How do you measure your comfort level in national park wilderness areas, whether officially designated or simply managed as such? I can remember trips where we took the prohibition against mechanized items so far that we left our watches behind.
The recent posts about GPS Rangers and SPOT beg the question of whether technology really is compatible with wilderness values in the National Park System. Are these truly useful tools, or do they diminish the wilderness experience? Where do you draw the line between what is, and isn't, appropriate in a wilderness setting?
Is it elitist to believe that if you don't feel comfortable without your cell phone or a personal locater beacon (PLB) or even the latest GPS tool in a wilderness setting that you shouldn't be there? Is a wilderness trek simply about viewing gorgeous settings, some as they've always appeared, or is the adventure itself enough? And what happens if you're in an officially designated wilderness and feel the need to summon the troops? Can they (should they?) respond with a helicopter or power boat before obtaining the necessary written approval?
If you agree to go into the wilds without a cell phone (of course, odds are there won't be a signal anyway), and without a GPS unit or a PLB, I think it's safe to say that you're going to spend more preparation time being sure you will be comfortable with your surroundings. You'll have all the requisite topo maps, possibly bone-up on your map and compass skills, be sure your First-Aid kit is properly stocked, and, in short, be able to pretty much ensure you'll avoid trouble and, if not, be able to self-rescue yourself.
Of course, accidents happen. Just ask Aron Ralston. But in this evolving world that seems to be increasingly driven by technology, are we losing sight of what it means to not just be self-sufficient, but also to be able to enjoy and relish in nature on nature's terms without training wheels? Will our increasing reliance on technological devices breed younger generations that don't know how to function in a wilderness setting without three or more satellites tracking their every move, with rescuers just a button punch away?
And then, of course, there's a whole 'nother question of whether we really want this technology to, in essence, be merely another tracking tool for industries curious about our every step in national parks. What do I mean? Remember George Orwell's prophetic 1984? Check out the following regarding SPOT:
Globalstar Inc.(Nasdaq:GSAT) company SPOT LLC., the pioneer behind the award-winning SPOT Satellite Messenger(tm), today announced its integration with Yahoo! Fire Eagle further enhancing the mainstream consumer appeal for the SPOT Satellite Messenger. Fire Eagle is an open platform that helps users take their location to the web by sharing their location information with other sites and services online while keeping full control over their data and privacy. The Fire Eagle integration specifically enables SPOT Satellite Messenger users the ability to publish their adventure geotags or location coordinates to the web, sharing their location with their favorite services and increasingly popular social networking sites to get a whole new range of location-based features.
Yahoo! Inc. of Sunnyvale, CA is the world's largest global online network of integrated services and is one of the most trafficked Internet destinations worldwide. As a leading Internet brand the company has pioneered the way people use the web to communicate with each other and share their information.
SPOT, the world's first satellite messenger, sends the users' GPS location coordinates and custom messages to co-workers, family and friends or emergency responders over a satellite communications network from virtually anywhere around the globe -- even the most remote places -- independent of cell phone coverage.
"SPOT's global coverage makes it an ideal Fire Eagle updater, giving users the ability to easily share their location from almost anywhere on the planet," said Tom Coates, Head of Product at Yahoo Brickhouse.
While SPOT users can already save their GPS location data in CSV, GPX and KML easily, and share their locations in real time over the SPOT Shared pages, the integration with Fire Eagle enables SPOT Satellite Messenger users for the first time to be in control of how to share and publish their adventure location geotags to their favorite services on the web.
"The integration of Yahoo! Fire Eagle and the SPOT Satellite Messenger turns web potential into reality, allowing SPOT users for the first time to make the web literally respond to their location," said Thomas Colby, Chief Operating Officer of SPOT LLC.'s parent company, Globalstar Inc. Mr. Colby added, "This integration helps broaden SPOT's utility by making it even easier for our users to share information and their adventures over the web. As SPOT has delivered more than 2.5 million satellite message transmissions, information sharing is core to our subscribers. We are committed to the Yahoo! Fire Eagle platform and look forward to providing our users instant integration with their favorite web services."
SPOT users with a free Yahoo! Fire Eagle account can immediately start sharing their adventure geotags. SPOT users can sign up for a free account by visiting www.findmespot.com/fireeagle.
SPOT Satellite Messenger, weighing just over seven ounces and sold at U.S. $169.95 SRP, enables users to send their location and message to friends, family, or emergency responders, and to visually track the location of the SPOT Satellite Messenger through four simple functions:
1. Alert 9-1-1 notifies the emergency response center of your GPS location 2. Ask for Help sends a request for help to friends and family 3. Check In lets contacts know where you are and that you are OK 4. Track Progress sends and saves your location and allows contacts to track your progress using Google(tm) maps
The SPOT Satellite Messenger uses 100% satellite technology and has virtually complete worldwide coverage including all of the continental United States coverage throughout Alaska plus the surrounding Pacific and Arctic maritime regions, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Australia, portions of South America, Northern Africa and Northeastern Asia, and thousands of square miles of offshore waters. SPOT Satellite Messenger is available at more than 5,000 points-of-sale including retailers and dealers in the U.S., Canada, UK, Ireland, Continental Europe and Mexico.
About Globalstar, Inc.
With over 300,000 subscribers, Globalstar is the world's largest provider of mobile satellite voice and data services. Globalstar offers these services to commercial and recreational users in more than 120 countries around the world. The Company's products include mobile and fixed satellite telephones, simplex and duplex satellite data modems and flexible service packages. Many land based and maritime industries benefit from Globalstar with increased productivity from remote areas beyond cellular and landline service. Global customer segments include: oil and gas, government, mining, forestry, commercial fishing, utilities, military, transportation, heavy construction, emergency preparedness, and business continuity as well as individual recreational users. Globalstar data solutions are ideal for various asset and personal tracking, data monitoring and SCADA applications.
Personally, I haven't quite come to a definitive conclusion about these questions. There are pros and cons to most, if not all, of the possible answers. But I fear we'll be worse off in the backcountry if we become a population of device-toting travelers, fearful of what might be instead of prepared for what might happen.