Is Tweeting While Hiking Underrated?

An essay in 'Outside' magazine prompts the question: why can't our technological life mix with the great outdoors?

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If you daydream about ditching your apartment for a tent perched by a remote lake, that fantasy probably doesn’t also include you lugging all your gadgets with you — except maybe for your iPhone, which would be skipped across some pond like a flattened stone.

It’s also one that novelist (and TIME contributor) Walter Kirn untangles in his counterintuitive essay in the latest issue of Outside magazine. Why not tweet and hike? Why not bring a pre-loaded iPad full of movies to an empty beach and stare at your screen? There are “few walls between church and state so absolute”as those between technology and the outdoors, he writes.

Why? Well, let’s set aside the notion that plenty of people just want a respite from their appliances and aren’t overthinking it too much. Maybe the stark “no technology while outside” divide is spurred by the fact that being plugged in outdoors can make you look pretty uncool. Think of tweeting while hiking as a social faux pas for the Patagonia-attired set. Consider this scene, when Kirn brought his iPad to an empty Malibu, Calif. beach:

[A] lithe young man who was running along the cliffs spotted me holding an iPad under one arm as I was about to slide on my butt down a gravelly chute toward the blue water. He frowned in a way that made my neck kink with embarrassment and shame. “Not nice enough all by itself down there,” he said, cutting his eyes at my expensive device. “Why actually surf when you can surf the Net?” Then he rolled his gorgeous blue sun-bright eyes.

Kirn, of course, didn’t feel like he was bringing his iPad to the beach because he wants to ignore the sounds of the waves. He wanted to enhance his experience. The movie included a scene where sitting close to the ocean “brought it to life in a way I’d never previously imagined while sitting comfortably in a home theater.” It’s an interesting concept, though maybe less defensible when it applied to tweeting while hiking:

…I thumb my tiny keypad, sending out quips and opinions on events that have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the wild scenery I’m passing through…Something about wetting my battered feet in a freezing alpine lake turns my thoughts to politics, to issues of war and peace and economics, and I just can’t resist the urge to speak my mind.

Sure, plenty of hikers can get lost in thought and stumble upon a random musing formed in the silence of the trail that deserves to be shared. But being a real-time, walking broadcaster for those thoughts seems to defeat the purpose of solitude–getting away from it all for a little while. Which is why Kirn’s real point in the essay seems to be this: “Another thing I tell myself is that solitude, like everything else, is best enjoyed in moderation.”

(More: Yosemite National Park: 120 Years in Pictures)