Vanlife in the New Yorker

Appearing the in the New Yorker is a notable event in itself. This is some kind of media attention milestone, like a mention on The Late Show. Also notable that I discovered it on Hacker News, the unofficial developer / startup community message board.

The piece somewhat begs the question – it defines vanlife as having a certain demographic, and then slams those living it for conforming to that definition:

There is an undeniable aesthetic and demographic conformity in the vanlife world. Nearly all of the most popular accounts belong to young, attractive, white, heterosexual couples. “There’s the pretty van girl and the woodsy van guy,” Smith said. “That’s what people want to see.” At times, the vanlife community seems full of millennials living out a leftover baby-boomer fantasy: the Volkswagens, the neo-hippie fashions, the retro gender dynamics.

If you look for that, you’ll find it. But it’s just lazy to say that this is the vanlife aesthetic and demographic.

Photography by Jeff Minton for The New Yorker
Scrolling through King and Smith’s Instagram feed in chronological order, you can see the couple become better at tailoring the images to what their followers want. “They want to see Emily in a bikini, they want to see a sunflare, they want to see the van,” Smith said.

But the connection with social media – the uneasy blurring of life and lifestyle – is more interesting:

They decided to use their extra day in Ventura to take a photograph for one of their newest sponsors, “Outsiders,” … Smith had a particular image in mind: King sprawled in the back of the van, reading a book about Ayurveda with Penny nestled next to her, and an “Outsiders” decal featured prominently on her laptop. As Smith shot from the front seat, King tried a few different positions—knees bent; legs propped up against the window—and pretended to read the book. “Sometimes it’s more spontaneous,” she said apologetically.

“It’s about storytelling, and when you’re telling a story it’s not always spontaneous,” Smith said. “Lift your head up a little bit more, look like you’re reading.”

King positioned Penny at her feet, but the dog kept moving, distracted by grebes bobbing on the waves. Smith grew frustrated by the strong contrast between the dim van interior and the bright ocean beyond. King attempted to placate him. “Corey, this is O.K., this is O.K., this is fun,” she said.

After more than half an hour, Smith got a shot he was satisfied with. The next day, as he drove in the rain to Los Padres National Forest, King sat in the back and fixed the overexposed ocean in Photoshop. The post, when it went up, looked cozy and relaxed. King added a long caption, about how living in the van had made her reconsider what “work” actually means. “I no longer define work by money, instead seeing it as our focused action collectively creating our world,” she wrote. “Currently my work is storytelling and aligning with companies supporting our lifestyle and Earth.”

“Such a beautiful lifestyle,” one commenter wrote. “This looks like heaven,” another said.


Read the article here: #Vanlife, The Bohemian Social-Media Movement

Read the hand-wringing arguments about authenticity and self-commodification on Hacker News.

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