McKean Minute: When Digital Goes Outdoors

I was describing Powderhook to a friend the other day in one of the simplest ways I could. “It’s using technology to connect people who want to know more about hunting and fishing with those who want to share their experience and knowledge.”

I could tell I wasn’t getting through, so I tried again. “It’s a digital mentor in your pocket,” I said, patting my phone for emphasis.

That got him.

“I thought the whole idea of introducing people to the outdoors was to get them out to put down their phones and disconnect from technology.”

His statement hit home for me, because for years that’s precisely how I’ve imagined we would recruit a new generation of outdoorsfolks. We’d convince them that the wild world beyond their smartphones was somehow more real, tangible, authentic, and worth their attention than anything projected by the pixels of an aluminosilicate screen.

For the record, I still believe that with every fiber in my sunburned body, that the real world—made of mud, sunsets, poison ivy, October frosts, venison backstraps, and honking geese—is what connects us to our ancestors and to our neighborhoods, and by extension, to our neighbors. Figuring out the natural world over eons and generations is what evolved us into hunter-foragers, then farmers, and ultimately into Snapchatters.

The future of conservation as we know it depends on the goodwill of the individual sportsmen. No other approach can yield the kind of numbers we need.

As technology has come to dominate almost every aspect of our lives, it’s a natural impulse to think that it’s disconnected us from nature. In many ways, it has. We all have examples of people who mistook an Instagram sunset for the real thing.

But just as we’re not likely to replace our cars with carriages or our microwaves with hearth-fires, we’re unlikely to put our phones aside as we stalk a deer or hike a trail. Instead, the smartest hunter-gatherers among us have figured out ways to use technology to be more proficient outdoorsmen and women. They’re using digital maps to find their way in the woods and to fetch weather forecasts that will shape their day. They’re making campground reservations online. They’re using digital apps to identify the mushrooms that will make their day and the ones that will make them sick. And they’re using their phones to record their experiences to share with people who couldn’t join them.

For the record, I’m not a digital native. My best days in the field did not have an on/off switch, and I’m happiest with the wind in my face, not a phone in my hand.

But if we’re serious about introducing more people to the outdoors and the profoundly human experience of hunting, then we have to use whatever tools we can to build connections. For modern humans, that means harnessing the power of technology to bring people together. That’s what Powderhook intends to do, by connecting people who want to know with those who do. And when I tell my buddy that it’s a “mentor in his pocket,” what I mean is that if we’re smart about how we use technology, it can help us achieve something that humans have been doing for thousands of years: when we share our experiences, we make the world both bigger and smaller at the very same time.

About Powderhook:
Powderhook promises to help people get outdoors more often. The Powderhook app and website are a one-stop place to find local, current information and expertise simply not available anywhere else. Our community of Digital Mentors are ready to help answer any outdoor question that’s thrown their way. Download the app.

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