Does Wi-Fi Belong in Our National Parks?


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.

Con Argu­ment:
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.

smartphoneA 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.