Has Internet-Free Camping Become Obsolete?

wi-fi enabled campingThe first week of September has already come and gone. I know what you’re thinking, where did all the time go?

With a big flick of the switch (Labour Day) summer abruptly evaporates and we gradually instantly jump back to our daily routines. Many of us unconsciously, though willingly, abandoning the relaxed pace we embraced during the July/August vacation months as the relentless flood of emails and notorious to-do lists return like clockwork.

Along with cooler temperatures the busy Fall season brings with it not only a drastic reduction in our free time, but also the compelling feeling we need to put our nose to the grindstone and get back down to work. It feels as though school’s back in for all of us, not just the kids.

If you were able to disconnect for a week or so as I did it felt strangely liberating. Playing cards and board games, getting lost in a good book or two, rediscovering nature—it felt good to just turn off the Internet for a few days. Naturally it was difficult at first, but ultimately I was triumphant in my quest to temporarily unplug.

But if you’re one of those people who can’t bear the thought of living disconnected from the Web, even for a couple days, you’ll be happy to learn that Canada’s provincial parks are beginning to offer WiFi access for campgrounds.

My first thought to this news was a sense of bewilderment. Briefly escaping technology—isn’t that one of the main reasons we go camping in the first place? Why would anyone want to check email, go onto Facebook, or (gasp) swap campfire stories on Twitter in the middle of the woods?

Public campgrounds have, up until now, remained one of the last bastions of Internet-free vacationing available to us. Maybe I’m just being a bit nostalgic, and maybe this was inevitable, but I wonder if the camping experience really does end up being “enhanced by Internet access” as Alexandra Samuel suggests. Me, I’m a little on the fence.

On one hand there’s no denying the sheer convenience of being able to access services like Google Maps to find amenities, the Weather Network to check local forecasts, or Wikipedia to look up plants and wildlife. In fact when you think about it, the mobile Web gives us real-time connectivity to potentially lifesaving information in some extreme situations.

I immediately think about the story of Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp; Into the Wild) and wonder if he might have survived his trek to the Alaskan wilderness had he access to a phone or Web-enabled device.

The well known story of Aron Lee Ralston also comes to mind and bolsters the argument for travelling with some form of wireless communication or GPS tracking. In the event you become incapacitated or lost, a phone could mean the difference between life and death. If anything though, Ralston (and McCandless) should have at least told someone where they were going (phone or no phone), certainly if venturing up into remote areas beyond the reach of wireless networks.

On the other side of the argument I suppose outdoor purists would cringe at the thought of disturbing the quiet solitude of nature with glowing tablet screens piping the latest Netflix movies directly to our campsites. But when you think about it, there’s probably little time to fiddle around with emails or movie downloads when you’ve got a tent to pitch, firewood to gather and marshmallows to roast. Exactly where would the Facebook status updates or Tweets fall into this camping equation?