Occasionally escaping technology is essential for maintaining one’s peace of mind, especially as high tech gadgets increasingly invade every facet of modern life. From incessantly checking email, the ever-present Internet surfing temptation and the constant threat of an irritating cellphone ringtone disturbing every moment, it is important to find a refuge before becoming mental roadkill on the information superhighway.
The Adirondack backcountry used to be such a refuge, but it may not remain so for much longer.
Recently, the Washington Post, among others, reported about a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) plan to create a super Wi-Fi network, so powerful it could “penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees.” And presumably, into the interior of the Adirondack backcountry. Worse yet, it would be free for public use.
Fortunately, the story was patently incorrect.
According to Ars Technica, the FCC is not proposing a super Wi-Fi, free to all or otherwise. The details of the misunderstanding are more boring than reading about the current Washington-manufactured financial crisis, but the resulting story was published, went viral, and most likely became one of the many shared items on Facebook that have little basis in fact. Despite all the reporting to the contrary, the story lives on in the virtual world, probably because it seems plausible.
Regardless of the current feasibility of such a notion, the very idea of such a super network, combined with the recent news of the National Park Service’s proposal making Wi-Fi available in certain areas of some national parks should give pause to anyone dreading the notion of the instant communication following them into the backcountry. How long will it be before such a notion becomes a reality? Probably not as long as many would hope.
Annoying ringtones may soon disrupt the beautiful song of the white-throated sparrow at a favorite campsite. Distracted groups of hikers, shambling zombie-like down the trail as they stare into small devices may become a common feature along the trail. The glare of smart phones may replace the glow of a fire on hikers’ faces at many lean-to sites.
Will all impacts of an information super trailway be negative? Certainly not. Communication with the outside world during an emergency is an obvious advantage. Having access to a vast array of facts, figures and other knowledge at one’s fingertips will diffuse many a late night lean-to argument is another. Using electronic gadgets to register on each lean-to’s Twitter feed might replace the worn and torn notebook of old. I want to see an unprepared hiker use that as emergency toilet paper. On second thought, no I would not.
Having access to the Internet in the backcountry creates a quandary though, as it violates many of the primary purposes for pursuing such an experience far from modern society. It has the potential to disrupt the notion of solitude, erode a sense of independence and eventually distract from any profound communion with nature.
Now before accusations of hypocrisy start to fill up the comment section, let me admit I do use an occasional modern electronic gadget in the backcountry. Although I almost exclusively navigate by map and compass (except during wet weather), I am not above using a handheld GPS to find my location on a map (or having the map right on the GPS for that matter). In addition, I often carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) just in case of an emergency, especially when bushwhacking solo into the backcountry. However, I draw the line at carrying a phone though. In fact, I still do not even own a cellphone; it is true – my neo-Ludditism is no myth.
If the Internet does ever penetrate the Adirondack backcountry, there will always remain one bastion of refuge from the wired world – the trailess backcountry. No matter how much the world continues to shrink, or how much social networking dominates the physical world, few people will ever have the courage to leave the feeling of comfort and security provided by a well-marked trail system.
So, until black bears learn to use the Internet, the Adirondack backcountry remains a place to escape the increasingly interconnected world. Then again, we could always voluntarily disconnect ourselves, and just park our electronic gadgetry in the information superdriveway, though I doubt that is going to happen anytime soon.
Photo: Remote Toad Pond in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.