It's an over population problem. What we are experiencing is an example of the parable of the frog in the pot. If you put a frog into a pot of hot water, he'll jump out. But if you put him into a pot of cold water and then heat the water up very slowly, before he realizes it, he's cooked. In my estimation, we're cooked. Aside from a cataclysm of unacceptable proportions, we are going to suffer crowding and the loss of lebensraum, tranquility and the remaining wilderness for many decades to come. We will even lose the memories of things because there will not be anyone left who will remember what it was like before they were lost.
In nature, wherever you find a poison, you will find the antidote close by. It's an old adage, and this overpopulation problem is a good example of its credibility. Along with the great increase in numbers of humans came an increase in technology. This was a fortuitous association because among the technologies that sprung up was the internet. And in the internet, along with computer graphics and virtual reality, lies, in my opinion, our greatest prospect for recovering some of the losses of our natural experiences in the wilds. We can use this technology to virtually re-create what is being lost so that we can preserve it and enjoy it long after it has vanished from the physical world.
Although this is not currently an alternative to a genuine outdoor experience, I believe it will ultimately gain more support as the technology advances. Many people can't imagine how sitting in front of a computer monitor compares in any way to the experience of breathing fresh mountain air or feeling the warm rain or paddling in a canoe in a rapid. My thought is that we will have to wait for surround screens to more fully appreciate the potential of an immersive virtual experience. Recently I had the opportunity to take the Soarin' ride at Disneyworld. It is a simulated hang glider trip which uses a giant screen to display the terrain 'below.' That ride convinced me, and everyone with me, that a virtual experience can overwhelm disbelief.
We have learned to ignore the intrusion of traffic, dams, power lines, teeming numbers of hikers and paddlers, garbage on the trails and restricted entry points in so-called "wilderness" areas. The norm is no camp fires allowed and take it in take it out and the constant surveillance of smoky bears and being herded into hardened camp sites. And then there are the fees. For some reason we can ignore all of that and still imagine we are in "the outdoors." With that level of tolerance we should have little difficulty accepting the pristine virtual wilderness.
If there is any lesson to be learned from technology, it is that it will continue to advance. I recall the first primitive games of Pong and Asteroids. They were essentially animated line drawings on a screen. They had almost nothing at all in common with the graphics and complexity of today's World of Warcraft. But the enthusiasm for both pong and asteroids showed us what the future would be. We are now well on the road to that future. And twenty years from now, World of Warcraft, as it is today, will itself be ancient history. I believe the holodeck is inevitable because we all want it to be so, and we will direct technology to that goal.
As things get more crowded, we will need a sanctuary, a place where we can go to recover and reignite our feelings for nature. Such places in the "real" world are already distant and require money and time and arduous logistics to achieve. Also, it is very hard to organize accompanying friends as they have commitments etc. In the old days we could step off the back porch and walk a few feet into the woods and get swallowed up. That isn't possible for most people anymore. I live in the interior of Alaska and although this country is still pretty wild, the writing is on the wall. The need for oil and minerals is creating a demand for more roads to penetrate the most remote places in order to exploit the resources and entertain tourists. The parks that are supposed to preserve the wilderness have become industrial recreation facilities that process tens of thousands of visitors and completely corrupt the meaning of wilderness.
But suppose you could retreat to a virtual wilderness in your own home, with photorealistic images of forests and sky and mountains and campfires and your friends would be there with you (virtually).
All of this brings me to the reasons for creating this and associated web sites. The purpose of this site is to serve as one of the embarkation points for an outdoor adventure in a realistic boreal forest. No dams, no wires, no roads, no other people except the ones you join or admit to your adventure. You can hike or canoe or climb or even be a raven and fly around. Nobody will be keeping score. There will be no smoky bears hounding you (although there may be some real ones) and checking your "permits." You will be free to do whatever you want to do.
The north is where I feel at home, so that's why I chose to make the boreal forest the starting place for this virtual project.
I think the time is fast approaching when people will allow the "suspension of disbelief" to carry them from whatever place on earth they are located, to wherever they want to be and whenever they want to be and with whomever they want as companions. This future is already being written by the millions of participants in online games. My enthusiasm is for the north woods. The sound of a paddle against the gunwale of a canvas canoe, the smell of wood smoke. Sleeping out in a soft bed of caribou moss makes me feel at home. All of that is not yet possible in virtual reality, but it is in the making.
The future of virtual reality is nimble. Your dream may be very different than mine. That's the beauty of virtual, it can accommodate all of our dreams at the same time. Virtual worlds do not interfere with each other since they do not share common physical space. That's why it is imperative to keep this technology free. It is one of the few times in history that we have found a pristine "new continent" that we can exploit without restraint.
Whatever programs posted on this site are free to use. I will not ask you for any information nor set cookies. In the next few months (it is now August 2010) I'll be working on this site adding programs to it.
Thanks for visiting. Hope you'll come back in a few weeks to see where we go from here.