To pick up on a common theme, I’ve blogged several times before about the role of technology on vacation. I had mentioned in my previous post that I was curious to see how MyTracks might change the way we hiked through the national parks. And on the couple of hikes that we did use the program, it was a really nice addition. It helped us to have a better idea of how far we had gone – and to estimate how much further we could go. Furthermore, the program helped us when poor signage left us lost in Grand Teton National Park – we figured out much sooner that we were on the wrong side of a peninsula and were able to turn around. For all my talk about “getting away” – and I did refuse to read and answer to emails and phone calls – having technology with me in some cases improved the trip.
But I feel compelled to note that technology is not helping everyone have a better vacation experience. The New York Times reported that the use of technology are contributed to the mishaps that plague the national parks. Technology can encourage people to think they can do more than they can – or that it will save them if they get into trouble. Of course, as Jack Loftus of Gizmodo.com points out, it’s not technology’s fault, but user error.
I don’t really have any pithy insights on this phenomenon, but how could I pass up a story so relevant to my experience? But perhaps the bigger question is: how can we ensure that new technologies are making people’s lives better and safer? Or do we have to accept that the same technologies that make so many lives easier and many tasks cheaper will also cost us in other circumstances?
UPDATE: After writing the above post, I came across this article in Slate criticizing The New York Times article that is the basis for my post. And I am ashamed to admit that they are absolutely correct in their critique of the reporting – the provided little real evidence of their claim about new technology causing more mishaps, instead relying on anecdotal evidence. This should serve as a warning: people (including me, apparently) can be convinced by an article in a reputable national source, even when there is little evidence to back it up. We not only need more critical readers (and I plead guilty to this charge) but we need to encourage all journalism students to understand what counts as evidence for a claim, and what does not.