All technology has positives and negatives, from the typewriter to the self-driving car, and conservation-themed smartphone apps are no exception. Of course, smartphone applications encompass the drawbacks of smartphone usage in general. For example, Coyne (2014) voiced the health concerns that come with smartphone usage, such as stress induction and the backlighting of the screen impeding melatonin’s production. Electronic waste production and its associated harmful impact was also a concern of Coyne’s (2014). For any new technology, concerns also arise about its lawful and safe use. Jepson and Ladle (2015) point out the importance of following laws and common sense when exploring outdoor areas, as these nature-themed smartphone apps often encourage users to do. Another disadvantage of this technology is that it still doesn’t make full use of the power that smartphone apps have to excite and engage the public (Jepson & Ladle, 2015). As I mentioned in my introductory post, Jepson and Ladle (2015) found that there are over one million apps in the Google Play Store and less than one percent of them were nature-themed. The potential these conservation apps have to inspire the public is great but more work needs to be done to make sure that we take advantage of that potential. Finally, the use of a smartphone in nature, regardless of the purpose for its use, is still a disruption from an otherwise immersive natural experience (Beck & Dustin, 2016). By age 12, most American children have at least one wireless device (Beck & Dustin, 2016) and the ties to these devices are difficult to sever, or even loosen. Being fully present in nature is one opportunity we have to slough off our technological fetters and there are those that believe that using technology in nature for any purpose, no matter how noble, diminishes that experience.
After researching both the pros and cons of conservation and nature-themed smartphone applications, I believe that the benefits of this new technology far outweigh any drawbacks. A significant strength of smartphone apps as conservation tools is that apps are accessible to many people. According to Jepson and Ladle (2015), almost 968 million smartphones were sold in 2013. This fact tells us that there are potentially almost 968 million people who can be reached and educated through smartphone apps. These nature apps are also inexpensive and very simple to download (Jepson & Ladle, 2015), making them easy for most people to use. Nature and conservation applications can utilize the capabilities already built in to smartphones, such as the ability to store photos, access maps, and record audio, tools that are incredibly useful for apps that involve collecting data or organism identification (Shrode, 2012). Smartphones, unlike large reference books, are also very portable and easy for outdoor explorers to take with them on nature walks and hikes (Shrode, 2012). An additional benefit of smartphone applications, according to Shrode (2012), is that they can be constantly updated and improved with new information. Updating is essential to citizen science apps, for example, as these apps rely on the ability to share up-to-date information with users. Nature and conservation-focused smartphone applications, whether they are games or trail guides, reach people where they are, which is often on their phones. Conservation apps put information and suggestions for taking action into the palm of your hand. Looking at all the benefits of this technology tells us that smartphone applications have the potential to affect the natural world, “modifying how we appreciate, use, and conserve wild places, animals, and plants” (Jepson & Ladle, 2015, p. 827).
Beck, L., & Dustin, D. (2016). Technology on the Trails. Legacy (National Association For Interpretation), 27(6), 20-22.
Coyne, R. (2014). Nature vs. smartphones. Interactions, 21(5), 24-31. doi:10.1145/2656933
Jepson, P., & Ladle, R. J. (2015). Nature apps: Waiting for the revolution. Ambio, 44(8), 827-832. doi:10.1007/s13280-015-0712-2
Shrode, F. (2012). Mobile apps for nature field guides. Reference Reviews, 26(7), 4.