Technology has changed the way we look at and interact with the world, and it has definitely made the world a smaller place! It has become such an integral part of our daily lives, that some people have completely disconnected themselves from society. Now, what does this have to do with field guiding? Well, as technology does play such a large part in all our everyday lives (and is unavoidable in most cases), I have found that the debate of “does technology belong in the bush” comes up quite frequently within the guiding community.
I think it is quite a simple answer: It’s a combination of personal choice, lodge/company rules and motive…i.e. is it being used for the purposes of further elaborating for a confused guest…or to check if your old school friend accepted your friend request whilst on game drive.
Many people, including myself, would prefer to have a break from technology when away on holiday. Understandably, as our daily lives tend to start with checking and replying to emails, phone calls, Facebook, skype meetings, Instagram and Twitter…and that’s before our morning cup of coffee!
However, technology certainly has its place within our ‘world’ from a working perspective. Behind the scenes, we have the power to check weather forecasts and prepare guests for a possible thunderstorm; or to email through those photos the guest asked you for earlier.
All smart phones feature a camera (or two) with some producing better quality images than a compact camera. Photos can be taken on drive and shared with friends and family (we have to boast about the perks of our job!) or for the lodge’s social media pages.
You can also download a wide variety of wildlife or nature related apps on your mobile device these days. Even though I personally prefer to read through a book, Apps have quickly become the replacement or ‘filler’ for heavy text books, and why not? It fits in your pocket, and you can access it anywhere and anytime. It saves precious space in your vehicle/backpack and will most likely survive a thunderstorm much better than your books would, provided you have the right cover!
Some apps can be very useful in the field. The Sasol or Roberts bird guides, are prime examples of why, in some cases, technology can be more useful than a text book. Not only does it offer you better quality photos on top of the usual illustrations, most birds will also have a call connected to it; so a great way to study birding to the next level. These illustrations and calls can be used on drives or walks as a demonstration for your guest, but it’s important to remember, your guests look to you as the example of ethics and you must keep ethical behaviour in mind – don’t alter the bird’s behaviour!
Tree ID (eTrees of Southern Africa) can also be done on your mobile device, although the app does not feature the key as the text book does, so the app is only helpful if you have a reasonable idea of what the tree is already, or if you trying to look up something about a specific species. Many more books are becoming available on mobile devices, including reptile guides, tracking and so much more.
Other handy apps in terms of Astronomy, such as Star Walk or Stellarium, will not only send you notifications when amazing things happen in our night skies, but also has a live feed and comes complete with diagrams, assisting you to see the different constellations as you move your phone across the night skies. The picture automatically adjusts to what you should see directly past your phone, absolutely brilliant for beginners and novices alike, especially if your imagination is not yet vivid enough to “see” the constellations.
One app which is making quite an impact in the field, is BirdLasser. Not your typical birding app, the BirdLasser keeps track of your life lists in certain areas, and reports all the data directly to the SABAP2 project (Southern African Bird Atlassing Project), this data is used to update distribution maps, and in some cases, also helps keep track of numbers of rare and endangered birds. So is used for a good reason too!
This is all great, but it’s important to remember that one of the bonuses of being out in the bush, is that we are afforded the opportunity to disconnect from Wi-Fi and step into the natural, device-free world; even if it’s just for a few hours on a game drive. This is a rare opportunity in today’s world and many guests visit game reserves for this very reason – a technology detox if you will!
Even though, nowadays, it is not always possible to be completely offline, with most reserves having cell phone reception with free WIFI back at the lodge, it is important to respect the guests who are looking for a real nature experience and that ‘technology detox’. If your lodge is ok with the use of devices in front of guest and you do use your phone or iPad for work purposes – make sure your guests are ok with it first and remember to keep them on silent or flight mode.
Naturally, you will always get that one workaholic or nonchalant teen on your vehicle, none-the-less, it’s your job, as a guide to try and limit the use of technology on game drive – ESPECIALLY for personal use. After all, for a balanced life, “the more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need” (Richard Louv – The Nature Principle).
You can read more about the apps discussed above here:
- BirdLasser: www.birdlasser.com
- Sasol Birds of Southern Africa: http://www.sasolbirds.co.za/mobile-app.php
- Robert’s Birds of Southern Africa: http://www.sabirding.co.za/products/RMMmobile.html
- eTrees of Southern Africa: http://www.treesapp.com/
- eSnakes of Southern Africa : http://www.randomstruik.co.za/apps/esnakes-of-southern-africa/6
Until Next Time,
Charles & The Nightjar Team