Yesterday I cringed when I read that you can watch live feeds of national parks from webcams around the country. A strange response from someone who loves national parks and the outdoors, I know.
Obviously, the benefits of the webcams are many and I’m happy they exist. The cams are a simple way to raise interest in national parks, the outdoors and habitat. Those who watch online and fall in love with the park might more likely to make the effort to see it live. It might also be a way to entice children, giving them a taste of the beauty of nature. Yet, it strikes me that at a time when we, as a society, are becoming more disconnected from the wilderness around us, we are instead connecting to the outdoors by watching it on a computer screen. Aren’t we missing the point?
Many of the webcams exist for research purposes. Makes sense. I expect it’s an efficient and productive use of resources to obtain valuable information. If it can pique someone’s interest at the same time, then it’s an added bonus. School classrooms who otherwise wouldn’t have access to wildlife are watching the eagles in Decorah and gaining an appreciation for birds. It’s a meaningful and educational opportunity that will likely stay with them for the rest of their lives. I have to admit that I’ve found this webcam somewhat addicting. I’ve even thought of installing a camera over my body shop birds so others could enjoy them, too. And, there are plenty of national parks, like Yosemite, that I haven’t visited. After reading the article I checked that webcam (www.nps.gov/yose/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm). Do I feel more connected to the outdoors or to that park after viewing it online? No, not really, though, it is awe inspiring.
And, so, I don’t dispute that these webcams can be a tool. I also realize that we must adjust to changing expectations and the shift toward a technology-dependent culture. Is viewing nature via a computer better than not viewing or experiencing it at all? Probably. However, we can’t expect that monitoring the outdoors on our computer screen is an equal trade with actually experiencing the outdoors in person. Sadly, I’m afraid that that is what is happening. Instead of watching nature on our televisions or computers, let’s get out of our chairs and go outside.
Kristin Eggerling is a board member for Conservation Minnesota Voter Center, the mother of two, and a freelance writer in northwestern Minnesota.