Connecting while Disconnected: Technology use by Long Distance Hikers on the Appalachian Trail
DescriptionA months-long hike of the Appalachian Trail often involve long-term preparation and life-altering decisions. Would-be hikers leverage institutional knowledge from literature and online forums to physically and mentally prepare for such an arduous hike. Their use of social platforms even while on the trail, provide useful insights on motivations for undertaking the thru-hike, how they deal with unexpected conditions on the trail and understand choices made in conditions of scarcity. In addition to in-person interview successful thru-hikers, we also analyzed Instagram posts of 300+ thru-hiker accounts and over 100,000 Reddit posts and comments in r/AppalachianTrail. We applied a Sense of Community and Self Determination theories in seeking an understanding of hikers' motivations for narrating their experience while on the trail, their identity as community members, how their emotional and practical needs are met, and how they evolve. We found that the role and language of thru-hikers change as they progress from pre-hike, on-hike, and post-hike stages, from a questioner early on, to an expert post-hike. We also find that they practice a from of code-switching depending on their social platform choice: reporting their experience on the trail to the Reddit community vs telling a story on their Instagram accounts. We our contributions are aimed towards providing recommendations for theory extensions and design recommendations to support offline communities online.