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A Reminder: Technology Doesn’t Make You Any Smarter

This is the unfortunate experience of the American National Park Service, who say that advances in GPS and emergency technologies are great for experienced campers and hikers, but that they also give inexperienced, impulsive, or outright idiotic park visitors new and exciting ways to make nuisances of themselves.

From the New York Times:

“Because of having that electronic device, people have an expectation that they can do something stupid and be rescued,” said Jackie Skaggs, spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

“Every once in a while we get a call from someone who has gone to the top of a peak, the weather has turned and they are confused about how to get down and they want someone to personally escort them,” Ms. Skaggs said. “The answer is that you are up there for the night.”

Common… park workers say, are visitors who arrive with cellphones or GPS devices and little else — sometimes not even water — and find themselves in trouble. Such visitors often acknowledge that they have pushed themselves too far because they believe that in a bind, the technology can save them.

It does not always work out that way. “We have seen people who have solely relied on GPS technology but were not using common sense or maps and compasses, and it leads them astray,” said Kyle Patterson, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain National Park, just outside Denver.

The New York Times article also relates stories of men with who died while attempting to sail a hand-built log raft down the Virgin River in Zion National Park based on no previous whitewater rafting experience, intending to film it for the show Man vs. Wild; tourists who capture their own bison goring and post it on YouTube; and people who fall off of cliffs while backing up to take photos.  In response, the National Park Service has expanded the list of “contributing factors” that may be cited in wilderness accident reports, to include “inattention to surroundings” alongside “darkness,” and “animals.”

Personally, I think that’s an admirably politic way of saying “they were doing something dumb.”  The New York Times tells the egregious tale of a group of campers who pressed their satellite messaging panic button fully three times during their trip through the Grand Canyon.  Since the device only sends out a distress signal, and is not capable of two-way communication, park rangers were forced to react as if it were an emergency each time, that is, with a helicopter pickup.  The first time, the group refused to board, saying that they had pressed the button because they had not brought sufficient water supplies.  They were given water.  The second time, for which a helicopter with night vision capabilities had to be sent, they had been afraid of dehydration because the water they had “tasted salty,” and again refused to board the helicopter.  The third time, they were forced to board and removed from the park.

Technology has helped the Park Service in a few concrete ways, however.  Viewers of Yellowstone National Park’s 24-hour Old Faithful webcam alerted the park to a group of men who thought they could piss in the geyser and get away with it.

The moral is: technology doesn’t make you smarter, it’s not magic, and it’s not free.

And that only Bear Grylls is Bear Grylls.  You’re just going to have to live with it.

Read the entire New York Times article here.

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.