For every national park, there is a team of rangers constantly working to protect animals, nature, and human visitors. For every natural phenomenon and species of vegetation, there is a nature researcher looking to learn more. The thing these two groups have in common is, of course, nature. However, they also share the fact that they are becoming more and more reliant on modern technology to help them do their jobs. Gone are the days in which such ‘naturalists’ walked around with their wits and a notebook. Now, researchers spend as much, if not more, time in front of a computer as they do in the field. Technology has provided rangers and researchers alike with unprecedented help in their fields. However, relying too much on technology may be harmful as much as it is helpful.
An example of a park ranger using technology is tagging a dangerous animal in order to track its movement. If the animal gets too close to a campsite, park rangers will know right away. This is an instance in which technology has greatly improved processes. There is less of a chance of incident or injury. For researchers, technology is used for things like tracking species in areas affected by global warming. Scientists get a sense of which species is able to exist in harsh temperatures, and how, without having to subject themselves to harsh conditions.
Unfortunately, the increased use of technology in natural fields has changed naturalist curriculum to be more technical. Ecology students, for example, are being taught mostly at computers instead of out in nature. The information researchers are collecting has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Reliance on technology in certain instances is completely rational, and even beneficial. However, using technology for basically everything is harmful to human observational skills and senses. Our scientists, if they continue to be taught with computers and to spend too much time with technology, will experience a withering of their direct observational skills and a dulling of senses.
The good news is that several programs are in existence to combat reliance on technology in the natural world. Most of these programs are not within the realms of professional science, however. Some examples of those who not only rely on, but revel in, direct observation are bird-watchers, plant enthusiasts, and tornado trackers. An official group in place to urge people back toward naturalism is Citizen Science, which encourages nature research through direct observation.
Technology has indeed shifted our relationship with nature, but that does not mean we cannot still be naturalists. While I advocate for using technology in some areas of nature, I truly believe that other information can be gathered just by observations with the five senses.