Where’s the remote

 


You may have heard the news: Fewer Americans are venturing into anything that resembles the outdoors. According to a Nature Conservancy study, the number of visitors to state and national parks is declining, and fewer people are hunting, fishing or going camping.

Why are people trading in their hiking boots for slippers? The study’s authors, Oliver Pergams of the University of Illinois-Chicago and Patricia Zaradic of the Environmental Leadership Program, say the culprits are high oil prices and a newly coined word, “videophilia,” which translates to a love of electronic media, namely the internet, television and movies. The two researchers say that high gas prices and the siren’s call of the computer and television can account for 97.5 percent of the decline in visits to national parks.

Apparently, any yearning to visit a wild place or national park can be assuaged by watching a steady stream of television shows -- especially now that entire networks devote themselves to wildlife and outdoor recreation. Why go searching the Rocky Mountains for the sight of a bighorn sheep, marmot or a pika when you can tune into an episode of Animal Planet’s “Meerkat Manor” to get your critter fix? There’s even something for the homebound survivalist: Discovery Channel’s “Survivor Man” and “Man vs. Wild” offer dueling treks into the perilous wild.

We can also choose to commune with nature through the safety of our personal and workplace computers. Take a peek at any computer screen saver or desktop image, and you’ll likely find a serene waterfall, a reclining cougar or an Ansel Adams photograph of a snowcapped mountain range. Forget mountaineering: Web sites offer 24-hour, live streaming images of Everest Base Camp. And for animal voyeurs, there’s everything from Yellowstone wolf cams to manatee cams.

When millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett’s plane went missing in September 2007, friends and family decided to employ the public in the search. Web-surfers could pull up satellite images of the Nevada-California wilderness search area, scan the terrain for wreckage of Fossett’s plane and report any findings via e-mail. Reportedly, thousands enjoyed the thrill of the hunt while basking in the warm glow of their computer monitor. This combined getting out in nature and a good cause, too.

Safety is key, since wild places can be scary. Hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, volcanoes, earthquakes and avalanches rage out of the television set from all over the world, and a week doesn’t go by without a hapless hiker going missing or some man-eating predator out marauding. This live video, flashy graphic, full-color manipulation must be convincing, as more and more of us conclude that we’d be better off staying home. The manipulation is more subtle but no less pervasive in the print media, too. A typical story about the search for Fossett describes the Nevada mountains as “desolate” and “jagged”; the landscape “savage” and “inhospitable.” Over time, the media construct a reality for us that’s so dangerous we’d best leave these places alone.

If media haven’t scared you into staying out of a national park or wilderness, at the least it has told you it’s expensive to suit up for it. Not long ago, there wasn’t much of an activity-segmented outdoor apparel market. Before Lycra, fleece and sweat-wicking socks, hikers, mountain climbers and other outdoorsy types made do with wool, canvas, recycled military gear and old-fashioned rain slickers. In the era of REI and mega-stores, we’ve been sold on the notion that we must be properly outfitted, decked head to toe with quick-dry, ultra-lightweight, reversible, Gortex-infused apparel. Backpacks are space-age in design, and side pockets are legion. Let’s not forget the gadgetry, for that bottomless backpack has plenty of room for an iPod, water bladder and mouth tube, water purifier, cellular phone, and a GPS unit for finding your way back to your sports-rack crowned SUV. It must be true: You’ve got to get the gear if you want to play.

So why aren’t people headed outdoors? The answer is easy: it’s easier to stay home and fiddle with that remote or mouse. It’s really too bad though, because the West’s backcountry can’t be televised; it must be experienced. Tube viewers really don’t know what they’re missing.

Jeff Osgood is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Niiwot, Colorado, where he's a freelance writer and stay-at-home father of four.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • WYOMING CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...