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  • Writer's pictureHighland Croft

Digital Crofting

Are we over-documenting our lives? The irony is not lost on me: I write about the croft, the animals and nature. Yet my medium to communicate my thoughts and pictures are my phone and my laptop. This is where farming meets technology, though not for the first time: In the past few years, a large part of crofting has taken place in the office - filling in forms, applying for grants, mapping, keeping stock records. The actual time spent with our animals doesn't seem to be as important as the time spent on our electronic devices as that is when the crucial stuff appears to happen.

Don't do it without taking a picture of it first

Nowadays, I hardly ever go outside without my mobile. And it's not just about catching the special moment anymore, that fleeting bit of beauty or fun. It's about creating and producing valuable content to feed my social media platforms every day. Because if you don't post a picture of it, it never happened, right. If you don't talk about it, you don't have a public profile, then essentially your business is invisible in a time where we need to check everything up via google immediately. And I must admit, I'm no exception: Nice pictures are attractive, whether I'm looking for accommodation somewhere or things to do. We are craving a story, we want to be wrapped up in a concept, want to be told what happens, want to be part of the narrative. The more visual the storytelling, the better. Pictures are a quick, easily digestible language. They have a stronger impact than words and take less time to consume.

Wouldn't you assume that taking pictures on the croft is easy as pie? There is so much here - a variety of backdrops and protagonists. Well, it's still hard work. Ironically, while most people will glamour up a bit before taking selfies, the opposite is the case for me: when I'm out working I look very un-glamorous by default and that is when the opportunity may present itself to take a relevant selfie.

These days it's not just enough to tend to your animals from day to day and get on with it. You have to spin it into a story and sell it as part of your business and the whole world you create around it. Here my townie-background comes in handy: Tom would never dream of taking pictures of, say, dosing sheep or shearing them or shifting them with the dog. It is just what he does every day and never questions it. But even though the initial layer of fairydust has slightly rubbed off for me since getting into crofting, I never fail to see the beauty in it. Take the hills, the ever changing weather, the colours and the light: I never get sick of it, I take a thousand pictures of the same scenery and no two will look the same. Maybe here is where the arty-farty photographer comes through, but even though I have taken many, many pictures of Tom shearing sheep, I still try and find new angles and catch a different mood every time. We live an awesome life here and feel we almost have an obligation of sharing it. We love people coming up for a croft tour or even staying with us. But following us on social media, getting wrapped up in the stories of the animals as they live through the year, is a first and fairly non-committal point of contact. Some people come up and seeing the ponies or Pip the pet lamb in person is like meeting an old friend, because they have been following us or reading the blog for a while.

I have met loads of lovely people through the croft's online appearance and many people that have come to stay with us - after initially finding us online - have become friends, with many even returning. There is a lovely community of crofters, smallholders, shepherds, farmers and generally people with an interest in all things rural out there, especially on Instagram. Not all that happens or is shared on social media is necessarily negative. Every time I meet somebody in real life who I have been following and vice versa, it's a bit like a blind date.

Social media has done a lot for crofting and farming in general, but it has helped us to open the croft up to an audience that we could have otherwise never reached. And when virtual reality meets the good old real life - well, that's the highlight for me and makes chasing sheep and chickens with my camera absolutely worth while.

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