Media Netiquette + Some Great Nature Apps In A Totally Wired World

July 26, 2015 Update:

Adding Washington Parent’s list: Nature Apps, Life Beyond the Screen and’s iPhone app specific picks for enjoying the outdoors, plus Mother Nature Network’s “7 Apps to Help You Get the Most Out of Nature” to Shaping Youth’s links and positive picks below.

Have more favorites? Lob them into the comments section, please! 

Nov. 8, 2014 Update How wired do you want your National Parks? A proposed $34M fiber optic network could soon run through Yellowstone.

Do National Parks need wifi to stay relevant?

Think hard. Pros/cons.

Teens, parents, nature enthusiasts…

How will this enhance or detract from your nature experience?

From Yellowstone wildlife apps to petitions sounding off against the idea completely, this will prove to be a wild ride. Thoughts? 

Original Post: Mar. 13, 2013 This week New York Times tech writer Nick Bilton jangled some Miss Manners media nerves in “Disruptions: Digital Era Redefining Etiquette unearthing some profound generational divides as to what constitutes civility vs ‘being rude’ in 21st century communication.

His fast-lane ‘don’t waste my time’ positioning irked many, prompting ‘this is what’s wrong with the world tirades’ which he clarified in part two ‘thank you for the thank you’ comments  suggesting formality can be a nuisance amidst the digital deluge blasts of messaging fire hoses across multi-platforms. Both points are well taken.

Netiquette is nuanced in form and function. In fact, I sent a tweet responding to Nick Bilton that the best line in his article was about “adapting to different audiences” because “that’s the essence of communication online or off.”

To me, that’s the crux of the matter, whether you’re a grandparent, teen, or tech-toting mobile social whiz of any age. It’s more than a ‘when in Rome’ idiom, it’s arrogant and insensitive to impose one cultural credo on another in ‘this is how I roll’ style…it echoes Marshall McCluhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ accurately.

Just as I would not send my often used e-mobile Red Stamp cards to my parents nor text emoticon SMS thank yous (received graciously from students) I would never use nature as my launch pad to invade pristine environs with exposure to a totally wired world if it involves noise…It’s discordant.

Sure, as the parent of a teen in the heart of Silicon Valley, I’ve had my own ‘text your tail down here’ shortcut moments and have even sounded a dinner bell via Skype blip emoticon, so am no stranger to using media as a convenience, quick point maker or intrusive force field…But there’s netiquette in every communication outreach, short form or long, personal or digital.

Today I’m talking about media netiquette in nature’s sanctuary in the hopes of instilling some hard stops and common sense courtesy tips in the playbook of life in an increasingly ‘always on’ digital landscape.

The Wilderness Society shares 9 free nature and wildlife apps for kids, and many parents seek out ‘must have hiking apps’ to engage with nature’s sanctuary, and there are countless helpful ‘best of’ nature apps lists from citizen science identifiers, wildlife tracking, trailhead suggestions and field guides…I’d say “to each their own”…that’s a communication style.

In my world though, I’ve noticed the more digital you are, the more nature you need. (to paraphrase Richard Louv)

Unplugged. No screens. Hard stop.

This seems echoed often by the device laden hipsters commonplace here in the Silicon Valley ‘tech bubble’ of the S.F. Bay area, and more often than not on the hiking trails, netiquette rules and people navigate the two worlds with seamless aplomb. (Ever noticed the phenom of high tech execs sending their kids to tech free schools?) 

At the SXSW tech conference recently it was noted that in a sea of thousands, it was remarkable not one phone would ring…that’s netiquette and situational awareness…Likewise, silencing shoutouts and gizmos in nature’s sanctuary is a given for those who prefer the quiet tranquility of the wilderness to HEAR the breeze, or SEE a critter without even the distant sound of human gadgetry or jock enthusiasm run amok.

Every so often though, the two worlds jarringly collide with the amplification of a twig snap that can send a deer bolting.

If it’s not the techies…who IS making the clueless netiquette nature gaffes?

Lately there’s been an invasion of (literally) bleeping cubicle dwellers out for their quantified-self measurement jaunts strapped with fitness/activity trackers blurting out various levels of accomplishment. Loudly.

Whether it’s the familiar trill of an incoming text and Facebook notification or a path finder testing a new app with zero spatial awareness, sharing descent/incline/altitude stats like a robo-voiced fitness freak…My plea is to know your netiquette and power down, unplug, and silence the media madness before you drive the rest of us nuts as we get pummeled in your blast zone.

Love of nature and technology is not the least bit mutually exclusive, (there are great geocaching opportunities, fun apps to engage kids, and now wi-fi permeating parkland from A-Z (Acadia to Zion!) but to peacefully coexist with screen free purists too, it really does require some common sense netiquette to refrain from adding more noise to the cacophony of ‘always on’ digital vibration most of us are immersing ourselves in nature for to get AWAY from and UNPLUG.

Media “newbies to nature” are easy to spot…like a bird-watcher with a field guide app, you’ll find variations of these ‘species’ on quiet nature trails from coast to climb:

There’s the yellow-bellied tune-finder (perhaps outfitted in bright yellow LiveStrong gear or neon Nikes with soundtrack of life blaring through ipod earphones or strapped to a bicep as if no one else can hear the muffled music echoing through the otherwise silent woods)…

…The ruby-throated hummingbird (usually beet-red from fitness exertion, who likes to hum or whistle because the sound of silence disturbs)…

…And love dove intimate partner pairings who talk loudly to each other on mountain switchbacks because they FEEL very alone in the woods and can’t see each other, so wrongly assume there are no other souls around…(over-sharing is beyond media moments, it happens in real life too, shhh we really don’t need to know the details of squabbles on a trail–‘peace out’ as the kids might say)

Meanwhile, The National Park Service is exploring a pilot project to consider adding wi-fi to even MORE of the parks, which has left some of us vexed and perplexed in a push/pull quandry of experiential nature/nurture.

Obviously it could help lost souls with GPS and identify poison oak for the uninitiated, but the thought of more intrusion with “Can you hear me now?” signal searchers and “I’ve gotta take this” phone urgencies makes me wince, as the Smithsonian Magazine sums well, “the call of the wild doesn’t need a ring tone.”

Right now, the National Park Service has limited back country access to the equivalent of ‘tweet seats’ at ranger stations and hiking trail turnouts where there’s ‘signal access’ in given spots rather than ubiquitous roaming…I’d personally like to keep it that way.

National Parks Traveler opined that the National Park Service of ALL sources shouldn’t contribute to our technological disconnect with nature. And I tend to agree…

As much as I love knowledge acquisition with amazing sites like Project NOAH (networked organisms and habitats) and cool free citizen science nature apps like Sci Spy, the thought of kids shifting focus from the scene to the screen concerns.

If you’re fixated on focusing the scan cam on leaves to identify, or Instagram petal close-ups every few feet with a nose in a screen it surely makes the point that there’s also much lost when a signal is found. Yes, yes, I realize ANY point of entry to connect children with nature is better than none. BUT:

As I’ve written in this piece about tweens experiencing ‘outdoor ed’ sans media crutches, and this post about shifting kids from those who “like to play indoors because that’s where all the electrical outlets are” to summer searches with nature, returning from wilderness experiences as changed human beings, there’s something to be said for ditching any sense of tech reliance (gps location, help calls or survival basics) to use your own senses, imagination, skill sets and keen tactile data to become aware of magical details textures and discoveries that abound all around.

Suum cuique –to each his own…Carpe diem– seize the day.

“There is no wi-fi in the forest but I promise you will find a better connection.”

Even Thoreau couldn’t have said it better.

Stay tuned for more ways to enjoy the week including online bridges to offline fun. National Wildlife Week is March 18-24, 2013. How will YOU be sharing it with kids? I feel a series coming on…

From Discover the ideas, to’s Ranger Rick magazine now available on an iPad app to National Geographic’s Animal Jam for kids as a hit fun-fest of a virtual world…Send us your favorite Trekaroo kids trips/tips, nature apps, eco-friendly media shoutouts, or ways to unplug as a family…(I’m already signed up for Screen Free Week fun, April 29-May 5, 2013…join me?)

Related Eco-Kids Reading by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth w/Links to Vital Resources

How To Turn People Green

Inspiring Kids As Stewards of the Planet

Inspiring Kids With Green Media

Get ‘Em Outside!

Nature Rocks: Reconnecting Families with Planet Earth!

Shaping Youth Joins Eco-Literacy Coalition: NCLI

The Great Turtle Race

When Art Meets Earth: Wyland’s Murals Inspire Kids to Care Edu & Eco Activism for Int’l Climate Change

Kids Bring Home the Message to Cool the Earth

Spring Break Sanctuary-Media Unplugged on Catalina

Hope Is On The Horizon When Movements Go Mainstream

Green Teen Videos On Climate Change: Global Challenge

Climate Change Chocolate, TerraPass E-Cause Animation…

Teen Scene: Eco-Concerts

Coen Brothers Ad For Clean Coal Air Freshener (kids faves!)

Disney Nature’s EARTH movie: Our Teen Team’s Take

International Day of Peace to Reach and Teach

Green Grades Report Cards: Forest Ethics

One Teen’s View: Use Eco As An Equalizer

Project Green Dorm: Engaging Youth Via Teens Turning Green

S.F. Oil Spill Prompts Altruism & Activism in Kids

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus

New Media Worldometers Help Data Click With Kids

Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder

Tons more archived on sidebar (Shaping Youth’s Eco-Kids & Environment Category)

A few FREE nature apps via  and

WildObs Observer

Project NOAH



What’s Invasive

What’s nearby? Trailhead by The North Face Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder  NatureFind

Identifying:  TreeBook  Leafsnap   iBird Lite  WildLab

Recording/Observing: CreekWatch  Nature’s Notebook

Visual Credits: Screen shots/iphone nature apps: fabulous roundup Blades of grass on screen: Flikr creative commons/HawkinsSteven via Wilderness Society Fitness activity graphic via Pebble tracker



Speak Your Mind