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Experts to debate outdoor recreation in a digital age

Experts to debate outdoor recreation in a digital age
August 29, 2016

The impact of technology on how we interact with the great outdoors will be a hot topic at this year’s Outdoors Forum, hosted by the New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA).

The Forum, being held this Thursday and Friday (1st and 2nd September) at the James Cook Hotel in Wellington, will see recreation professionals and experts share insights on the different ways in which digital technology is changing the way in which New Zealanders interact with the outdoors, particularly in non-urban settings.

Explaining the Forum’s theme, Getting the Next Generation Outdoors, NZRA Chief Executive Andrew Leslie states “as with any change, there are challenges and opportunities associated with the increasing use of technology in the great outdoors.

“People venturing into the outdoors these days, particularly younger people, are often doing so with the aid of mobile devices and other technology. This upcoming forum will allow sector professionals to share their views and brainstorm their ideas on the subject.”

Dr Roslyn Kerr, Head of the Department of Tourism, Sport and Society at Lincoln University, will be speaking at the Forum about the differences and similarities in the way people use digital devices in urban, peri-urban and back country settings.

Dr Kerr (pictured below) explains “what we know is that the further away we move from urban settings, the more tension there is around the question of using phones, music players and other technology in the outdoors.

“In urban settings, the use of technology is more or less unquestioned. In the back country, there is less tolerance for such devices. At the same time, the research suggests that people don’t want rules imposed on them.

“For example, some outdoor sector managers have suggested banning technology use in tramping huts, but people appear not to want that level of interference.”

Dr Kerr says there is no simple answer to whether technology has had a positive or negative impact on how people interact with the outdoors. On the one hand, digital apps and GPS make people feel more secure about exploring the great outdoors.

However, she believes such devices can also produce a false sense of security, commenting “experienced back country users are saying that people shouldn’t venture to places they have no experience with, because without skills, their devices won’t be much use to them if something goes wrong.”

Dr Kerr points to a study she supervised, by PhD student Caroline Dépatie, which looks at the use of digital devices in the Port Hills area, in Canterbury. Two-thirds of the recreationists surveyed said they carried a smart phone, with 80% citing safety as their primary reason for having it. But the phones were mostly used to check the time (50%), followed by calling, texting and taking photos, while accessing information like trail conditions and weather represented only 15% of usage.

Nonetheless, Dr Kerr accepts that technology is here to stay, and that it’s important to talk about how best to use it, and to be creative in our thinking,.

She concludes “it would be good to carry out more experience-based research, to better understand for example what skills people might need in the back country, and where technology can play a positive part in their outdoor experiences.”

The Forum will feature a range of keynote speakers and provide opportunities to share ideas, debate hot topics and discuss common challenges. Other topics this year include access to our outdoors, New Zealand’s changing demographics, and the importance of understanding student needs and planning to ensure curriculum needs are met.

There will also be a presentation on sport and cultural diversity, with a particular focus on an Auckland-based project aimed at addressing the needs of the rapidly growing Asian community on the North Shore of Auckland.

For more information go to www.nzrecreation.org.nz

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