photography :: Guy Fattal
digital artwork: Stu MacKay-Smith
words: Feet Banks
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”
I was that guy, the last of my friends to get a cell phone because, “I’ve lived this long without it….”
In those days it was just a phone, no apps (other than a budget Snake game), no data, and texting was a pain in the ass because you had to hit the 7 key four times if you wanted to type an ‘s’ (and forget about a capital ‘S,’ it wasn’t worth the effort).
Times have changed. And for all the time we now spend on our phones, making an actual call accounts for very little of it. This is the age of information, the attention economy, where time isn’t money—it’s everything.
The quote at the top of the page comes from social scientist Herbert Simon in 1971. Imagine how much less information was flowing through our lives back then—yet he still predicted this near-constant barrage of data and how difficult it would be to avoid the endless allure of the glowing one-eyed monster in our pockets.
Of course, we are biologically wired to learn and process new data (it’s a survival mechanism) and technology has always been a double-edged sword—fire can keep us warm and cook our food, but it can also burn us down. Here’s the thing though, while technology and the incessant noise of contemporary “connection” is producing very real and damaging side effects in our everyday lives, it makes time spent in the mountains that much more crucial.
In the mountains, unplugged and disconnected, technology is awesome. Compare today’s touring bindings to the alpine trekkers of the ‘90s, or a 3-ply Gore-Tex jacket with (ethically sourced) down to a gnarled old reindeer hide that you had to chew on to make it supple enough to wear (those are still way warmer, but they’re maintenance-heavy and sometimes stink). How nice is it to so easily capture (and share) photos of you and your buddies’ sick jumps?
Technology helps us find friends buried in avalanches, or better yet, helps us avoid being buried altogether. It heli-drops us into the most beautiful zones and lets us satellite-text home if we’re gonna be late. Out there all alone in the wild, with no feeds to scroll, no posts to like—technology is the friend who shows up when you need them and leaves you alone when you don’t.
So here’s to spending more time with that friend, and maybe even bringing some of those lessons home once we step back onto the conveyor belt (roller coaster?) of social connection. Because at its heart, technology is a mirror. We built it, we use it and because of this, technology offers a really good look at ourselves—how we live, what we value, and who we are. To be against technology is to be against humanity.
Of course, the best place to ponder humanity is out in the backcountry, chasing adventure and solitude with reliable, like-minded friends.
But a robot will do in a pinch.
This was the editor’s message of the November 2019 issue of Mountain Life Magazine. The photo is by Guy Fattal and then the master Stu MacKay-Smith gussied it up with some artwork, and some sick animation for the digital reel. Alexi Godbout is the skier. Welcome to the matrix.