Don't Want Wi-Fi in Parks? Don't Use It

One of the worst things you can say to an urban, middle-class member of generation x/y is "there's no Wi-Fi here." I once lugged my computer to a Toronto café only to have the barista tell me that on weekends, they disconnect the router so people can live the slow life. In theory, that sounded nice. In reality, I was annoyed. If someone wanted to disconnect, couldn't they just choose to leave their gizmos and gadgets at home?

Yet the reaction to this week's news about Parks Canada's plan to install Wi-Fi in more than 100 locations proved some people still want Internet-free zones.

How would little Johnny ever form a connection with Mother Earth? Bird chirps would be drowned out by business calls. Nature would become a convenient background for a selfie, rather than the main event.

The announcement went over so badly that the director of visitor experience with Parks Canada, Andrew Campbell, assured viewers on CTV that 4G wouldn't extend to the wilderness.

My initial reaction was also negative. I re-visited my dream of moving to a wooden cabin (though most of those probably have Wi-Fi by now too). But once my inner Thoreau settled down, I realized wired woods aren't so bad if I can muster the willpower to turn off my phone. On a broader level, I'd rather live in a society that lets me choose how to behave rather than tells me what to do.

Often lost in the discussion of the techtonic plague is self-control. It's easy to lament "the world today" and feel like a helpless slave to the Web. Yet most times, we're the drivers.

Sure, our jobs have changed because of technology. There are added responsibilities (join Twitter!) and demands (respond to emails within 30 seconds!) but a lot of us make our digital relationship more toxic than it has to be. I've never been reprimanded because I didn't respond to an email during off-hours. My constant check-ins are mostly habitual -- thumbs grasping instinctually for a touchpad mid-dinner -- rather than a job requirement. I've witnessed countless friends and colleagues tense up when they unnecessarily read email.

Though parks may be where you go to unplug, many people want Wi-Fi in the wilderness. Campbell said more digital access is "what people have been asking us for," so they listened. We should applaud a government that accommodates our needs and gives us choice.

The alternative is politicians who decide what kind of lifestyle is best for the population. Alcohol creates many societal woes, but prohibition didn't go over so well. Aside from the fact that humans have an incredible capacity to get what they want anyway (bootleg Wi-Fi that involves forest-dwelling cartels anyone?) many enjoy alcohol in moderation. Seventy-six per cent of Canadians are low-risk alcohol users or do not drink at all (in the U.S., the number is 70 per cent). Yes, humans do possess self-control.

In North America, our government is still fairly bossy when it comes to booze. Many European countries, such as Switzerland, Germany and England, allow citizens to buy and drink alcohol more freely. Yet Western Europe is not one giant bar brawl.

In Quebec, where alcohol is sold privately and consumed more publicly, the province has the lowest rate of substance abuse in Canada. The city's mayor just announced some bars will stay open until 5:30 a.m. this summer. I bet that won't turn homebodies into disruptive clubbers.

When politicians tell us how to behave, they get blowback. Remember New York mayor Bloomberg's attempt to ban sodas larger than 16 ounces? Aside from its technical flaws (nothing prevented big gulpers from buying two 16 ounce sodas) people didn't like being treated like babies.

A Daily Beast article pointed out that "Portion control is a great idea, when people get to choose it in practice. This means they have control over meaningful choices." Even the health freaks dissented. A group of personal trainers in Michigan wrote a blog post titled "Don't Ban Pop, Learn Self-Control." Instead of incentivizing healthy options, Bloomberg's ban sent the message that Big Brother knows best. Though public health issues might seem harmless, that logic is a slippery slope to Orwell's 1984 where every aspect of life, from language to who we marry, is government-controlled.

Rather than lament Wi-Fi in parks, we should celebrate the option to use it or not. Mom or dad can respond to a work email on the trail rather than sacrifice a family trip. Those on a digital detox can leave devices in the car. If we use self-control, Twitter doesn't have to be filled with nature selfies. The choice is ours.