The Growing Culture of Connectivity

In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that there is an increased emphasis on connectivity in the backcountry.

For emergency use, for peace of mind, for cultural expectations. The following is an essay modified from my online exchanges on various outdoor groups.



In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on what I call the Culture of Connectivity.
Cell phone are ubiquitous. Black Berries are carried by every Wall Street Wannabe. I-Phones
are a chic item; almost a fashion accessory. You can e-mail, phone, update your websites
and plan out your life at all times!
Being connected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year is becoming not
only technologically feasible, but culturally mandated.
As a society, we are beginning to expect that we can be on the grid at all times. And this expectation
is starting to become an expectation for everyone. We can all be reached at all times..and should.

This attitude is starting to seep into the backcountry.
Personal Locater Beacons and such devices as SPOT are  touted as MUST HAVE items
by various outdoor publications. No longer should you just have a map, a compass and other
standard gear; no…you must have a device that will let you be tracked and be in communication
at all times.

The subtle (not so subtle?) implication for devices like SPOT is that only fools go into the wilderness
without these magical devices.

On a philosophical note, the continuing publicity and acceptance for items like SPOT is something I
feel will change how the outdoors is used and perceived.

I have nothing against communication devices in the backcountry per se.

But, we are getting to the point where it is expected EVERYONE should have a device of some sort.

We are increasingly becoming a 24/7 connected culture. Where the line between work and recreation, solo time
and public time is becoming fuzzy.

If you go into the backcountry solo , you are already an aberration.

If you spend your free time “off the grid”, you are not a good team player.

In the near future, where 24/7 connection to the “real world”
is both technologically feasible AND affordable, the days of unplugging
yourself will be frowned upon. Not just for emergency use, but for everyday
use as well.
Many people find it amusing that I do not check e-mail on weekends
and that I will (gasp) turn off my phone. How am I supposed to be
reached at all times?
Most organizations are starting to assume everyone is connected 24/7.

On local Open Space web site, I found the following blurb:
“Carry a cell phone.

Always a good tip whenever you are enjoying an XYZ County Open
Space park, however realize that reception may not be available in all

I am afraid this expected 24/7 connectivity will be increasingly common in the years to come.
Not just on a technological level…but on a cultural level, too.
We are getting to the point where it is no longer your preference to stay connected
…but it the expectation that everyone will be connected.
Your employer, your family, the SAR folks, people who administer the outdoors. Marketing people!
Again, it is a cultural change.
I frequent bulletin boards and mailing lists dedicated to long hikes on the National Scenic Trails.
People post about their upcoming trips that will last months in the backcountry.
The question most often asked now is not about gear. Or resupply. Or impressions of a particular
area. Rather, the question is usually “How do I stay connected while on the trail?“.
Again, it is a new culture. A culture of expected and increased connectivity.
Where the line between work/social time is being blurred. Where being
connected/disconnected is vague. It is just assumed you
will be available at all times. It is expected you will always have access to communication.
That same mentality will be in the backcountry soon.

I want to emphasize that it is not bad or somehow wrong to have the availability to be connected at all times,
but it is getting to the point where culturally, being connected 24/7 *IS* the correct and only way.
Be it at home, in the office or increasingly in the backcountry.

I am not debating if connectivity is good or bad. That argument is a rube’s game
and can’t be won.

However, the culture is changing and that connectivity is expected now. It is no longer a luxury..but an expected right.

And that culture just assumes that everyone else will and should be connected, too.

You can listen on Wildebeat to an interview  I did, along with others, on this subject.

Further reading:

Walking by Henry David Thoreau

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Wilderness Ethics: Preserving the Spirit of Wildness by Guy and Laura Waterman

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Karl Gottshalk
Karl Gottshalk
13 years ago

I doth’t feel like it should be expected. I did Kenosha Pass to Creede solo this yea and carried a Spot and a cell phone. I turned on the phone once or twice a day to send out a photo when it showed a bar or two, which my friends really seemed to enjoy. They felt that they shared my experience. I pushed the OK button on my Spot every morning and night and usually at lunch to let them know I was OK. It was really appreciated by my family knowing I was OK and they could see where… Read more »

Carl Siechert
13 years ago

I used to have a hard-and-fast rule: No electronic devices in the wilderness.

I’ve had to modify it in recent years to allow two exceptions: an LED flashlight and a digital camera.

I’m a nerd and a gadget geek (got a Windows Phone 7 device the day they became available), but I won’t carry a phone, a SPOT, or a GPS receiver when I hike. Enough!

13 years ago

Great commentary. People usually seem shocked to learn that I’ve been a computer programmer for over 30 years but I don’t own a smart phone and I’m not on Bebo · Facebook · FriendFeed · Friendster · Gaia · Hi5 · Hub Culture · ibibo · Jaiku · LinkedIn · MySpace · Netlog · Orkut · Tagged · · Twitter · Viadeo · Vkontakte · Whispurr · or Xanga.