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Comment: Why wifi has no place in the wilderness

I am going to be labelled, by some at least, as an old duffer, completely out of step with the mobile, permanently connected 24/7 world in which we live.

I can handle it. I’ve been called worse.

But the fact is, I don’t really understand social media and this overwhelming need and desire to stay connected.

Of course I understand how it all works – in the main, anyway – but what I do not understand is this irritating, almost obsessive need to share everything with everyone, all of the time wherever you are.

The need to call, email, tweet, facebook, instagram, snap chat and the rest of it is, frankly, an alien concept to me. (I will admit, however, to being a serial texter, but that’s another story).

Fundamentally though, I do not want to be connected, or have the ability to connect, all day and all night in every location I happen to find myself.  

All of which is a prelude to airing my almost irrational objection to a move in Canada to make wifi available in its national parks.

The story caught my eye yesterday in the Canadian Press. Parks Canada, in its wisdom, has taken the decision to install wireless hotspots at up to 50 of its parks this year, with the intention of extending that to 150 within three years.

The reason? Authorities say visitors want to be able to stay in touch with work, friends and family, stay up to date with the news and connect with social media. It seems that viewing grizzlies in their natural habitat or hiking up a pristine mountain pass is no longer enough.

This is classic case of giving people not what they want, but what they think they want.

There is something sacrosanct and uniquely endearing about the wilderness. It is an environment untouched – or at least should be untouched – by the self-important frantic world in which we live and work.

Don’t people visit national parks in an attempt to break free, for a brief period, from the mundanity of office life and largely pointless email trails? Don’t families seek solitude, where they can reconnect as exactly that, a family, in locations that are thankfully free from the inanities of facebook status updates, photographs of food, irrelevant tweets and mobile video games?

Don’t couples want the romantic notion of being alone, out of the range of friends, parents and work colleagues?

Isn’t that what holidays are all about?

Despite my aforementioned weakness to text without any genuine reason or purpose, I enjoy not being able to indulge my habit. On recent visits to, ironically, Canada and New Zealand my mobile was of no more use than keeping me informed of the time of day. It was liberating, and the company I work for didn’t go into meltdown or descend into panic because I was out of reach.

I didn't need to be connected, and nor does anyone else. If only they realised it.

Interestingly, Parks Canada said the wifi move is partly an attempt to attract a younger and more urban demographic and to address a slight decrease in tourists. Installing hotspots will, they believe, give people an additional reason to visit the parks, safe in the knowledge that they can tweet and check work emails.

It got me thinking. Do people really choose a destination based on its connectivity to the wider world?

I can’t believe that to be true. Parks Canada would appear to think it is.


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