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Facebook in the forest

Over the next three years, Parks Canada plans to introduce Wifi hotspots to 150 national parks and historic sites. While the latter does not seem to be a point of contention, the prospect of having wireless internet in Canada’s forests is causing a stir.

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By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: May 7, 2014

At least if you meet a bear in the woods and don’t know what to do you can google it. (Image:  Thijs/ flickr)

At least if you meet a bear in the woods and don’t know what to do you can google it. (Image: Thijs/ flickr)

Soon there will be Wifi in the woods. Over the next three years, Parks Canada plans to introduce Wifi hotspots to 150 national parks and historic sites. While the latter does not seem to be a point of contention, the prospect of having wireless internet in Canada’s forests is causing a stir.

I’m not a Luddite, but the idea of wanting Wifi in national parks has me stymied.

Growing up in B.C., I have done my fair share of camping. Every year I have had the opportunity to play in the woods and at beaches with friends, listen for the myriad bird songs, and gaze, mesmerized, into the flickering light and red coals of a fire pit, as a group of us stay up late into the night.

I have a hard time envisioning the internet in that landscape. As technology advanced, my family introduced camping rules: no cell phones, no iPods, no portable DVD players … Now I have this ridiculous image of someone in the next campsite sitting in a folding chair illuminated by the white glare of a laptop screen. The sound of their fingers hitting the keys.

Please, no one start having Skype conversations in the forest. I can choose not to use Wifi while I’m camping, but unfortunately, I can’t make the rules for everyone else.

Parks Canada director of visitor experience Andrew Campbell explained some of the reasoning for the decision to CTV News:

“What we’re trying to do is have [Wifi] around the spots where people can write a digital postcard home, where they could in the morning pick up and take their digital subscription and read the newspaper when they’re around the campground,” he said, adding that people have been asking for wireless internet services and Parks Canada hopes to appeal to a younger, more urban audience.

I don’t blame Parks Canada for responding to demand and to a gradual decrease of visitors each year, and I don’t think Wifi in the woods is a trend that will stop. My frustration is with general attitudes. Why can’t we wait to work until after the getaway is over? Why do we have to share all our photos right this second on Facebook? Why can’t we, even just for one weekend, pick up a physical newspaper to read, then use it to start the campfire for dinner later?

Maybe I am a bit of a Luddite — at least when it comes to camping, hiking … to being in nature and not being on the internet while nature happens to be there. I guess my problem is that I don’t see Wifi being necessary to the activities that happen in national parks; it detracts from the experience rather than enhancing it.

When I enter a park and I smell the cedar and pine scent; when I tip my head back to see how far up the trees reach or see the enormity of a mountain up close; when I gaze at the still, mirror-like surface of a lake just before a fish leaps into the dawn, I am awed. I feel so much love for it.

I understand the need to feel connected. But people striding along trails with their phones pressed to their ears, as if they’re walking down the sidewalk on their way to the office, are not truly connected. I’m sad to think of the true connection they’re really missing.

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