Experiencing outdoor recreation in the digital technology age: a case study from the Port Hills of Christchurch, New Zealand
Introduction The outdoor recreation literature provides a wealth of evidence for the health benefits of spending leisure time in natural resource settings (Driver, 1998). Among the positive outcomes are documented improvements in physical, social, mental and spiritual well-being which have been linked to the opportunity for individuals to disconnect from their day-to-day lives and to experience valued interactions with each other and with the physical environment (Devlin et al., 1995; Louv, 2009; Manning, 2011; Pigram and Jenkins, 2006; Plummer, 2009). Today, over half of the world’s population live in urban areas, making access to rural or otherwise unmodified areas such as national parks challenging for some (Louv, 2011b; Miller and Spoolman, 2009). In New Zealand alone, more than 80 per cent of people reside in urban areas (Field et al., 2013). For those seeking outdoor recreation experiences, the extent of urbanisation has increased the recreational value of open spaces located on the urban fringe. These highly accessible spaces, referred to here as ‘peri-urban’ locations, are the interaction zones where urban and rural activities are juxtaposed (Douglas, 2006), and form an increasingly important component of urban recreational systems (Liu et al., 2010). Alongside urbanisation, a digital technology revolution may be reshaping recreation participation and experience, with some commentators observing the potential for such developments to undermine the principal values of nature-based interactions (Louv, 2005, 2011a) or to prevent people from using natural areas altogether (Pergams and Zaradic, 2006). This chapter reports on the case of the Port Hills in Christchurch, New Zealand, and considers how the outdoor recreation experience is transformed by technology use and how recreationists, including hikers, runners, mountain bikers and rock climbers, negotiate the dichotomy between experiencing the natural environment while using technology. A main premise of the research was to examine the possibility that the overall experience of outdoor recreation in peri-urban settings was changing as a result of developments in technology and, more specifically, because of the use of digital portable devices such as
smartphones, music players, cameras and self-tracking devices (e.g. GPS, cycle computers, heart rate monitors). In this setting, reliable access to wireless networks allowed recreationists to use many functions on their digital devices.