About the Initiative

Through support from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), and Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, Center for Human Computer Interaction, and Computer Science Department, we are undertaking an initiative we call Technology on the Trail.

This initiative seeks to explore the influences, both positive and negative, of technology when used on extended trail hikes and similar activities. Technology is often targeted for use in heavily populated urban environments, but thousands of people take technology away from cities on their outdoor adventures, raising questions about appropriate use when in a more isolated and natural environment. These environments provide some level of separation for most people from technologies, but a need for community and communication still exists for hikers and their friends and family. Widely available technologies and apps, including mobile devices, GPS, biometric sensors, photo and video apps, and mobile blogging tools allow the capture of data and information related to a hike, but the right ways to use it are not well understood.

Our Technology on the Trail initiative seeks to understand and develop ways that technology is used (or avoided!) on trails and in trail-like settings, such as extended and multi-day hikes, where different user goals and desires affect our behaviors and interactions with others.

We have divided this initiative into three main thrusts: preparation, experience, and reflection.

  • Preparation involves the learning, planning, purchasing, connecting, and redundancy important in planning for outside endeavors.  Typical tasks include learning about the upcoming trail experience and connecting with a community of others who are interested in the trail.
  • Experience focuses on the use of technology during the outdoor experience.  This can include information seeking, capture, and sharing of data, either explicitly through maps, pictures, videos, writings, and measurements or implicitly through step counts, biometric and wellness data, and location information and alerts.
  • Reflection delves into the experience after it has happened, particularly the role of technology.  Examples include remembering, processing, visualizing, and understanding the experience, with a focus not only on what was learned but also the people that were encountered and connections with others that can be fosters.

We envision this site to be a continually growing repository of information and welcome contributions and suggestions of experiences and readings on these topics.