Road Trips, Instagram and a Random Encounter with Jack Kerouac

I’ve always been a gypsy at heart, but last week an Instagram photo revealed that Jack Kerouac was my first boyfriend’s uncle. Huh? Let me explain.

Cross country road trips, camping, travel and moving house have all been a big part of my life. By the time I was 8 we had lived in 4 countries on 3 continents. When I was 11, I saved up my pocket money and bought a tent, which I pitched in the garden. And now, finally, after years of longing, I’m on the verge of buying a VW Westfalia campervan. It’s my dream come true!

Toy Westie with street in the background

On the Road

By way of encouragement, friends and family have recently been giving me little tokens to keep my vision alive until I can drive away in my very own Westie. Earlier this month, my brother bought me an awesome ‘On the Road‘ leather keyring and luggage tag. I love the nostalgic classic orange penguin cover, it’s so iconic of a more innocent time, when travel and communication was purely mechanical and analogue, before the Internet catapulted us into a complex digital paradigm.

Last week I decided to go camping to escape the September crazies*, so I headed for the woods. An Instagram photo seemed the simplest way to inform my online peeps that I was out of town.

Keyring that looks like a penguin novel "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

The Plot Thickens…

Screen capture of Facebook exchange about Jack Kerouac's nephew

Within a few hours, my status update was seen by an old highschool pal in Chelmsford, England and she had news for me! Mima and I both went to the British School of Brussels in the 70’s, a fantastic school that was popular with British and American ex-pats working abroad in Europe.

Well, as you can see from the conversation that unfolded (right), it turns out that Jack Kerouac was my first boyfriend’s uncle. Who knew? I guess George and I were preoccupied with other things, but somehow the subject of the Beat poets and Uncles just never came up.

There are so many things to love about this exchange! Of course, there’s the obvious thrill of a personal connection to an immortal cultural icon. And the thematic relevance of the novel’s quest for freedom to my own unfolding journey of discovery is delightfully poignant. But perhaps most intriguing is the random juxtaposition between the old and new, a contemporary digital echo of the novel’s core theme expressed via Instagram and Facebook: a clash of opposing forces. Route 66 meets the Information Highway. The Beat Generation shakes hands with Digital Natives. Layers of storytelling traveling across time and space on real and virtual freeways. Trippy, man!

The Unbearable Randomness of Being

What are the odds against this strange factoid ever reaching me, 35 years after the fact? It seems so deeply random, predicated on a whimsical gift, photographed and seen across the world by a particular person at a specific moment in time. I might never have discovered this minor plot point, if it weren’t for the always-on exchanges facilitated by Instagram and Facebook. It boggles the mind.

Six Degrees of Digital Separation

This curious little story got a few digital media storytelling pals and I thinking…how can we use photos, and specifically Instagram, to share stories and engage people in real time? We brainstormed a few fun ideas that you’ll be hearing more about soon…

Has digital sharing revealed new facts or opened up storylines for you?


* The September Crazies follow the August Lazies – suddenly everyone is back at work after the summer and it can be a little overwhelming.