At times, it seems as if the entire world is going digital. The Digital Revolution is in full swing, ubiquitously deploying its combined forces of computers, tablets, smart phones, Internet, Wi-Fi, etc., penetrating every aspect of our modern lives. Its newest weaponry, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other social media websites continually distract us from the real world, whiling away the moments of our lives.
Luckily, there are still a few refuges from the constant information bombardment of the 21st Century. The Adirondack backcountry is one such place, where the Information Age has only a small footprint in the form of handheld GPS, an intermittently functioning cellphone or a personal locator beacon. Here the backcountry exists much as it did long before digital gadgetry took up arms against our sanity.
Unfortunately, this may not last for long though. That is, not if Google Trekker and its co-conspirators have anything to say about it.
Despite what it may sound, Trekker is not Google’s recent effort at moving into the footwear business. Google Trekker is a 40 lbs. equivalent to the technology found on Google’s Street View cars, worn as a backpack, for the sole purpose of photographing trails in the backcountry.
Recently, Google took the Trekker to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with much fanfare, for its maiden voyage to kick off their most recent project to digitally map and photograph the world’s most wild places. Even the backcountry is not safe from Google’s plan at world domination.
Google is a relative latecomer to the photographing backcountry trails game. Many others attempted similar feats, concentrating on the more popular areas, with varying levels of success. For example, General Mills previously introduced the Nature Valley Trail View, which features numerous hiking trails in some of the most popular National Parks, such as the Great Smokey, Yellowstone, and, surprise, surprise, the Grand Canyon. Although relatively primitive, these nascent efforts are probably only the beginning, especially as competition drives the effort forward with increasing speed.
After conquering the Grand Canyon and the more popular parks, how long before the many Adirondack trails are photographed, digitalized and technologically dissected for all to enjoy from the clean, temperature-controlled comfort of their own homes?
Some believe this trend may increase the popularity of backcountry areas, as these virtual hiking opportunities inspire more people to venture out and enjoy these wild areas. The only negative consequences being the fomentation of the idea that anyone can jump on a trail with nothing more than blue jeans, flip-flops and a cellphone without any knowledge of the surrounding environment, weather conditions or aggressive terrain.
The law of unintended consequences implies there may be many detrimental effects of photographing and digitalizing backcountry trails. Perhaps these new virtual efforts will do for hiking what social networking has done for personal socializing, reducing it to a mere shadow of its previous prominence.
Before we know it, these backcountry images, combined with technically advanced software packages, will provide a hiking experience unencumbered by long, sweat-inducing walks, noxious smells of numerous body odors from one’s self and others, and heaven forbid, black flies and mosquitoes! Would not the world be a better place without these inconvenient biological intrusions, anyways?
Perhaps Wii Hiker would allow the user to set certain random parameters for sighting unusual wildlife, or experiencing unusual events (e.g. a microburst). Long lost celebrities brought back from the dead for one more personal experience (e.g. the return of Yellow-Yellow). And if you run out of time to continue today, just save the entire scenario and start it up again tomorrow where you left off.
What will this virtual convenience mean for the Adirondack experience? No more inconvenient downpours ruining an otherwise pleasant afternoon hike. No more hot spots swelling into blisters. No mosquitoes or black flies. What about the famous Adirondack wave? I shudder at the thought.
Does this sound a little far-fetched? Is there a real threat, or is this just the ranting of curmudgeonly Neo-Luddite? A supreme case of paranoia running rampant? Probably all of the above.
Give it a little thought if you have time between updating your Facebook status, playing the newest video game and catching up with your followers on Twitter. I will wait by exploring the trails of the Grand Canyon online until the weather turns warmer and the skies clear.
Photo: Truck Trail in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.