Friday, October 1, 2010

Bushcraft and Technology, Part 2

Much has been written on the subject of the commercialization of bushcraft; the fact that people are willing to buy any piece of technology which has the bushcraft stamp on it, and pay a premium for it. For most of us, there is a drive to acquire traditional skills, which allow a person to make their way in the wilderness without having to rely on manufactured goods. As such, this continuous acquisition and accumulation of gadgets and tools is troubling.

Here however, I want to shine the light on the other end of the spectrum. In our desire to not be one of the gadget driven people, on which so many of our posts focus, some of us have not only rejected the gadgets, but common sense as well.

Let us remember, many of us wish to reduce our reliance on technology and replace it with skills which let us perform the same tasks in a sustainable way. Very often however, some fall into the trap of not replacing technology with skill but rather replacing it with other technology which just makes them look more skilled.

What am I talking about? Well, let us take for example one of the basic pieces of kit, the rucksack. Most of us carry one, and we try to get the best we can afford so that we may carry the greatest weight in the most comfortable manner. If we were to substitute this piece of kit with knowledge, it would take the form of being able to improvise a container in the wilderness with the resources available to us there. The ability to do so would be an admirable skill.

Much more often however, instead of doing that, let’s face it, it is hard to do, people replace this piece of kit, with another piece of kit which makes them look more bushcraftly but keeps them equally reliant on technology. An example is the “simple” canvas ruck sack that some people spend a fortune on. It gives them that sense of authenticity, because that is how someone in the “good ol’ days” did it. When you stop and think however, both the modern pack and the old-timey canvas one are equally impossible to replicate in the wilderness, and as such the person has only replaced one gadget with another. Has he gained any benefit from the switch? Certainly not. He is equally reliant on technology, except now he is much more uncomfortable.

And this is where the circle is completed, and we come back to the commercialization of bushcraft. A person, in their desire to look more “authentic”, and prove that he does not need technology, spends more money on an “authentic” bushcraft item, than they would on a modern equivalent, not because it is more useful or reliable, but because it looks the part.

If you ask me, replacing technology with knowledge is a goal worth pursuing, and the bedrock of self reliance. Replacing modern technology with older technology, however, is in many cases a foolhardy decision, designed to make one look the part of an experienced outdoorsman. Let us not reject new gadgets, for what were in fact the gadgets of their time. There in nothing wrong with looking into the past to find tools that worked, but if we are to make our move away from technology a meaningful one, there has to be some clear benefit to this replacement or “old” technology. If you are paying the same amount of money for a piece of kit that is just as impossible for you to replicate in the wilderness, and is going to perform more poorly than the modern equivalent, then why exactly are you doing it?