Surfing the Park

thou shall not judge the laptop-using park lover

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

It recently came to my attention that one can use wireless internet in a large portion of Carson Park. This is awesome. I think it’s a fantastic amenity, just like the water fountains, bathrooms, and picnic tables. If we can’t have the rocket slide anymore, we might as well have free wi-fi. 

Now, I know many people feel it’s weird and stupid hunkering down in a gorgeous park to use your laptop/iPad/iPhone/face-mounted Android-based YouTube Cute Kitten Video Viewer (3D). But Mike Paulus doesn’t. 

People think it’s ironic to sit in a park and stare at a laptop, but it’s OK if you do the very same thing with a book. However, a book can make you just as detached/dumb/dangerous as anything on the Internet.

If someone had a book on their lap instead of a laptop, would tech-haters still squawk about it? I doubt it. Reading a book – as opposed to reading anything on a computer-based whatchamacallit – is generally accepted as normal and more or less admired by the book-loving nerds I count as friends. It doesn’t even matter what book the reader is reading. But people, you gotta look closer. Consider the following scenarios, won’t you?

Scenario A: The Book

From across the grassy expanse of a well-kept city park you spot someone relaxing on a park bench. You think, “Oh look! They’ve got a book in their hands. My goodness, what a glorious way to spend the afternoon, engulfed by the loving caress of Mother Nature, feeding one’s mind and imagination with the hearty flavors of the written word. Kudos, my relaxed and literate friend, kudos to you and huzzah!”

But wait. You look closer. What’s that book they’re reading? It’s called 65 Easy Ways to Stab Curious Onlookers in the Park with Your Car Keys. Doesn’t seem so awesome anymore, does it?

Scenario B: The Laptop

From across the grassy expanse of a well-kept city park you spot a second someone relaxing on a park bench. You think, “Oh gawd. Check out Mr. Geek Squad Face over there. Who brings a laptop to the park? Look around you, Nerd Face! It’s called nature! What an idiot. He must have no friends with whom to play hacky sack. I’d invite him to play with me, but he probably can’t understand physical activity. It might confuse him.”

But wait. You look closer. What’s that on his computer screen? It’s a clinical study called How to Identify the Giant Flying Centipede of Northwestern Wisconsin and How to Rescue the Pitiful Victims of Its Poisonous Swarm Attack. Hey, can you hear that noise? It sounds kind of like the insane shrieking of hundreds of large insects perched in the tree branches directly above you. 

Do you see the point I’m trying to cleverly make here? People think it’s ironic to sit in a park and stare at a laptop, but it’s OK if you do the very same thing with a book. However, a book can make you just as detached/dumb/dangerous as anything on the internet. We indiscriminately praise anyone for reading a book as opposed to staring at a screen, but in doing so, we tend to let the old Intelligent Activity Yard Stick bend squarely out of shape. As with ecosystems, and cottage cheese expiration dates, you need to look closely to understand what’s going on.

I think any kind of reading is good for you on some level, whether it’s on paper or a screen or a stone tablet. I don’t judge an iPad by its lack of a cover. It has the same potential as a book – it can make you smarter or stupider depending on how you use it. Fiddling with a little computer used to be a sign of geeky (if detached) intelligence, and now we label people walking around glued to their iPhones as “zombies.” But I think these kinds of people would find some way to be a zombie with or without Angry Birds and Facebook.

In my book (yes, book, not laptop), someone using technology in a park, at the beach, or as they defend you from a horrific insect attack is pretty awesome. People demonize technology, especially when they see it outside, but it’s just a tool that can be used or abused like anything else. 

There’s a time and a place for it – but mostly a time for it. The place is less and less relevant to me. I use my laptop to communicate, create, and make my living. I try not to do that when it’s inappropriate in the same way I try not to belch in the face of people I just met or eat Nutella with my bare hands in front of my kids. I’m not perfect and I make mistakes, but when I do, I don’t blame the machine. I blame me.

So when it’s time to crack open my computer, why not do it in my backyard or in Carson Park? Personally, if I actually made the trip to Carson Park, I’d probably walk around a little and shoot down the giant tube slides in addition to surfing the net, but I’m not going to judge someone for doing otherwise. 

It’s a great park and this is just one more way to enjoy it. So, thanks for the signal, City of Eau Claire. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.