The Culture of Connectivity Continues


Chiefs Head in Rocky Mountain National Park

I recently read that there are plans to extend cellular coverage in Mount Ranier National Park.

The National Park Service is currently conducting an assessment of this possibility. No surprise that this is an industry lead initiative with telecom companies and park concessionaires leading the charge.

Many years ago I wrote an article about there will continue to be an expectation of connectivity.

And earlier prophets than myself cautioned about this trend as far back as the start of the 1990s.

Here it is 2017.

Plans are afoot to have cellular and wifi technology readily available in our national parks. Extending from visitors centers, to roads, to trailheads, and (by default) into the wilderness itself. And less expensive and even more effective connectivity technology is in the works.

We can talk about the perceived safety benefits or the convenience that such services will provide for park visitors.

The reality is that this initiative is about money.   But that is another discussion I’ve touched upon before.

I am more concerned what these and similar changes mean for the continued cultural change.

What concerns me about the ubiquity of connectivity is the expectation of said connectivity in all facets of life.

In American corporate culture, the line between free time and work time is very blurry.

If you can be reached, you can work.

If you can’t be reached or choose not be reached, what is wrong with you?  Call it employee engagement, being a team player, or just an expectation, but because there is more connectivity, there is an expectation you will be connected and available.

What does all this mean?   There is an increasing assumption that employees are essentially on-call at all times.  And work is the most important aspect of our lives that most aspects revolve around.  Our identity in many ways.  Concepts perhaps not explicitly stated, but implied.

And it is not just work culture but a trend in American culture overall.

Something beyond sending a simple “I’m OK” message to loved one.  But the idea that connectivity technology will always be available. That we can and will be connected.    And you should be connected as well.

In an ideal environment, a choice can be made just to be disconnected for those who choose to go this route.

But it is not an ideal environment.  Societal pressure will make a choice not to be connected an increasingly unpopular and challenging choice.

But it goes beyond just not wanting to be reached and being off the grid a bit.  With this increased connectivity culture, a bit more of the wild spaces are indeed lost.   The issue that truly concerns me.

Places on the map with large swaths of green used to be the signifiers of our wild lands.   Will mobile device provider maps of coverage be the new signifiers of wild lands? Where blank spaces on the coverage map show these islands in the sea?  We’ll have designated Wilderness lands but will these lands truly be wild? Ubiquitous and full connectivity changes wild places into something that has more of the feel of a local open space area.  Perhaps beautiful, challenging, and rewarding. But wild? In my opinion, no.

From 1997. Stll true…if not more so.

I understand people want more connectivity.   And I know I am on the losing side of this debate.  The changes will happen.

I just lament the cost.

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6 years ago

I am with you on this. I believe there is a personal loss when one sacrifices time alone in the wild for a psuedo-social experience. I have seen the renewal that comes when city stressed people learn to put their devices in airplane mode and leave it there for 4 days.

6 years ago

I’m with you 100%!

This all reminds me of a not so humorous poem by Ogden Nash, “On Occasion,” which is too long to quote here but certainly fits:
“O misery, misery, mumble and moan,
Someone invented the telephone,”

Paul G
Paul G
6 years ago

Curious how your feelings towards PLB/Spot devices have changed, if at all, since your 2010 Connectivity musings. I was surprised to read how strongly Alan Dixon advocates for them in his recent post on the “21st Century 10 Essentials” which included one of these devices.

6 years ago

There’s a big difference between having a PLB for emergencies only (nobody can call me on it!) and a cell phone! The PLB is to keep my grown children off my back so they don’t bug me about hiking alone–a big psychological weight saving! Anyone can call me on my cell phone, and with an increasing number of spam calls (which I don’t answer), it’s a major pain! I’m leaving Tuesday to car camp in an area where there’s no cell phone reception, hooray!

Draggin' Tail
Draggin' Tail
6 years ago

A change highlighted by fellow Thru-Hiker Krispy Kritter during our 2010 A.T. ThruHike……. He had first Thru-Hiked the A.T. in 2004 and his observation of the difference between the two time periods was that in 2004, when hikers came into a shelter at the end of their daze hiking, the first question asked of those already there was: “how’s the water?”. In 2010, that initial question had morphed into: “how’s the cell phone coverage?”.
One wonders what next years barometer of connectivity capabilities will be stressed in the “wilderness”.

Beth Miller
Beth Miller
6 years ago

Paul, I agree with you. I have, unfortunately, given up my plans to hike for a month this summer. Why? I sell real estate, solo, and my clients cannot conceive of my absence for a month or longer where they cannot reach me. Never mind that there would be a good, experienced real estate agent (or 2) helping to cover my obligations. Having said that, I RELISH the opportunity to have no correspondence with anyone outside my location as it is the only way to recharge myself mentally. I did find a solution…I am quitting work as of the end… Read more »