By: Brianne Bishop, Interpretive Ranger at Umbagog Lake State Park
Does technology deepen our connection to the outdoors or remove us from it? This is a question I contemplate often. While technology may help us connect to one another, does it separate us from the natural world around us? I believe technology has the capacity to either deepen or sever our connection to nature. It all depends on how we use it.
This summer, I am the Interpretive Ranger at Umbagog Lake State Park. Before arriving here, I was prepared to be in a remote area with no cell service. However, a few months before arriving, a Verizon cell tower was installed down the road from the park. Now, anyone with Verizon as their service provider has full cell phone coverage both on the lake and in the surrounding area, myself included. This has impacted my experience as an Interpretive Ranger because I now have the ability to incorporate the use of technology into my programming and show visitors how they can use technology to interpret the world around them. There are phone apps for stargazing, bird identification, plant identification, and of course with a smart phone, just about anything can be searched on Google. I have used and recommended apps during my programs such as the Night Sky app, Merlin Bird ID, and even informational podcasts such as Something Wild.
In the digital world one can access anything they choose in a split second. For this reason, technology may actually deepen our connection to the natural world if used with this intent. Personally, I often use my phone in order to take photographs of plants, birds, or trees that I want to later identify, but may not have the proper resources with me at that moment. Other times I will use an app that aids me in interpreting the world around me and in the blink of an eye I have my answer. The name of a constellation, what species of bird I am observing, or what medicinal properties a type of plant has – information that was once the knowledge of only a seasoned naturalist – is now instantly accessible to anyone.
The installation of the cell tower has impacted the visitors in another way. I have observed visitors playing on iPads while at the beach, glued to their cell phone screens while in their compact chairs overlooking the lake, making phone calls to the park office from a remote campsite to get more wood (a request the park staff cannot fulfill), and even FaceTiming while relaxing in their hammocks. What they have missed were the bald eagles flying over the lake, the spectacular sunset occurring before them, the feeling of being disconnected in the remote wilderness, and the opportunity to observe the beautiful Ruby-Throated Hummingbird perched a few branches above their head.
I advocate for using technology and social media in a responsible and educational manner. Maybe take a photograph of a plant out on a hiking trail, but wait until you are finished with the hike to work on identifying it. Use technology as a tool and resource, but try not to lose sight of the present moment. What do you think? Is technology helping or hurting our connection to the natural world? Please share your thoughts!