The ongoing recovery from Sandy’s devastating impact from the Caribbean to the East Coast of the U.S. – particularly New Jersey and New York – highlights for me the complex relationship between nature and technology. Satellite technology and meteorology were vital in predicting the storm and undoubtedly saved lives. No matter the accuracy of the predictions, however, Mother Nature still rendered many laptops and iPhones useless. On the day after the storm, electricity starved wireless device users, fortunate to not have other, critical needs, were lined up at libraries and other public places with open power outlets.
At this point, it is well known that mobile devices, texting, and Twitter play critical roles in linking citizens with government officials, including first responders. Mobile devices and social media allow families, friends, and neighbors to collaborate and comfort each other during emergencies. Particularly in times of weather-related adversity, wireless technology is vital to bringing communities together.
What about in quieter times? Does wireless technology enhance or detract from an individual’s relationship with nature when there is no crisis? When there is no urgency to tweet a photo? Great authors have grappled with this question recently. Princeton graduate Walter Kirn argued earlier this year in an excellent article in Outside magazine that “nature and technology need not be kept at a distance, as though they might spoil each other if they should touch.” I agree. Out on a bike ride, I enjoy stopping for a moment to capture with my iPhone camera the sun glistening off a pond or the fall flowers blooming at the edge of the road. Using my iPhone briefly does not jar me from appreciating the simplicity and beauty of my surroundings; it allows me to capture a moment and share the joy of that experience later with family and friends.