The Transformation of Camping

Gandhian philosophy, which is meant to form the backbone of these pages, teaches the value of humility.  There doesn’t seem to be much humility in criticizing car culture or any of the other themes surrounding modern convenience.  And yet….stepping gingerly through my words, I’d like to present some observations about how drastically this world of modern outdoor leisure has changed in my own lifetime.

I can’t count how many times I’ve walked through a campground, finding the usual family scenes transformed in a rather odd way.  Instead of gathering around watching firewood sparks crackling off the campfire, families create memories with the warmth of the fire nearly lost in the artificial ambience of television sets and portable lighting strips.  Technology allows families to plan trips at the same time that they want to watch, say, baseball or some other TV episode.

In my experience, that’s a new concept: releasing additional options into the natural environment.

Each campground displays a smaller scale of “keeping up with the Jones”, with ostentatious RV’s and impressive portable technology.  Hydraulic systems can expand a luxury vehicle’s “living room” space to a total square footage reminiscent of the suburban sprawl. Furthermore, these campsites, with hookups for electricity and water, seem to allow resources usage at the same pace as if the family were still at their house.

Of course, with fewer electrical devices being used on the road, and outdoor distractions to draw them to other activities, campers might still use slightly less than they would at home. Still, I’ve imagined that these households, complete with their modern amenities, have simply been moved off-the-grid, to a smaller infrastructure which still encourages ample consumption.

From the main grid to the transplanted grid of power netted throughout our vast natural landscapes, these bustling cul-de-sacs bear a surprising resemblance to the rank-and-file landscape of suburbia. I bring this up not to belittle or dredge on the feelings of people who have decided to invest in these amenities.  After all, I could easily see these comforts meaning a great deal to some people who would otherwise not be able to enjoy the outdoors.

However, I can’t help but be reminded of the standards of “having enough” rather than “having more”. In the United States, the evolution of the RV and other industries of outdoor leisure have reached staggering heights.  The use and ease of mobile technology and portable media have brought the modern home to the great outdoors.  What does that mean now, when someone plans a trip to “get away from it all”?  (I have not touched on the topic of wi-fi services in the campgrounds – perhaps that could be a post for another day.)

Don’t get me wrong: there are still many families who come in with the intentions of sleeping in a tent rather than in a pullout bed, who build a fire that actually cooks their meal, tease each other over the health or flavor of charcoaled marshmellows, and talk or simply sit in silence around the fire until they crawl into their sleeping bags, drowsy and content. What’s this experience like for them?

Incidentally, while we’re on the topic of natural resources waning in the shadow of power consumption: when I was young, my parents were able to point out the Milky Way to me when we were camping.  I have a very difficult time viewing the Milky Way in most areas of the rural terrain.  Does that change the camping experience for those who can only describe the Milky Way to their own children, rather than point and trace the outline for their children to see?


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