stock up on supplies before hunkering down in my Western Slope bunker. Our family happened to be blessed with a half-full sack of toilet paper from a pre-pandemic Costco run, so I wasn’t worried about running out of shit tickets. Nor was I, the most rational person I know, concerned about catching the panic-shopping bug.

Upon entering the store, however, I suddenly felt myself descend into paranoia. I’m normally not a nervous person but, looking around to see what everyone else was doing and how everyone else was behaving, had the effect of instantly dissolving a baseline of acumen. It was as if my brain had been replaced with that of a germaphobe. This virus is EVERYWHERE,I thought, reeling in disgust.

The paranoia got worse once I saw how many pantry items were sold out. Flour, rice, oats, etc. Jesus Coronavirus Chris, what is the hell is going on? I wondered. My eyes bugged out. Panic crept in.

An insight I’d later have was how it’s a sign of actual privilege that we live in an era in which we never question whether we’ll be able to buy something as basic as flour at any store in America. Yet at the time, I wasn’t thinking so clearly. I just started just grabbing two of everything, running though the grocery store like I was on Supermarket Sweep.

OK, reader, it wasn’t THAT bad … but I was quite surprised to feel myself so susceptible to the effects of group-think. Since this influence was so stark and immediate—it took hold so easily—I wondered if there were other areas of my life in which I’ve been swayed by the whims of the masses without even realizing it. Surely so.

In normal, simpler times, when we all got to worry about things like grades and highpoints, one might observe how group-think manifests in climbers’ route preferences. I’ve always found it interesting how certain routes become popular—or fall out of favor. Why is it that one person’s ascent begets others? I always scratch my head when I see three-star choss piles getting ganged all season simply because they have draws, tick marks, and queues while five-star routes next door collect dust.

We are a social species, and we take cues from those around us. When you see one person climbing a route—particularly if that other person has some relatable trait (i.e., they’re the same height, size, build, or have similar levels of strength and flexibility, etc.)—that route suddenly becomes more appealing. Suddenly, you need to do it too.

Just like that, that route becomes proverbial toilet paper that everyone just can’t stop, won’t stop buying.

Beta is extremely prone group-think. A sequence becomes “the way” to do something, and few people ever question the basis of that truth. We don’t like to stray too far from the group, less we look dumb, weak, or crazy. I’ve seen climbers spend five minutes contorting themselves into terrible knee scum “rests,” simply because everyone else says you need to get that rest to send, instead of just climbing through.

It’s not just beta or routes—it’s crags and boulders. If enough photogenic pictures of one of the tiniest and most obscure crags in southern Utah get spread on social media, suddenly the parking lot will be filled with 50 cars and everyone lined up for the same soft 5.13a. Get your camera ready!

Our online lives aren’t immune to the group-think phenomenon. In fact, social media may be the greatest catalyst in creating this pandemic of group-think, spreading cultural memes through our climbing circles that shape everything from media and captions, to advertising and campaigns by outdoor companies.

Astute observers may notice how everyone’s Instagram captions all begin to sound kinda the same, at the same time, until some new meme gets spread, and the cultural discourse gets steered in that new direction.

People gripe about the same issues at the same time. They champion the same causes at the same time. Everyone and everything is toilet paper.

There are clearly both limits to and benefits of this phenomenon. We’re seeing the benefits insofar as everyone (or, at least, many of us) are choosing to #staythefuckhome. In pandemic times, group-think can be life saving as it paradoxically forces us to become more isolated from each other.

But whenever we emerge from this strange and sequestered moment, I will be reflecting on the ways in which I find myself susceptible to group-think, whether that’s in terms of the widely accepted climbing and training shibboleths to which I abide, or if my own personal preferences and ideas about the sport are merely an illusion. Until then, pass the toilet paper.

The post Your Route is Toilet Paper appeared first on Evening Sends.



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Originally posted 2020-03-22 17:37:09.

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