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Technology versus nature

   When I was a Boy Scout in the relative Digital Dark Ages of the late 1980s and early 1990s, it wasn't much of a sacrifice, electronically speaking, to go away for a weeklong camp out.

   I was leaving behind perhaps five TV channels, the primitive video games on my family's Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III computer and my Sony Walkman radio/casette player.

   For Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and teens going along on family camping trips, it's an entirely different story today.

   They have to give up video-game players. Hundreds of channels on cable. Cell phones. The Internet. E-mail. Instant messaging. Text messaging. MP3 players.

   That can be difficult for this generation, who are known as "digital natives" because they've grown up with these devices and they've never known a world without this technology.

   It means Scouting is in a fierce competition for the attention of young people, who have so many potential diversions and sources of entertainment in their lives today.

   And, once Scouting organizations pull these young people in, they have to work hard to make sure the technology and the devices don't detract from the camping experience.

   Now, some technology can enhance that experience. Think of global positioning system units, which are all but replacing the humble compass. Or digital cameras and photo-sharing Web sites that make it easier to preserve and pass along memories from camping trips.

   But Scout leaders and some area camps are restricting electronic devices because they don't want kids and teens to ignore nature while absorbed in their MP3 players and cell phones. We'd like to hear from current Scouts, former Scouts, parents of Scouts or anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors.

   Is technology encroaching too much on nature? Should electronic devices be banned on camp outs? Or is there a place for high-tech gadgets in the wilderness?

   ---Stephen T. Watson


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