In Defence of App-less Skiing

I wrote a rant for Skier magazine recently, arguing that ski days should be app-less and device free. I wasn’t being deliberately provocative. I really do think that app-games, of which Vail’s new Epic Mix is the Grand Poobah, take away some fundamental aspect of the mountain experience. But as I wrote,

If you need a gadget to navigate around the mountain, post an effusive woo-hoo! to a virtual audience of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, coordinate après plans, insulate you from the tedium of chitchatting with strangers, and/or to have more fun on the hill, then I have to put it out there: maybe this isn’t the sport for you…

my tenure out on that tech-refusenik limb felt lonely and precarious.

The limb got less lonely this week, when I watched Amber Case, cyborg anthropologist, address the recent TED Women conference. Our contemporary tools, the mobile technological ones, are not extending the reach of our physical selves anymore. Case says they’re actually extending our mental selves. And the speed and scale at which that is happening means that we’re at risk of not balancing the benefits of the tools out by slowing down, taking time for mental reflection without external input, doing the long-term planning required to “figure out who you really are,” establishing what your core self is in real space.

The mountains used to be that real space. What struck me as unique and even sacred about going skiing was the way it forced that mental down-time on us. We stepped out of our bubbles the minute we stepped into our bindings and slid over to the lift-line. We stopped thinking about all the Monkey Mind shit, because skiing is technical enough a sport to require real mental focus.

Leading geeks are backing up my cynicism towards app-love. Quote of the day from The Practitioners Perspective turned this up, from Sherry Turkle, of MIT’s Initiative on Technology & Self:

We’re using inanimate objects to convince ourselves that even when we’re alone, we feel together. And when were with each other, we put ourselves in situations where we feel alone – constantly on our mobile devices. It’s what I call a perfect storm of confusion about what’s important in our human connections.”

And an interview with David Suzuki about his recent film Force of Nature, identified that the challenges we need to meet, to survive the future, are not technological. They’re pyschological.

It’s the mindset, the way we look out at the world. If we continue to elevate ourselves as the highest part of this whole system then we’re in deep trouble. Economics is a human creation, borders are human creations and nature doesn’t give a damn about these things. So if we really intend to be here in the long run, the mindset has to shift from human-centred to one in which we’re a part of this bigger system.

The mobile app that tells you how many vertical you have skiied, which chairlifts have the shortest lines right now, and what weather is moving in, is a kind of mental crack-candy. It tricks us into thinking we are connecting to the bigger picture, while we simultaneously shut out the real cues – the clouds scudding overhead, the person sitting next to you, and the happy-happenstance and small-world buzz of ski serendipity.

We’ll need those tools, too, but used judiciously and with some restraint, understanding how seductive and powerful they are, and that unchecked power is the dangerous human invention ever.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bob Berwyn says:

    Amen! I’m like, SO tired of seeing people’s tweets about the new pins they’ve collected at Vail. Do I care? Not one bit. Plus, you’ve raised some deeper and very provocative questions about our wired culture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s