Nature and Technology: Friend or Foe?

By Devon Burns, Senior Strategist

It begins with a question worth considering…if you can’t separate yourself from the world you are leaving behind, and its never-ending barrage of technologies, can you ever really appreciate, understand, or dare we say, survive, a walk in the woods?

In the city we use our technology to drown out the chaos of our days. Headphones on, curating our soundtrack and interacting with people near and far with a quick, simple message. But what if the opposite were necessary? What if you needed to be alert, aware, and take in everything from the environment minus your personally curated moments in order to get through the day?

I’m going to risk sounding cheesy here, but with most of us carrying around a super computer in our pockets we’re able to navigate our personal world constantly and readily. Literal navigation from Google maps and weather apps to figurative navigation like social networks, news feeds, games, e-commerce, and any other app seemingly speeds up time and keep our minds from ever being idle.

This has created within the majority a sense of comfort, using technology to supplement what we don’t know; GPS for directions, Google searches for any and all unanswered questions, and Amazon price checks for all of the things. Most uncertainties we encounter can be solved by a quick tap, swipe, or click. It allows us to feel like experts in any given situation, with the risk of potentially enabling us to feel overconfident in our skill-set.

With a home base in Seattle, there is a seemingly constant influx of new people moving to our evergreen state on what feels like an hourly basis. Consequently, there has been an increase in new faces out on the trail. One of the most attractive things about living in this city is the easy access to some of the most amazing outdoor experiences you can imagine. With such easy access, everyone should get outside as often as they can. However, going for a wilderness hike is not the same as making the trek to the next neighborhood over for a pub-crawl.

Mother nature doesn’t change who she is, or what she is capable of, to suit a particular outdoor skill level. A beginner must face the same challenges as an expert. And if that beginner is feeling over-confident because of their GPS navigation unit, their SOS unit, Instagram photos, and tweets from others on the trail, they just might find themselves in a situation they are unprepared for.

I have a GPS watch by Bia so I’m not knocking technological advances that cater to our advantage in the wilderness. I use the watch for pacing and tracking mileage. It has an SOS feature, and will send a text with my location to five of my emergency contacts. It does provide some comfort knowing that if something were to happen, rescue is only a push-of-a-button away. But should we rely on technology alone? Has convenience given way to commonsense? The thing is, there’s about a 50/50 chance my watch will even work depending on where in the forest I am. So for me, the following back-up analog methods are crucial:

  1. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back
  2. A map and compass (in case your GPS unit fails or runs out of power)
  3. A hiking buddy
  4. The 10 essentials

My vote: leave the technology behind in order to truly be present in nature. There is a time and place that technology 100% enhances an experience and a time and place when being present without said technology 100% enhances the experience. So what can you do? Pick a trail suitable to your skill level. Listen to the environment and pick up cues from the actual world around you – not from your phone. Assume a mindset of curiosity and humility. You’ll be surprised what a moss covered log or breathtaking vista can teach you.

Except… selfie or it didn’t happen!


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