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Can Technology Lead Us Back Outdoors?

In the battle against Nature Deficit Disorder, technology is often public enemy number one. Many of our days are spent moving from one screen to the next. I bet many of us have even found ourselves watching TV while simultaneously flipping through our phones; I know I’ve certainly done it too many times to count. And believe me, I am well aware of the irony of the fact that at least one person will read this indoors watching two or more screens at once. So, can our technology lead us back to the outdoors? Personally, not only do I believe it can but in fact, it already is.

Now when I mention technology I’m not talking about tech specifically designed for the outdoor industry. I’m talking specifically about the screens that monopolize most of our waking hours, namely; the TV, cell phones, tablets, and computers. In some ways all this tech is helping; the internet and social media are helping to promote outdoor recreation and outdoor locations and raising the public consciousness of the adventures just outside our front doors. A direct effect of all this new publicity is new opportunities for people to make a living for themselves in and/or off the outdoors. Finally, our modern tech offers many people an added layer of safety in the outdoors allowing them to go harder and farther outside their comfort zones or to attempt something they wouldn’t otherwise try without that connection to the outside world in their pocket.

For many outdoor purists seeing groups taking selfies out on the trail or someone stumbling through the woods while texting on their phone is cause to shudder but what they’re failing to see is everyone on the receiving end of those posts. The internet and namely social media are opening up avenues of exposure for the outdoors and outdoor recreation that would otherwise be too niche to garner attention in traditional arenas. Additionally, because these posts are coming from someone that the viewer has a personal connection to, they carry an inherent weight that sponsored ads are lacking. Let’s face it very few people are watching NOVA documentaries on their downtime and you’d be hard pressed to find the outdoors on the Discovery Channel these days without a couple of blurry naked people. Social media gives all these outdoor locals and activities a platform and even expose us to some we didn’t know existed. They foster the creation of online social groups and channels around specific destinations and activities. Individuals jockey and compete for the best posts and the most “likes” and “followers,” and while those pursuits are superficial and vain in the opinions of many their benefit to the outdoors and outdoor industry shouldn’t be ignored.

As social media helps generate attention for the outdoors through peer to peer promotion new opportunities are cropping up all over the place for people to make their living in the outdoors or outdoor industry. It used to be if you wanted to make your living in the outdoors you had to work for the parks service or become a scientist or perhaps a writer or if you were really lucky you might get to be a professional adventurer and TV presenter. Today, however, opportunities abound. Even when it comes to being a professional adventure sports athlete it isn’t like conventional sports and often being a “professional” amounts to little more than free gear and travel expenses to your next competition and being amongst the top of your sport offers little time for a well-paying “day job” and good luck finding one that will allow you to spend a month projecting a climb in Chamonix. Technology to the rescue with new opportunities to make a living. Many adventure sports athletes turn to blogging, photography, podcasting, social media influencing and contributing to other media outlets to make a living. Now many of these avenues aren’t new but with the rise of algorithm-driven niche marketing and guerilla/self-publishing, the opportunities are much more abundant. These opportunities are not limited to the elite athletes alone. Anyone with a phone can blog or podcast and with the advancements in camera phones, anyone can create professional looking content these days. Also, thanks to the internet many traditional office jobs can now be done remotely working in the outdoors anywhere you can get a connection but not in the outdoor industry itself. Due to the time difference between the US and Asian many American amateur adventurers turn to do things like teaching English in China remotely when their day is through. There are also apps designed to find local temporary employment from location to location as you travel. The ability to work remotely has directly contributed to this new wave of vanning as Americans are turning back to open road cell phone GPS on the dash and solar panels on the roof.

Lastly, our technology gives many people that added safety they need to get out there and try new things or take their outdoor pursuits to a place they wouldn’t otherwise go without their digital safety net in tow. But that added safety doesn’t just stop at the ability to call in a rescue if you get hurt or injured. There are countless apps and peripherals on the market that can help us identify plants, find fresh water sources, locate trails and aid stations in the back-country. Some can turn your phone into a satellite communicator or allow you to set-up a closed network between members of your party, so you can keep in communication and track one another even without a cellular signal. With the addition of a fold-able and collapsible solar panel, we can keep our devices charged and at the ready. In the past, an accident in the back-country meant having to hike back to your starting point and sometimes getting into your car and driving to the closest station or telephone. Now we only need to go as far as it takes to get a cell signal to initiate a rescue; greatly reducing the time to aide in many cases.

Sure, we can’t ignore the fact that while the outdoor industry can benefit from technology, technology also offers a ton of distractions to keep us indoors glued to our screens. But perhaps one of greatest foes in the fight against Nature Deficit Disorder can also be one of our strongest weapons? That’s why I’ll end this with an outdoor technology “pro tip.” Ever notice when your phone doesn’t have a signal many of them will say something like, “emergency calls only?” Well, that’s because cell phone carriers are required by law to connect all 911 calls regardless of carrier. Just because your carrier does not have coverage where you are doesn’t mean no carriers have coverage there, so hit that emergency call button it may still connect even with zero bars! Todd Mediros - New York Ambassador

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