• Mary Anderson

Path-Finding the Old-Fashioned Way

I’ve been asked a number of times by younger hikers how I managed to hike the Pacific Crest Trail before cell phones and the trail apps with GPS. Sometimes I have to explain what I mean by map and compass. The other day, I taught a young man that a compass needle points north. I’ve quickly come to love my cell phone and the trail app and GPS. Sometimes it is so easy that I feel like I am cheating. But as much as I like this new technology, it also troubles me. I fear that too many basic survival skills are being lost.

I’ve been in grocery stores when the power goes out and cashiers can’t make change. I've met a number of twenty-somethings who have no idea how to read even a road map, much less a topographical one. I've done small repairs on my tractor. On some of the newer tractors, you can't even change the air filter without messing up the computer codes.

I still carry maps and a compass for backup. I have used my compass a number of times out here. I know hikers whose phones have stopped working midway. Without backup maps and the knowledge to use them, they would have been in serious trouble.

I’ve learned to embrace the new technology, but I think relying solely on it is a huge mistake. I wonder what we are losing in basic life skills. When the power goes out in Vermont, many of us are fine, as we know how to carry water and heat our homes with wood. People in other parts of the country are not so knowledgeable and really suffer because their lives are dependent on the grid. We’ve seen how difficult life becomes for many when the power goes out after a huge storm. What happens if the grid goes down in a large part of the country for an extended period of time?

I think when we talk about teaching the basics, we need to teach not just reading, writing, and arithmetic but also basic skills like map reading, surviving without computer technology, and simple repairs. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for everyone to know how to keep warm without electricity, how to get water that doesn’t come from a bottle in the store or out of a tap, and how to grow and preserve one’s own food. Adding how to entertain oneself without technology could also be useful. Ironically, people who are thought of as more primitive might be the very ones to survive better if the power goes out.

In the meantime I am grateful for people and places preserving the ways of the past. Basic survival skills may become the technology of the future.

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