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Electronics on the AT
Hmmm - I got back from a 3 day romp among the Pennsylvania ridges to
find the smoldering embers of last years flame war still alive and well.
Oh well, here we go again --
Some of you remember me as someone who doesn't like "technology"
on the trail. That's not really true, but I've let it rest that way for
almost a year because I didn't - and still don't - have the time or
energy to stir those ashes again. So what I have to say will be
short and simple - and largely personal opinion.
First, let's establish that I'm not a total "anti-technologist".
Computers, spacecraft, comm nets, remote sensing scientific
instruments, data systems, etc. - these have been both an
"occupation" and a passion for over 30 years - and I'm still
on the cutting edge of that technology.
There IS a place for technology in the backcountry - Jason pointed
out a few applications in terms of gear. There are the radio
location devices used in avalanche country. And GPS certainly
has its uses in mapping (I'll mention but not pursue the idea that
if you "need" a GPS unit to determine your location in the
backcountry, you shouldn't be there). Two weeks ago we
used radios for communication between trail crews that were
separated by a couple miles. And how many of us wear digital
watches - with or without altimeters, compasses or other goodies?
But there are 2 or 3 points that I'd like to suggest for consideration.
First, I think the idea of consideration for others has been covered
from several different directions. Several people have said
that "hike your own hike" is a "prime directive" on the trail.
But I think someone should point out that it's only one half of the
prime directive - the other half is to respect the right of others
to hike THEIR hike - including those who are out there to get
away from the technology. Enuff said - I think that was
understood -- but I've found that this is a media in which
assumptions tend to lead to misunderstandings.
Second point - there's been an apparent assumption that the
technology "level" of Lite-loft sleeping bags or lightweight
tents or MSR stoves is the same as the technology "level"
of a cell-phone or GPS unit. But that's NOT true. There's
a huge difference in the technology level of the development
and manufacturing processes (my MS major is "Technology
Management"). But from a user viewpoint, the
difference is simple - the sleeping bags, stoves, etc. are
a "necessary" part of your everyday world and life on the
trail - particularly for a thruhiker. But they're NOT things
that tie you to the "other" world or that allow that "other
world" to invade the Trail world. Which leads to point 3 -
As a thruhiker, I found that at some point the AT was
my world - and everything else was the "other world".
Carrying a cell phone - or a computer - would have blurred
the line between those two worlds - and would have
diminished the level and quality of my trail experience.
My purpose in being out there was to experience what
the Trail had to teach me - and I did. The time, energy
and attention required by a computer - even for such
mundane things as keeping a log - would have altered
that experience and interfered with the learning process.
As an analogy - and I believe it's a good one - I wouldn't
take a cell phone or a computer to a weekend religious
retreat - why would I want to take them on what, for
me, was a 6 month spiritual experience?
I'm gonna quote Mike "Hago" Harrington again -
"If you haven't had an intense experience on the Trail,
then you missed something" .
Muting the intensity of the Trail experience is not something
I'm willing to do. And the electronics - even if the weight
were in a reasonable range to carry on the AT (a 1 ounce
computer?) - is a wall between me and the "real" world.
That's why I don't - and won't - have Internet/e-mail
access at home. I'm willing to spend an extra hour or so
at work when I want access to this world. But I won't
allow this world - even the AT list - to invade my
"real" world either on or off the trail.
OK - there's a lot more I could say on this subject - but
I'm gonna stop here. There are people who won't agree
with my opinions - that's cool. There are people who will
still want to carry the computer or cell phone - and
that's cool too. It's their hike and they're the only ones
who have to be happy with it.
But let me ask a couple questions here - has anyone
talked to Waldo lately? Where's his computer? What
happened to the plans to update his log? And why?
And where are the others who were carrying hi-tech
equipment? I don't know the answers - but I'd like to
find out because they're related to the human part of
the technology equation. And that's my business off
the trail and certainly of interest to all of us with
respect to being on the trail.
Walk softly - and don't step on your computer when
you get up at night,