Video chat from Sable Island? A Tweet from Tuktut Nogait National Park of Canada? This could be very well possible: Parks Canada has announced plans to install Wi-Fi access throughout the next few years in up to 100 of the nation’s national parks.
The question of Wi-Fi in the great outdoors has some of us wondering whether this is the end of wilderness as we know it. Initially, the news seemed to have been met with a lot of backlash—although those in favor of the proposition brought up sound arguments to be considered. Here are some of the points being discussed in the great wilderness versus wireless debate.
Con Argument: What About Peace and Quiet?
Here’s a philosophical question for you. If a person enjoys an excursion into a national park and doesn’t post a photo of it to Instagram, did it really happen?
Opponents are concerned that the presence of Wi-Fi will disrupt the serenity of a national park. How lame would it be if your friends were sitting around the campfire, texting other friends at home. Or working on never-ending work emails. It’s as if the entire purpose of getting outside to get away is no longer possible. Will people accidentally wander off a cliff, distracted by a text message (as suggested by a commenter on the website of a national newspaper)?
The bottom line is, people should be able to go a few days without plugging themselves in. Introducing Wi-Fi to parks takes us one step away from being able to enjoy nature as it is—through our eyes, not through a screen.
Pro Argument: People Are Capable of Making Decisions
We need to remember that—despite what it might seem—we are in control of our use of technology. People have the choice of bringing their phones along or keeping them turned off. People can catch up on news if they want to, or choose to immerse themselves completely in the moment.
The access of Wi-Fi in a national park doesn’t force anyone to use it: it simply provides users with an option.
Pro Argument: A Tourism Boost
The presence of Wi-Fi will probably increase park visits: people who might need to stay connected for personal or business reasons will now be able to make excursions, while the inevitable social media shares will surely inspire a few additional visits from behind-the-screen audiences.
Some argue that national parks don’t need the boost, as evidenced by crowds and full parking lots in the busy months. Certain cynics suggest that tech-addicts are better off Googling pictures of the parks, instead of adding to the congestion.
A Safety Tool—or a Safety Net With Holes?
Many Canadian national parks are out of cell phone reception areas—access to Wi-Fi could help people make emergency calls, situate themselves when they are lost, or look up wilderness survival tips.
Conversely, Wi-Fi could also give people a false sense of security. Wilderness neophytes might venture into territories with neither the proper equipment or knowledge, relying on internet access as a dangerous crutch. We’ve seen it all to often in backcountry skiing when inexperienced people have the deluded sense that a cell phone is mightier than education and tools.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The good: you might imagine being able to stream a playlist while lounging by a lake. Maybe contact friends to meet up with partway through the trip. Consider that you can send an email home (or make a FaceTime call) while on a multi-day excursion, just to check in.
The bad: it’s not easy to knock the habit of checking your email every hour—and nothing puts a damper on a good time like a stressful work email. While some people might welcome the ability to check the news and keep up on sports scores, some of us actually enjoy giving our minds a break.
Possibly worst of all is the ugly: the youngest generation was practically born with a mobile phone in hand. National parks are one of the few opportunities that remain for us to show kids how awesome real life and nature can be.
Of course, there is a lot to consider, and details are only starting to emerge. For instance, reports indicate that the Wi-Fi hotspots will be centered around specific bases within the National Parks (like main campsites)—in other words, it won’t be inescapable, and may not be as prevalent as people think.