Reading Group Summary: Harmon, the PCT, and Communication

Readings:

Ellie Harmon explore how technology can lead to stress. It will be up to our group to explore implications about the findings about technology on trail-based activities. (Ambitious people can track down Ellie’s dissertation, which talks about technology and her PCT experience.)

Agenda:

  • Brief revisit of reading group and introductions of anyone new
    • Attendance: 5 people (1 professor, 3 graduate students, 1 undergraduate student)
  • Summarize papers
  • Discuss papers

Discussion:

This was our first paper for the reading group which was not expressly connected to trails, so we all connected the messages and tension of disconnection to the context of hiking in our own ways. Earlier that week, Dr. McCrickard and I (Gracie) had spoken with Ellie Harmon over Skype to pick her brain about Technology on the Trail and ask questions related to her hike of the Pacific Crest Trial (which she discusses in her dissertation), so we had some extra insight to bring to the table.

The group first discussed the differences between technologies that are fads (like the Hololens and Pokemon Go) and technologies that integrate themselves into our lives (like smartphones and laptops). We also revisited several times the ways in which we as a society view the past with rose-colored lenses. We have a picture of America in the 50s where families ate together lovingly every day, but there have always been distractions even before smartphones.

One group member suggested that instead of having a false binary or even a continuum to portray disconnection and integration, we might instead strive for a metaphorical tapestry that weaves together threads from both sides to create the ideal situation. We could consciously choose when to experience integration with technology and where we can disintegrate, such as when needing concentrated time for studying.

We also touched on how people feel vs how they appear. Someone might view themself as being one of the two positive images, but that’s never wholly true. We also intentionally wield technology to portray an image, such as pulling out a phone to appear busy even if you’re looking at a blank screen. Even then, outsiders might believe they’re playing a game rather than working. We also talked about how some people see technology use as antisocial and negative even though they’d see something like reading a book as intellectual and admirable. The person on the phone could in fact be reading a book, but it still has a far different connotation.

Touching on early adopters again, we talked about why people are so interested in being on the first (often expensive) wave of technology users. There are hikers who are excited about trying the latest gadgets out on trails. We talked about the social status is brings for being “first” or even “best” at technology, but we also talked about how the new experience itself is a nice bonus. One group member brought up the luddite image by suggesting there might be an adoption curve of sorts which starts with early adopters, rises into general use, and hits a plateau upon which anyone who isn’t using it appears to be out of touch with technology.

One member brought up the effect of having constant stimulus from technology and whether this creates a lack of boredom in our culture. They brought up a cub scout troop which, as they got older, went on their first camping for an extended period of time, and many of the young boys were unused to long periods with nothing to do (and they had a no technology rule in the troop). Technology has the potential to provide constant stimulus in our daily lives, and some members felt this could be an addiction.

We also discussed the enabling effect of technology for working from home or otherwise remotely. Many trails even have satellite or cell signal now. One member felt that being physically disconnected from work when leaving for camping or other remote experiences created more thorough preparation before leaving. That is, if you wanted to accomplish work while camping, you had to be entirely sure to pack it and all relevant files beforehand because there was no way to remotely access your workplace.

We finished by musing on the effect of being able to take thousands of photos because we’re not longer limited by film. One member talked about how they valued selfies from a particular distant friend because said friend rarely took any selfies at all, so the low volume made each one more special. We also brought up Dr. Harmon’s anecdote from the phone conversation about limiting herself to one photograph uploaded to Instagram daily during her PCT hike, and this made the set of photos far more appealing after the fact. Some members also felt that technology like smartphone cameras can interrupt or detract from experiences of the outdoors.

One thought on “Reading Group Summary: Harmon, the PCT, and Communication

  1. Abigail Bartolome January 25, 2017 / 10:40 pm

    I liked how this paper presented two polarizing approaches to integrating/disintegrating technology in our lives and pointed out that in reality, users usually fall somewhere in the middle. My family stopped getting paper copies of the newspaper a few years ago, so our morning routine involves us sitting together around the breakfast table reading from our tablets in lieu of reading the morning paper. I’ve never seen this as disrupting my family’s togetherness, because we’re making comments to each other about what news we’ve read on our tablets. It’s the typical morning newspaper tradition, only we’ve gone digital.

    However, I have also been frustrated by the presence of using smartphones when I have gone hiking with my friends. I can recall a hike that I was really eager to go on with my friends, but the trail chatter was about what Pokemon they saw on PokemonGO. Not to mention, we had to stop walking everything time they tried to catch a Pokemon. I find more pleasure in connecting with hiking partners by bringing up stories or making comments on what’s around us- you get to know your company better.

    Even just using GPS features, I’ve felt frustrated on the trail. There have been a few times that friends have taken out their phones to use Google Maps to see where we were on the trail. Granted, I’m known to have an above average tolerance for getting lost, but I always felt like that took the fun out of the hike. I have to objections to guide books or maps. I find those tools to be very helpful, but they keep the sense of adventure in hiking. In guide books, you’re mentally retracing your steps to see if you saw the last landmark. With maps, you have to think about your orientation.

    Like

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