The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 157: Keep Me Connected, part 2

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Have you ever been hiking and seen someone using a cell phone? What about a G-P-S device? Are these people really experiencing the wilderness? This week on The WildeBeat, Keep Me Connected part two.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one-fifty-seven.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Here's a conundrum: Is it possible to be connected to modern civilization at the same time that you're immersed in a primitive, unconfined wilderness experience? Last week, in our edition number one fifty-six, we presented part one of a piece by our assistant producer Kate Taylor, exploring this question. Here is part two.

KATE: Some of you phoned and emailed in your responses to this question.

LARRY PATTON: Hi. This is Larry Patton and I live in Fresno, California...As someone who has led group backpacks since the 1970s, I have seen the changes in technology. I don't doubt the worth of GPS-related gizmos that would help in search and rescue operations. And I also don't doubt they are here to stay and will get smaller and easier to use. But I have two concerns: The first is that high-tech devices may encourage users to ignore learning how to read maps and, even more, read and appreciate the surroundings they are tramping through. The second is choosing not to use a device. Very few back-country emergencies require outside help. Some of the best experiences I've had on hiking trips have been taking care of others or myself in an emergency and making it out on our own. A couple of years ago a friend and I were headed for a trailhead in Yosemite. As we drove, he worked his Blackberry, sending and receiving business-related messages. When he no longer had a signal, he visibly relaxed. That's a small, but real part of what twenty-first century backpacking is about.

KATE: John Trefethen called us from the far reaches of cell phone reception to tell us about a time he climbed a mountain. At the top, he encountered a guy using a satellite phone.

JOHN TREFETHEN: And he had just been recovering from a heart attack, and he phoned his wife and children to tell them that he had made it to the top.

KATE: John wasn't bothered by this; it actually made him happy to see the guy sharing his wilderness experience.

JOHN TREFETHEN: But to me, the more people that enjoy the wilderness and take care of our wilderness, the greater chance our wilderness has to survive.

KATE: Brian Lewis wrote us to say he agrees that hikers should learn to function in the woods without relying on electronics. He went on to write: "At the same time, I wouldn't like to see an environment where use of electronics is considered to just be inherently bad." He doesn't think carrying around a device forces him to depend on it or filter his wilderness experience through it.

KATE: Last time we heard from Gregg Fauth, the wilderness manager at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, he told us a little about the Wilderness Act and how devices like SPOT and G-P-S units help rescuers to locate hikers in need. But he fears they could encourage people to be less prepared.

GREGG FAUTH: In these parks we've had several incidents of the the 9-1-1 button being pushed on the Personal Locator Beacons, and have responded as best we could at some point. Some of them were genuine emergencies, we've certainly extracted somebody who was probably have- having an appendicitis attack and without quick removal would have had extremely severe health consequences if not death; yet, and there was another one where somebody went into the river, the friends pushed the button Ñ they were able to actually gt him out, and were trying to sort of turn it off, but weren't able to do so. So we ended up responding in that case to somebody who no longer needed any assistance, it just was able to self-extract.

GREGG FAUTH: As far as using the devices to take greater risks, we don't really have any hard evidence of that... but we see that as certainly a potential as they become a bit more widespread and ease- more easily available... using the devices as a, you know, kind of a backup to a bad decision is certainly not something that we would recommend... and certainly the idea of taking full personal responsibility for your actions and challenging yourself without some sort of immediate electronic fallback, that's what wilderness is really meant to be; it's a way for us to reconnect with our our sort of natural roots and not have all those electronic devices that serve as some level of crutch back to modern world.

DEREK MOORE: I think it's it's the responsibility of the individual to still prepare themselves and educate themselves on backcountry wilderness skills

KATE: Derek Moore, the marketing and public relations manager of SPOT L-L-C.

DEREK MOORE: I think more and more people are pushing the limits and and that's kind of been the evolution of of outdoor experiences; you know, people want to go further, they want to do more, they want to break records, they want to climb higher peaks in a shorter amount of time, they want to merge backcountry skiing with para- para-, you know, jumping off cliffs with a parachute; and, you know, again people are always gonna push the limits... whether it be a Personal Locator Beacon or a satellite phone, it's just- it can be used as a backup plan in case something really goes wrong... it's not anybody else's responsibility to come out and, you know, save them from a- from a situation... SPOT should not be used in a panic situation, and only the 9-1-1 button should be used as a last resort when it comes down to to life or death and you haven't been able- and you've exhausted all methods for, you know, being able to get out of that situation on your own.

GREGG FAUTH: the the sort of judgement that the user would have to to utilize, they just need to think that through; that it's not just pushing a button and magically somebody appears to sort of provide them assistance, but that it might be extremely difficult and sometimes put the rescuer in in harm's way to be able to get there as well... A real life and death situation is certainly acceptable; but the fact that they might be fatigued or have a bad headache or something much lesser that could potentially go away in a in a, you know, a reasonable period of time then we would certainly not encourage them to to push that 9-1-1 button ...In a wilderness environment, we would hope that people would exhaust every other means of of trying to remedy their situation before pushing that button

LAUREL BOYERS: you ask somebody to tell you their best wilderness experience

KATE: Laurel Boyers is retired from the job of wilderness manager at Yosemite National Park.

LAUREL BOYERS: what was the coolest trip you ever took, invariably, they'll tell you a story of surviving was something that really tested them, and that is so key to why wilderness is important to our heart and soul and spirit, because it provides a place where we're really more at one with nature. We're, you know, now we're living in boxes, we drive around in boxes, we stay in boxes, we're very insulated from the natural world. And the more we use technology to insulate ourselves while we're out there, the more we loose in my opinion.

KATE: Paul Magnanti read from his essay, titled "The Changing Culture of Connectivity," last time. He sees a definite change in the way people use the wilderness with the advancement of communication technology.

PAUL MAGNANTI: I see the sense of wildness disappearing more and more. I mean they're building cell towers in certain parks, they're- satellite phones are becoming more inexpensive... less and less people are enjoying the backcountry to begin with. It's more about done-in-a-day activities now. So I think what we consider wilderness is going to be defined a lot differently, say a generation from now. Backpacking's declined considerably, multi-day camping has declined considerably in the past oh almost a decade according to outdoor industry reports. So what I see is that people don't want the sense of wilderness, they want just more of a workout with a good view... We seem less concerned with, as Thoreau put it, "wildness"; and I think this increasing connectivity is really starting to affect that sense of the wild, if you will; and it's really hard to keep that sense of the wildness when more and more people are trying to stay connected.

DEREK MOORE: I think it's...everyone's responsibility to be prepared, to educate themselves when they into the backcountry, and to rely on their own skills first... but here's a technology that when it comes down to it at the end of the day can save somebody's life; and I think that is something that each and every person has to decide for themselves . . . It's up to each person to decide on their own how they want to enjoy that experience.

STEVE: We'd like to hear your thoughts on how communications technologies affect the wilderness experience, and we always want to hear any other comments or suggestion you have about our show. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can download a combined version of both parts of this show, and listen to a complete archive of all of our shows, on our web site.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham and Kate Taylor, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one-fifty-seven. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- testers talk.

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