National Geographic : 2016 Oct
unplugging the selfie generation 39 Jarvis has been saying this for a couple of years, in different forums in the run-up to this year ’s Park Service centennial. “ There are times when it seems as if the national parks have never been more passé than in the age of the iPhone,” he warned in one speech. “ The national parks risk obsolescence in the eyes of an increasingly di- verse and distracted demographic.” Obsolescence? How could that be? Last year national park sites clocked 307 million visits—an all-time record. Fifty-seven locations set high- water marks for attendance. Oh, but don’t be deceived by the numbers, Jarvis advised during an interview in his office, a few blocks from the White House. Take a closer look at who’s going through the gates: people like the silver-haired Jarvis and, well ... me. It’s a risky thing, this gen- eralizing about generations. Did our kids fall out of love with America’s Best Idea? Or maybe they never fell in love to begin with. Anecdotally, I have noticed a passion deficit among Casey and his friends. And technology, as a companion, is a must. A large majority of millennials—71 per- cent—said they would be “very uncomfortable” on a one-week vacation without connectivity, according to a survey by Destination Analysts. For boomers, the figure was 33 percent. Looking for answers, we put together a father-son trip, a generational journey to the heart of one of the world’s most powerful places. My hope was that I wouldn’t have to proselytize, that the land it- self would work its magic. His hope was that he would “remain entertained after the thrill of my first Instagram photo has been captured,” he said, half in jest. I rolled my eyes. IN THIS ANNIVERSARY YEAR of the National Park Service, we have heard a lot about budgets and maintenance backlogs, about overcrowding and climate change. But the greatest concern of the keepers of our special places is the next gen- eration. The parks have a diversity problem— age and color. At a time when nearly one in four Americans is under the age of 18 and half the ba- bies born are racial or ethnic minorities, they say most park visitors are older and white. “If we were a business, we’d be out of busi- ness in the long term,” Jarvis said. He pointed On a backpacking trip to South Dakota with three friends, Andrew Notsch basks in the sun at Badlands National Park. The prehistoric creatures on his tattoos are reminiscent of remains found in the park’s rich fossil beds, such as a saber-toothed cat.