Tech for the trek

Thursday, 24th June 2010; 4:07 pm - Location:

I work with digital technology for a living, and it’s an integral part of my life. So when I started planning my first scooter excursion last year, I had to decide what technology to bring along.

“None” was not an option. Even when I went backpacking in the wilderness, deliberately eschewing technology, I still had my analog wristwatch, my digital camera, and a cheap cellphone (for I-broke-my-leg use only, turned off and buried at the bottom of the pack). But last year’s big scooter trip wasn’t an exercise in survival or naturalism; technology has a legitimate place on the road. After all, the scooter itself is “high technology”… from a century ago.

I very briefly considered bringing a laptop. At the time (before it was stolen) I had a very slim and lightweight MacBook Air which I could have found room for. But it was “too much”. I didn’t need a machine I could run Photoshop and iTunes and OpenOffice on. I wanted to get away from that stuff for a week.

My iPhone (1st gen) was a much better match. I needed to bring a phone no matter what; scooting far from home and from town to town without one would be irresponsible. And it had just enough additional capabilities to handle the other things I’d still want technology for: navigational aids, weather info, and blogging the adventure. It could serve as a snapshot camera as well.

The only other high-tech gear I brought along was a friend’s GPS navigation unit, which I used only when I had a specific need for it: finding a gas station in the middle of nowhere when I was running on empty, or finding my way through downtown Green Bay with a minimum of fuss.

iPhone 4

iPhone 4

At the risk of turning this into an advert/testimonial: I just picked up the centerpiece of this year’s tech. It’s iPhone 4. (Note that I didn’t say “the iPhone 4″ or “an iPhone 4″. Apple promotional literature refers to the device without any articles at all, as if it were some kind of abstract Platonic ideal. It’s simply “iPhone 4”. 🙂 )

I never upgraded to iPhone 3G or 3GS; they didn’t offer enough new to compel me to upgrade, and they’d cost an additional $20/month more than the bare-minimum pre-paid plan available for the original model. But now that AT&T is offering some more affordable iPhone data plans (for the people who aren’t overburdening their network), I can justify spending a couple hundred bucks on a new phone.

This new model includes GPS and a compass, so with the addition of an app from the App Store, I won’t need a separate GPS navigation device. It has a much better camera, with higher resolution and a focusing lens… but it only has “digital zoom” (which is a gimmick), so it’s still not good enough to get me go without the “serious” camera and its real 20X optical zoom. But I can use it as a replacement for the “backup” camera I brought along last year. It even has a built-in flashlight! And of course iPhone 4 will do everything iPhone 1 did, including the ability to blog the trip. It’s not just a phone; it’s a Swiss Army phone. If only it included a corkscrew….

So ultimately I won’t be carrying any more items of technology than I do on my wilderness backpacking trips: my watch, my camera, and my phone. It’s just that the phone is going to be quite a bit more functional – and quite a bit more-often used – than the little phone I’d shove to the bottom of my backpack.

To give you a sense of the camera quality, here’s a snapshot of Flash.

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