Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Darwinism in action

No, it's not the hordes allegedly flocking to immerse themselves in the corrosively alkaline waters of a disused Derbyshire quarry (I wonder whether numbers have increased since the story hit the news), nor is it the paterfamilias insisting on his Yooman Right to walk with his children beneath an unstable cliff-face, but this edifying tale from yesterday's Guardian:
Hill walkers have been warned not to use smartphone apps to navigate in the Scottish mountains after the police had to rescue 16 people who got lost in the Cairngorms.
Now, I have to admit that, not owning a smartphone, I don't have much idea of their capabilities, but I can't imagine any circumstances in which I would be prepared to undertake a risky activity relying entirely on the say-so of a mobile phone, particularly given the difficulty of getting a signal in remote mountain areas.

There seems to be a lot of it about - the police say there have been four cases of this type since Friday, and, according to the deputy leader of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team:
"Last night alone, we were involved in two separate incidents, involving a total of 16 people, who had relied on smartphone apps to navigate on the high tops, were very poorly equipped for the conditions, and become lost." 
I've long despaired at teenagers who use their phone as a sort of external hard drive for their brains, a device to save them the trouble of ever having to commit anything to memory or, in some cases, bothering to think at all; though the ages aren't given (this being the Guardian), it seems that outsourcing intellectual function is even more widespread than I thought.

About the only thing the phones seem to have been useful for was calling in the emergency services when the walkers realised they were hopelessly lost - which is rather like Stephenson's new-fangled railway helpfully rushing William Huskisson to hospital after he was hit by the inaugural train.

One group of 14 walkers was eventually rescued in the early hours of Tuesday morning in an operation involving police, two mountain rescue teams and a Royal Navy helicopter. Fuel costs aside, that's an awful lot of people to be deprived of a night's sleep just because some twit thinks his smartphone's a better bet than a compass, a map and proper equipment.


  1. And the answer will of course be, sue the smartphone company

  2. A smartphone is better than a compass and map becasue it combines both into one. A map and compass wouldn't be much use if you don't know the area and hadn't studied it before hand. At the very least a smartphone has GPS but the minor paths won't be shown on the maps so you can still not know how to escape your situation.

    The walkers got into problems because they weren't equipped for the conditions. That means proper clothing as well as food and drink and other things.

  3. I've long despaired at teenagers who use their phone as a sort of external hard drive for their brains,

    Spilt the coffee.


  4. SBML; I stand corrected (and have modified slightly).

    I admit to complete ignorance of what smartphones can do, but I do know how frustrating I find the small screen of a satnav in establishing the relative positions of landmarks - a larger map makes things infinitely easier.

    I think the problem here is really, as you say, a lack of preparation; I'm inclined to think anyone expecting to rely on a smartphone ad hoc is unlikely to put in the time beforehand.

    Bucko: it certainly will if Mountain Rescue start charging for rescues, as their Swiss counterparts do.

    Meanwhile, there's a lot to be said for putting some moral pressure on those rescued to do some fundraising in return, as happens on occasion (but not often enough) with the RNLI (who also spend far too much time recovering Darwin Award hopefuls.
    (see my post label for examples)

    JH, thank you; we aim to please!