Back in October I saw that it had already happened at Lake Mead Recreational Area, one of the National Park Service (NPS) units. Instead of posting a rant about this technology on my return home, it seemed prudent to give it some thought and wrap my mind around a subject that twenty years ago I knew was probably going to happen. Sometimes it is best to let thoughts stew for a while in the brain, before dishing out opinions.
To be honest, we have much bigger problems than technology in our national parks. Technology is devastating the middle class and the poor, smartphones are making Americans dumb, and too many individuals cannot easily do anything about it because they are uneducated, under-educated or miseducated. Bottom line is technology isn’t making our lives better, it is making it worse, and we are headed towards an accelerated decline of American civilization – and technology itself isn’t to blame – the blame lies in how we use technology.
What I found, back in October, is along a 25 mile stretch of road that access three NPS campgrounds, all three now have Wi-Fi access. To be honest I am ambivalent about it – not about the current state, but how it probably will expand beyond the confines of the campground. Before jumping into the subject at hand, perhaps it might be beneficial to ponder the purpose of our national parks.
If we survey world history, one question we might ask is, “What has America contributed to the improvement of humanity?” There are many things, especially our form of government, and we should recognize the American Invention of national parks, starting with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Today, around 100 countries have set aside national parks.
Coincidently, as I wondered about our national parks, last month Chris Townsend, a Scottish adventurer, pondered the same issue in his country in response to a Scottish proposal to install zip-lines (apparently in Scotland they are called Zipwires) in Scottish national parks. As he should have, he quoted the purpose and goals of his country’s national parks:
The Environment Act 1995 …. set out two statutory purposes for national parks in England and Wales:
- Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
- Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public
National Parks are protected areas. A protected area is a location which has a clear boundary. It has people and laws that make sure nature and wildlife are protected and that people can continue to benefit from nature without destroying it.
What about America’s national parks – what are they for? It is laid out in the National Park Service’s mission statement:
The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.
The NPS is, in many of our national parks, expanding cellular and internet service inside the parks; and not just at visitor centers but along roads and even at spots like trailheads. Cell phone towers are being, often at the whim of telecommunication companies desire for more profits, because the National Park Service doesn’t have an intelligible policy. It is now common to hear the never ending squeaks of cell phones in the backcountry wilderness as well as at famous natural landmarks like Old Faithful.
If we really want to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources” of our national parks, then our parks should remain disconnected from the technology of the modern world. It is the job and responsibility of the NPS to protect the beauty, peacefulness, and solitude of our national parks, and these values do not require a smartphone to enjoy.
Many people, however, disagree with these observations. They see our national parks as something else, something that should change as our culture changes. They see national parks needing to compete with amusement parks, such as Disneyland or Six Flags, for customers. They think we need to change how the NPS e operates so they can compete for “customers,” and even provide amenities such as Wi-Fi, hotels, swimming pools, laundry rooms, etc. William C. Breed, wrote in his book Uncertain Path
If national parks are to survive in any significant form, their mission and management goals must be redefined, and that redefinition endorsed and accepted by the American public. The parks will have to undergo a metamorphosis that provides them with both new management goals in tune with our contemporary scientific knowledge and redefined societal role that attracts new generations of users. Nothing else will succeed.
I’m sorry, this isn’t the case – we aren’t having trouble attracting “new generations of users” – many of our parks are already overloaded with people, and the lack of cell service or Wi-Fi is immaterial. For example, Joshua Tree National Park, which is only 50 miles from my house and is a place I have spent thousands of days in, is becoming too popular even though all of the campgrounds (except two) do not have water and only have pit toilets. There is no Wi-Fi or cell service in the park. Despite the lack of these modern conveniences, next month the park will implement a pilot transportation program as described on the Joshua Tree National Park website:
JOTR’s visitation has been steadily increasing for a number of years. The capacity of parking lots and campsites is reached on most weekends throughout the year. In an attempt to mitigate the traffic issues, JOTR partnered with the University of CA, Irvine, and had a Feasibility Study completed to study options for alternative transportation into the Park. Putting this data into action, the park has partnered with Morongo Basin Transit Authority and has prepared a Cooperative Agreement to start a Park Visitor Shuttle Service. The Roadrunner Shuttle Bus service will start February 1, 2018. During this pilot season, there will be buses entering the park through the entrances in Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. These two buses will enter the park every 2 hours. Buses will stop at designated trailheads every 30 minutes. Bus stops have been identified both in the communities and within the park. Signs will be posted on already existing posts where the buses will be stopping in the community, and benches and signs will be posted at the bus stops within the Park.
This article worries that we might be Loving Our National Parks to Death, But enough of that, let’s get back to my Wi-Fi accessible campsite.
Let’s face it, a developed National Park Service or US Forest Service campground isn’t a wilderness experience. I should know, in my lifetime, I have spent literally thousands of nights in campgrounds. In a sense, these campgrounds are a kind of purgatory.
Many campgrounds straddle a type of “no man’s land” between the man-made world and wilderness, with two paths: one path is the road back to civilization and the other a gateway to the natural world beyond the campground. It is in this purgatory than many are first introduced to the wilderness beyond the campsite, where there is often a cleansing of the soul by immersing one’s self in nature. From the campsite, hikes into the natural world often create an appetite and longing to spend time in the wilderness, away from civilization and the trappings of the man-made world: a cleansing or purifying of the spirit, so to speak. There is no place in the natural world for technologies like Wi-Fi because wilderness is nature as man first found it without his interference or changes to it. Man did not find Wi-Fi or cell phone service in the wilderness because the technology did not exist.
Beyond the Campgrounds and Visitor Centers
Over the past couple of years there have been increasing been cries for more cell phone coverage and Wi-Fi access in our natural parks, by individuals and even some of those in Congress. Of course, Congressmen want it so they can cater to the special interests and money-brokers that fund these powerful aristocrats. For many of individuals, the reasoning is mind boggling. For example, this article Do national parks need Wi-Fi to stay relevant? is indicative of a culture overwhelmed and enslaved to technology. Here are a couple quotes from it:
James Katz, a professor and director of emerging media studies at Boston University, says the social pressures to expand technology’s reach are immense.
Katz had a first-hand dose of those pressures this summer, when he travelled through Yellowstone with his teenage children. They hit all the main attractions: Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls, roaming herds of wild bison.
Whenever connectivity dropped off, Katz said, the complaints from the teens would begin.
“It was quite fascinating to see a naturally-occurring experiment about what happens when you take away technology from kids,” he said. “They wanted to be in touch with their friends and exchange Snapchat photos — not of the beautiful scenery but themselves.”
On a positive note, Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), had this to say,
The National Park Service will not find its institutional relevance on the internet. Our national parks risk their unique role by striving to become just another consumer-driven entertainment provider.
Just about everyone who owns or uses a computer, iPad or tablet, smart phone or similar device knows what Wi-Fi is. But what is it really? It is technology. Technology is unique to man – it is created by our ability to reason, communicate through speech and the written word, and to build things we could only previously imagine in our minds. Today most people use this technology to excess; they use it during most of their waking hours. Like almost anything in existence, excess is not a good thing. Excess becomes addiction. Addictions, whether they are food, chemicals, or even technology kills the souls and minds of men.
My concern about Wi-Fi in our public campgrounds is not about the technology per se, but how we use (or don’t use) technology, and the fact it can have an invasive and destructive force. Aside from my concern of this technology infecting our wilderness areas like an electronic Black Plague; and in contrast to the definition of “wilderness” as places untrammeled by man, we need to consider the negative impact it can have on our everyday lives, that is, what is the nature of technology.
A hot topic in the last presidential election was employment. Since 2000 we have lost more than 5 million factory jobs and most have gone overseas. Here’s a secret (and don’t tell anyone): those jobs, in spite of what President Trump says and promised, aren’t coming back. They aren’t the victim of cheap labor in Mexico or China, but a victim to technology. Sooner or later those jobs would have been replaced by technology, some we lost sooner to cheap overseas labor. Robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are eliminating jobs; not only factory jobs but office jobs and layers of management. Human resource departments, recruiting and hiring, even employee scheduling are being replaced by software technology, resulting in job losses and a growing income disparity resulting in millions of U.S. workers struggling to get by with 81% of US households seeing their wages stagnate or decline between 2005 and 2014.
Along with the decline in buying power, technology is making a lot of jobs completely boring.
To numb the life of boredom that technology has created at work, so many people turn to the same technology as a bromide to mask the pain of living. Social media, silly videos, or following people who are famous for being famous occupy their free time. A humdrum life becomes epic, as they post pictures of themselves on Facebook while doing mundane things. Instead of living a good life, they try to create self-esteem and a position of honor through inane interactions over the Internet.
While I was camping in the campground that had Wi-Fi, spending a month there, there was plenty of time to observe. I know it costs money to access this Wi-Fi service, but I don’t know how much because I had better things to do with my time. For a couple of days there was a group of people near my campsite. Every day I would walk past their site on my way out of campground purgatory to a trail that led away from humanity. And each day I noticed all of them sitting around with their eyes glued to cell phone screens. The only interaction I saw between them was when someone would show the group something on their phone.
Then I started to watch other campers. Many, if not most, seemed to have a cell phone in hand at all times. Others were sitting in their campsites playing with iPads and computers. I don’t see the purpose in camping when it is centered on technology connected gadgets. Being connected fully time to the man-made world while in campground purgatory cannot be a good thing because social media, texting, and constant cell phone conversations become a mortgage on our lives, e.g., our lives are not entirely our own because those on the other end of our Wi-Fi or cellular devices are making demands on our time.
I cannot figure out this social media thing: the collection of “Likes” and “Followers” and the epic-ness of one’s life to be captured and posted on the Internet. I suspect it is the desire for self-esteem or honor. If one ignores merit, then honor and fame is not the same thing. I touched on this in my post on How to Become a Famous Backpacker, and the fact that many people are simply “famous for being famous” and really don’t merit any esteem from others.
There is probably no debate that most people want the esteem of others. Is this need for esteem a want for honor or a want for fame? If we consider the pursuit of happiness does it matter if we say one cannot be happy without honor or one cannot be happy unless they are famous? I think so. Honor is derived from virtue and morality. The desire for fame is a desire for unearned merit or recognition. There is nothing of merit in a campground, other than the enjoyment some may find in simply “camping out.” Spending one’s time in a campground taking “selfies” and immediately posting them to Facebook or Instagram is of no merit, and nothing that should be linked to esteem or fame. It is most aptly technology gone awry and holding its users in self-induced slavery.
Technology in a campground is not a bad thing; it is how we use it that can become bad for us. For example, before I retired, I would often set-up a mobile office in a campground. Yes, I was working (and being paid for it) while enjoying the benefit of spending a large portion of my time on the other side of purgatory in the natural world, when I turned off the computer. Most of the time on these trips I did not have direct access to Wi-Fi or cellular service. I would have to drive 20 or more miles round trip to get cellular service where I could use my phone as a hot spot to read and send email, upload and download files, and of course retrieve voicemail and call people using the cell phone for that antiquated purpose – a telephone. The rest of my time at the campground was mine to use as I pleased, and I used it without the aid of electronic devices.
Choosing a Campground
I have a formula for picking a campground. The quality of camping is in direct proportion to the distance to the nearest cellular reception or Wi-Fi. 40 miles from reception is twice as good as 20 miles from reception: the greater the distance the better the experience. Often 40 miles from reception means you are no longer in campground purgatory, but have actually planted yourself in the middle of wilderness far from the man-made world… isn’t that the point of camping?
Recently there have been a slew of warnings in the media about cell phone addiction, with calls for Apple to do something about it. The demanders tell us that smartphone addiction has become a public health issue and that companies like Apple and Facebook have a responsibility to do something about it. I even read a serious suggestion that there should be a warning on iPhone packaging, similar to the warnings on packs of cigarettes, suggesting how much time per day the phone is recommended for use. Really? So as smartphones make us dumb and dumber, we should blame the manufacturers of these wonderful devices for addiction and throw out personal responsibility?
A recent report stated that
78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones.
So what should “we” do about it? I suggest we do nothing. It’s a parenting problem, not a social problem. Let’s face it; there is a lot of shitty parenting going on. And these shitty parents know that a smartphone and twitter account can be addictive to their children and themselves.
But more than this, technology has created information overload. There is so much information on the internets, information that grows exponentially each year, and this easy access comes at a steep price. As I wrote in Managing Your Recreation Inventory, we have a limited amount of time for camping and backpacking and we should manage it properly. Along the same train of thought, we have limited amount of time that could be used to improve our knowledge and/or skills so we can avoid wage stagnation or decline. A while back, I asked this question, “Are you prepared if you job is eliminated by technology? If not, what are you doing about it?” Fact is, most jobs are going to change quickly or become obsolete, and that fact shouts out that individuals should anticipate trends, expand their skills and expertise if they want to remain gainfully employed.
One think I know for sure, after working for nearly fifty years and never being laid off or fired: the only job security is possessing marketable skills and/or knowledge. As quickly as technology is changing year-to-year, that marketable attribute is going to require continuous education and improvement – and you won’t find it on Facebook. Actually Facebook wants you to become addicted to their technology.
Every time we check an email, click a link, look at incoming texts, glance at a tweet, we are using up our inventory of time that could be put to better use, and perhaps, more importantly, we are sacrificing bit of our finite attention. This constant interaction with technology impairs our ability to focus and improve our lives; people subconsciously direct some of their attention to a phone sitting on a desk, in their purse or pocket ready to pounce on it if it rings or chimes with a text or notification. The constant interaction may be damaging our capacity to think and reason.
Modern technology, which over the past 100 years or so (a blink of the eye in time), has had wonderful implications for mankind. Average lifespans in the U.S. have almost doubled and most people have more leisure time than at any time in history. Because I embraced and mastered technology, and leveraged it to a level that others in my company had not reached, when it came to productivity and efficiency, it gave me job security and more leisure time. It also allowed me to hold my boss to the model of the employment contract.
The Employment Contract
Leave Work at Work
In the early 2000’s I was a manager when this modern technology of Wi-Fi and cell phones began to become common place, and my boss tried to keep me connected to my work 24/7. I could see where that was going right away – so I had to explain to him two concepts and hold him accountable to them:
- Work is a contract. I promise to perform certain services, and in exchange I am paid for them. At the end of the day, and especially at the end of the week when I am paid, the contract is fulfilled. I owe the company nothing more, and the company owes me nothing more. We are even. The contract is renewed and starts over the following Monday. This is the elusive balance of work and life.
- Poor planning on my boss’s part didn’t constitute an emergency on my part.
I used technology as a tool to enhance my work and create free time for my own use. How I used technology in my job made my job a useful occupation to me and others. My job wasn’t a painful experience; in fact I relished it and I did not have the fear of most people have today; the fear of a life of boredom at work. Because my work days were productive, there was no need to engage in the diversions and amusements most people occupy themselves with in their free time because their work-life is so boring.
Why are so many people so bored with their jobs? Often it is technology that turns work into the tedious specialization of repetition. Technology can make jobs and careers obsolete. The lack of education or the refusal to engage in continuous personal growth (e.g., embracing, learning, and using technology to one’s advantage) has resulted in too many people working at jobs they hate and no clear path to correct this state of being. For many of these folks technology is their enemy. Technology has passed them by and at the same time their ability to earn a good living diminishes every day. Not only are careers increasingly specialized, a better description is limited, and our educational system is becoming too specialized and limited.
A few years ago I wrote in, The Death of Renaissance Man,
Sometime in the last generation Renaissance Man passed away. Also known as Polymath, he lived for almost 2,400 years. The cause of death was apathy and specialization.
He was the child of Reason and Knowledge. His greatest achievement was ethical egoism.
His illegitimate children Specialized Man, Minimum Man, and Social Networker survive him.
Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and a long list of polymath relatives predeceased him.
His passing was not noticed and there will be no funeral. Everyone is too busy texting, tweeting, and face-booking.
Nor will there be any memorial funds established.
Renaissance Man, unlike Social Networker who collects “Like’s,” “Fans,” and “Followers,” acquired knowledge and skill across a wide and varied spectrum of human experience including, among other fields, philosophy, history, political science, physics, economics, engineering, music, and art.
In that post I included this wonderful quote from Robert Heinlein:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, specialization became the norm in Western Civilization. The man who could do anything and everything disappeared. Our educational system changed to meet this demand. High school curriculum was designed to prepare students to enter the work force or advance to college. College prepared the students for a higher paying job than non-college bound high school classmates could earn. Each decade the job opportunities for high school or college graduates became more a more specialized. Education was no longer about gaining knowledge, but a task list to be completed to obtain that high school diploma or college degree.
Baruch Spinoza tells us that we allow ourselves to become slaves by the domination of our emotions and passions versus the personal freedom that is possible by the use of reason. He says the actions we take are determined by one of two things; reason or passion. When we rule our lives by passions we are in
“bondage, for a man under their control is not his own master, but is mastered by fortune, in whose power he is, so that he is often forced to follow the worse, although, he seeks the better before him.”
He further states that when we guide our lives by reason we are free for each of us
“does the will of no one but himself and does those things only which he knows are of greatest importance in life, and which he therefore desires above all things.”
It doesn’t have to be this way; to let passion rule our lives. Whether we succumb to passion or not is voluntary. Socrates tells us that if we know what is good for us, we will act according. But too often, he points out, we “desire things which they imagine to be good but which in reality are evil.”
The actions we take in life are usually caused either by a rational judgment of what is good or by an emotional estimation of the desirable. If we let emotions guide us, we are not listening to reason.
Again Spinoza offers some insight on this human bondage caused by our passions and, “the importance of man to govern or restrain the affects… for a man who is under their control is not this own master.” He says a free man is one who “who lives according to the dictates of reason alone.” Spinoza also discusses passion and “how much reason itself can control the affects” to realize what he calls “freedom of mind or blessedness.”
The great thinkers of history will almost unanimously tell us that all emotions or passions find their root in love or hate. Love and hate are opposites. Yet the work life many suffer today and the hate they feel for the technology that has made their jobs an occupational disaster, is the technology they embrace when not working.
Francis Bacon wrote, “Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed.” He also applauds the technical applications of science and the invention of machines as methods for man to extend his dominion over nature. Perhaps today we should ask if technology will extend its dominion over man – it is possible if we allow ourselves to follow our emotions and passions instead of our ability to reason.
Because our education has become so limited, unlike Thomas Jefferson or James Madison, most Americans have not read the works of Spinoza or Bacon who I quoted above. But one does not have to go back to school to learn about the influential thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, or Bacon. You can read and study their works on your own instead of wasting your life playing with technology. One theme among the great philosophers and intellectuals from antiquity to the present is the subject of temperance.
Aristotle thought that all moral virtues require a mean between excess and fault, and that mean is accomplished by temperance; not too much, not too little, but moderation that is somewhere in the middle of excess and defect. Aristotle and his teacher Plato didn’t perceive virtue in the same way, and their opinions about different virtues such as courage, wisdom, or justice diverge, they were often in agreement in their discussion of temperance. We can probably call temperance self-mastery, or as Socrates said, “… a man being his own master.”
The opposite of temperance is self-indulgence – self-indulgence is the perfect definition for technology addiction. Both Freud and Aristotle regarded self-indulgence to be juvenile or immature, and Aristotle wrote that children “live at the beck and call of appetite, and it is in them that the desire for what is pleasant is strongest.”
Our use of technology needs to be Aristotle’s temperate mean, that is, somewhere between self-indulgence and abstinence.
So, turn off your phone and go spend a few days in a national park or a forest service campground without any technology. Believe, after the technology withdrawal pains, you will have a great time and want more of it without technology.