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.
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.