04/29/2014 06:05 EDT | Updated 06/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Internet In Our National Parks Is Just Sad


When I was a teenager, my family took a vacation in the Rocky Mountains.

My father had a demanding job at the CBC and it was nice to get some time alone with him. We hiked to azure lakes, gawked at stunning vistas and slept in a rustic lodge.

He didn't tell anyone at the office where he was going.

But they found him anyway.

One day we returned to our room to find a note pinned to the door. A producer from the office had tracked us down.

My dad was livid.

Today the story seems quaint. Who doesn't check their email on vacation these days?

When I was in California recently I didn't return any work emails (though I checked every single one). People at the office greeted me back like a conquering hero. "How did you do it?" "So amazing to unplug!"

Escaping work on holiday is now a decision rather than the default.

You can always turn off your phone, and I would encourage you to do so frequently, but the fact is that as the internet has become more accessible it has also invaded every aspect of our lives. We always have the option to unplug, but few of us do.

Parks Canada announced this week that it will soon become even easier to stay connected while you're away. The agency is looking at adding Wi-Fi access to national parks.

As a long-time geek who spends most of his waking life staring at screens, I can see the benefits. Travel before the web is almost unimaginable for my generation. When I'm away from home, I love to have free Wi-Fi. I get angry when it's not there.

Having access to the web in parks will make so many things easier, everything from planning a hike to booking a restaurant to keeping the kids quiet. And because camping will be less difficult, more people will do it.

Nevertheless, the news made me, and many others, feel sad. Plenty of others were irate. The idea of Instagramming all those azure lakes and stunning vistas is just depressing. Nature is supposed to be where we go to get away from all the absurdity of the modern world.

But fighting it is pointless. It's inevitable that the internet will soon be with us always and everywhere. All the last refuges are being breached: airplanes, the subway and now even the wilderness.

It's only a matter of time before Google beams the thing straight into our brains.

But just because it's inevitable, doesn't mean we should act like technology taking up more and more space in our lives is a universal good.

With all change, something's lost, but something's gained.

There's a picture from that trip to the Rockies. I'm sitting on a ledge starring at the Saskatchewan glacier, the source of the northern half of the river of the same name. I look pensive and perhaps a touch morose. Typically teenage and more than a little annoyed with my mother for taking a picture. She was interrupting my thoughts.

My mind was wandering. I was born in Saskatchewan and much of my family still lives there. I imagined the river snaking its way out of the mountains and into the Prairies. I pictured my ancestors standing by its shores

I thought about what the glacier would have looked like during the last ice age. How old the mountains are, shaped by the unseen world beneath us.

I reflected on how small my place in the universe really is.

The important stuff. The stuff that so often gets lost in a world of selfies and social streams.

If my mother took the same picture today she would probably put it on Facebook immediately. And I wouldn't have thought about the evanescent nature of human life. I would have thought about how many likes the photo was getting.

In fact, I probably would have pulled out my phone and checked.


Glacier Skywalk