Cloud connected hikers

Hiking with mobile phones

Drawing and text By Frits Ahlefeldt

Drawing of hikers walking with phones connected to small clouds up in the air
Hikers walking with their phone connected clouds. CC Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt

A new breed of hikers are fast connecting to the trails, and to everything else, while they are hiking – simultaneously both online and offline. They are the new cloud connected hikers, and they keep one eye on the trail and the other on their phone, and its constant stream of information and updates. Is this a good or bad thing? 

Connecting or not

Hiking used to be a window to escape the constant flow of decisions and information that increasingly has become a part of life in the city. Hiking was the opposite: simple – follow the trail and relax, kind of time. Hiking was a special unique opportunity where you could heal and let your thoughts be undisturbed by communication with the rest of your reality. But with cloud connected phones: Everything in your – and the rest of reality, that can be digitized, is right there with you.

Stress and cloud connected hiking

Stress experts say this is not anything that will make you get away from a stressful life, instead it will be as if you, virtually has brought your own stress raining cloud with you,  hanging constantly over your head and showering you with things you have to relate to…  While you walk and try to relate to nature around you. It will be like trying to plug your phone into two different power outlets at the same time… Your mind will spend a lot of extra energy to jump forth and back between the digital and the trail reality, trying very hard to stitch them together, the best it can, without getting lost.

Hiking blind (in a digital sense) 

So is there not anything positive to say about hiking with phones connected to the cloud?

Well for a start there are hundreds of virtual hiking guides, that will let you benefit from following in the digital footsteps of more experienced, local or specialized hikers, that will let you in on information, trails, knowledge, perspectives, risks, stories or species along the path.

And you can have all these apps with you, with digital guiding tailored to your needs, right there with you in your hand. And the risk of you getting lost and in trouble will also be reduced, as the phone will keep its “digital eye” on you, and make sure you keep on track… in all ways.

A growing challenge

The thought of going anywhere without their phone is becoming more and more challenging to a fast growing number of people.  Actually one of the most used metaphors for how people feel who have broken or lost their phones at home is: “I feel blind without my phone.” Keeping that metaphor in mind, imagine how blind the same people will feel, in freezing temperatures, in unknown terrain, high in the mountains without their cloud connected phones – Just the thought of that will make most say: “me, hiking without a phone? – No way… Ever”

So asking hikers to turn off their phones on the trails or leave them at home to avoid getting stressed out on the hiking trails is not going to work. It would leave the whole population of digital hikers all blind, bewildered and lost – even on well-marked trails… or more likely, it will leave this huge group of people entirely off  the hiking trails.  And with fewer hikers, the trails will be harder to keep alive, and it could spiral in the wrong direction, with fewer and fewer hikers – and fewer hiking trails.

What to do?

What to do about this is still an open question. The whole challenge is still so new, these cloud-connected phones and their backup batteries and apps didn’t exist just a few years ago and there is no hiking-culture, understanding or experiences that tell us exactly how best to hike along with our cloud connected devices without getting stress or missing experiencing the landscapes around us.

It might be possible that this is just a transition phase, to something new, where hiking with phones (or smart-glasses, hovering personal drones or who knows…)  will find a new and less stress-inducing form, with more connected, happy and undisturbed hikers, who follow the trails in new ways…

It is going to be some exiting years ahead to see how these new digital technologies mature and how  hikers will find better ways to adapt to them.

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