Back to Nature: Has Technology Ruined Hiking?
A good hike gets the blood pumping and gives you a chance to connect with nature. That is until your phone rings, or you have to navigate around hikers taking selfies in the middle of the trail. Even if you head out by yourself to see what solo hiking is all about, in the age of connectedness, you’re never really alone. Seeing technology thrust into nature like this can be jarring, but has technology ruined hiking?
The Case Against Technology
Back in 1921 author and conservationist Aldo Leopold stated in an article titled “The Wilderness and Its Place in Forest Recreational Policy” that the wilderness should be “a continuous stretch of country preserved in its natural state…big enough to absorb a two-weeks’ pack trip and kept devoid…of works of man.” While he was talking about automobiles, the sentiment is even more relevant now that we have smartphones, GPS and cellular data connections.
There are no surprises
One of the beauties of hiking—at least before the smartphone explosion—is the potential discovery of hidden trails and secret alcoves. While it’s more than possible these places have already been visited by many others, without technology, there is usually no way to tell. This ignorance would allow you to bask in the solitude and joy of exploration.
Now with technology, there aren’t any “blank spots.” You can bet there are dozens of articles and guides telling you about the “best-kept secrets” of individual hikes, which turns these remote locations into anything but secret.
Technology is too distracting
Taking a hike is supposed to be about reconnecting with nature and being present. When you bring technology with you (or when others do), it pulls you out of the moment. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of checking your phone or taking some pictures to share them on social media, especially when you’re in a very scenic area. It’s certainly tempting to share everything online, but the more time you spend trying to line up the perfect shot, the less time you’re putting into actually enjoying your hike. A pretty picture is nice to have, but if you can’t remember anything about the experience because you were too busy taking a picture, it might as well be a stock photo.
On the more extreme side, there have been reported cases where people were so engrossed trying to get a perfect picture they end up falling off a cliff and dying. It isn’t only in the wilderness where this happens. A study by Carnegie Melon University found that there have been 127 selfie deaths around the world since March 2014. The easiest way to avoid this tragic fate: stop scrambling to dangerous vantage points for that “perfect” picture.
The Case for Technology
Of course, bringing technology on the trail isn’t always a bad thing. Like everything in life, it’s all about moderation and how you use it. In many cases, technology can be a very useful tool.
It can save lives
Getting lost in the forest can be a harrowing experience even if you’re with other people. Things such as personal locator beacons and cellphones have made it much easier for rescue workers to find lost or injured hikers. These beacons connect to satellites and send out a personalized emergency distress signal. While there have been some cases of people overusing it, in general, they are useful life-saving devices.
Other than personal locator beacons, having a smartphone handy can also save your life as long as you have some reception. It can inform you of weather conditions and sunset times. If you planned ahead, you could even download trail maps to view offline. Many even provide information about trail closures and conditions. Some might even point out common locations for landslides or even bear sightings. It might take the romance out of being in the “wilderness,” but it will keep you safe.
It can connect people
Like it or not, technology is now the main way people connect with one another. There are dozens of people who record themselves on the trail whether via Snapchat or on a GoPro. It gives others a rare peek into your life and accentuates the beauty of the natural world. To go a step further, it could encourage viewers to take a similar journey or maybe even get them more interested in the conservation of particular areas. It’s easy to brush off things such as the bleaching of coral reefs if you’ve never seen the beauty of one. Through technology, people around the world can experience these things and perhaps develop a connection with them.
So is technology ruining hiking?
It depends. Some might argue that technology has destroyed the very essence of wilderness as people are now more focused on getting that perfect picture rather than respecting its beauty. With that said, there’s no reason to dismiss it completely. It might save your life one day.
The point of hiking or camping, at least for many people, is to become more in tune with nature. The more distracted you are, the less you’ll notice what’s around you, but this doesn’t mean you can’t take out your camera or phone and snap a picture. All in all, it’s hard to say technology has ruined hiking, but as with everything in life, to prevent this from happening, finding a middle ground is key.
About the author: Caroline is a writer for eHealth Informer and a hiking enthusiast. While she’s as guilty as the next person for constantly checking her phone on hikes, she’s slowly weaning herself off the habit and taking the time to enjoy the world around her sans filter.