Campers, hikers, nature lovers: do you go to wild places to get away from modernity? Or do you see value in “having it all?”
Here’s why I’m asking. According to the Montréal Gazette (4/29) and other media across Canada:
Parks Canada has revealed plans to offer Wi-Fi service at its national parks and national historic sites.
In a tender posted Monday, the agency says it expects to have between 25 and 50 hot spots at key national parks and historic sites this year. That will grow to 100 hot spots in even more locations over the next couple of years.
Not surprisingly, what counts as good news to some sounds like wrong-headed blasphemy to others. As reported by CTV (4/29) Parks Canada found itself responding to negative comments right away:
…Andrew Campbell, director of visitor experience with Parks Canada, says the wireless zones would be restricted to visitor centres and campgrounds — “not in the wilderness, and not in the back country,” he told CTV’s Power Play.
“What we’re trying to do is have it around the spots where people can write a digital postcard home, where they could in the morning pick up and take their digital subscription and read the newspaper when they’re around the campground,” he said…Those sorts of things are what people have been asking us for, and so we’re trying to provide that to our visitors,” he added.
One of Canada’s best-known nature writers, Farley Mowat, heaped scorn on the proposal, shortly before he died last Tuesday at age 92. The National Post obituary for Mowat says he called the proposal “a disastrous, quite stupid, idiotic concept, and should be eliminated immediately”
Another writer, Celine Cooper, explored the pros and cons in this essay, including the interesting question “What does wilderness even mean in our wired 21st century?”
Let me say right off the bat that the idea of accessing electronic devices in the woods seems antithetical to me. This is partly because I grew up camping and hiking in the north; I am deeply comfortable with the experience of being disconnected from the grid. But the other reason is because I research and write for a living. What this means (in 140 characters or less) is that I spend many, many (too many) hours every day sitting in front of computer and smartphone screens. My online world is — first and foremost — a stressful one. I would not choose to import the anxiety of all those unanswered emails or my bottomless Twitter feed into the very place I might go to escape from it all.
But experience has taught me not to go sneering too loudly at technology or claiming that authenticity can only be found in the quote-unquote “real world.”
Those with enough self-discipline can, of course, welcome or ignore the siren call of a WiFi hot spot. And most park users are happy to have things like electricity, potable water, phones and flush toilets at visitor centers. What’s adding some hot spots on top of those other amenities?
But those who prefer purity would end up having more interaction with WiFi addicts, once that option is added to selected locations. Tech users would very likely ask for more and more WiFi and cell coverage. Viewed that way, the proposal touches on a larger clientele and atmosphere issue: do the purists get to keep nature pure, or must they continually surrender ground to the encroachment of all things human?
Indeed, the topic hits a nerve with defenders of what I will sloppily call “natural wilderness”, as evidenced by a far-away response from Australia.
What do you think? A good idea and it’s about time?
A terrible proposal?
Or just another aspect of the march of progress?