Editorial – Park Plugs

Ahhhhh, August in your favourite provincial or national park. The sky is cloudless, the wind still. The air, shimmering with a late summer haze, hangs with a brooding silence that speaks of the distant coming of fall. Birds sing, and the ground cover rustles as busy little animals scurry on their errands, invisible to all but the most observant visitors.

You sit in a quiet copse of trees, looking down, barely moving. Your mind, your eyes, and your whole being are consumed by your careful focus on?Facebook?

That’s right. As the CBC reported, Ontario’s Pinery Provincial Park now offers its visitors wireless Internet access. Although access there is limited to one location, other Ontario parks are considering implementing it on a larger scale?as is Parks Canada. Wireless internet access has already been available in several Nova Scotia provincial parks for years, and the province is expanding coverage. And every single state park in California is already laptop-ready.

These are being hailed as innovative, forward-thinking programs; the California parks have received ?praise from many visitors.? And park administrators are moving ahead with this idea as just the latest development in modern technology. As John Salo, a zone manager for Ontario Parks, told reporters, ?Things change over the years,? adding that ?It’s not 1950, and we want to look at what [visitors?] needs are.?

Needs?

I’m not against online culture; I live and breathe it. I’m the Managing Editor of an online magazine. I’m addicted to social networking. I receive new email alerts on my smart phone. I’m always lurking on the Android Market; what awesome new apps will they come out with next? Weather, news, and the doings of people, whether familiar or famous, are never more than a click (or finger tap) away. Connectedness is part of who I am.

But That’s why, when I need a time out from the constant connectivity, when I need to be unavailable for a little bit, I turn to the one area which hasn’t been permeated with the go-go-go neediness of being plugged in: nature. Hasn’t been, that is, until now.

In the modern, Internet-driven society, the steady flow of information is like a faucet dripping gold. Sometimes, it gushes torrents of pure precious metal. On other occasions, it drips marred, tarnished specimens. But still, we’ve been conditioned to run toward the flow, even for a quick peek, terrified we might miss the big one.

Because of this, the very availability of information sets us on edge. If the faucet’s running?if the Internet’s available?we’re perennially distracted by the thought that, had we brought our laptops, we could be in the know right now.

But the inability to be online in the first place?the complete removal of the information flow?closes that faucet. And suddenly, we’re no longer burdened by the panting nearness of available information. We can breathe, focusing on what’s around us instead. It’s only possible to really commune with nature if the peace of the outdoors hasn’t been marred by the knowledge that we’re missing out on something That’s so close and so readily available.

Sure, in theory, wireless access in the forest, plains, or mountains could hold educational benefits. But the question to ask is whether those educational benefits can wait. Is it really worthwhile if, instead of just enjoying the strange bird and moving on to the next incredible sight, we’re dissatisfied until we fill the information deficit and discover the bird’s identity as quickly as possible?

And, also in theory, nature-wide Internet access could allow business travelers a change of work environment, or give writers the chance to pen masterpieces amidst the masterpiece of the unspoiled outdoors.

Yet I also fear that if the natural world becomes yet another work venue?another coffee shop or cafĂ©?it will risk being forever ignored by the connectivity-driven public. If nature is just one more area where we can receive texts, emails, and MySpace updates, it loses its charm, its uniqueness. And if I become conditioned to treat it as any ordinary locale, I’ll miss so much: gentle sounds, the soft brush of the breeze, the roughness of the log where I sit, and the musty smell of long-dead leaves will be cancelled out by the unceasing ?noise? of online information flow.

Let wireless-access parks and preserved areas everywhere take note: feel free to revel in your new-found modernity. But when I’m craving the surrounded solitude That’s so hard to find in our constantly connected world, I won’t be visiting. Rather, you’ll find me in a quiet hollow, surrounded by clear air, in a peaceful spot where I can’t receive email alerts, and where my Facebook feed, blog stats, and email boxes are many miles further than a click or finger tap away.

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