This post on geocaching has generated some nice comments, so I thought I’d open up a related entry for further discussion.
Up until quite recently, at least around Ottawa, there was a lot of “space”… NCC land, Crown land, city parks, etc. belonging to land owners who were sympathetic to geocaching. This allowed Ottawa geocachers to have a plethora of caches with only a short drive/bus/cycle/walk to get to them.
As geocaching has grown, so has cache density. An influx of new people combined with all the “good” spots being already occupied, has created a lot of hides that would probably not have been even thought of 3 years ago… for example: on a light pole on a Transitway bridge, or in shopping mall parking lots under observation of security cameras and lights.
So even withstanding the containers, the geocaching community is going to have to spend time educating people… getting information out there to new cachers that is more detailed than what is available at http://www.geocaching.com, and getting information out to the public at large.
The public perception of geocaching marches to the beat of the whiniest, crankiest, bitchiest non-participant, because that’s the person who calls the police and complains to the various levels of government. That’s the squeaky wheel that will be greased. It’s not a matter of how silly we geocachers think that person is.
Having had to deal with some government agencies about geocaching, there is one public perception that is most important to remove… This is a (slightly paraphrased, but almost exact) quote from someone at Parks Canada: “So this is really just a bunch of nerds with high-tech toys, right?” It wasn’t said as a giggle-giggle-wink-wink thing… the speaker was DISMISSING geocaching because we’re a bunch of nerds and therefore we shouldn’t matter. After all, if we get our panties in a bunch we’ll write a nasty letter to the editor… oooo. As a long-time computer enthusiast, I can assure you that the label of “nerd” guarantees that “non-nerds” (whatever they are) will just dismiss you out of hand. You’re not important.
Then add in the idiocy of “bombs”. I started in the military as an engineer. I’ve worked with explosives, I’ve blown stuff up. I work in security now. I know what bombs look like, and I know how to deal with them. I have friends who have worked in war-torn hellholes who have seen explosive devices…
… and I could put everyone I know who’s seen an explosive in this little cubicle with me.
The public sees anything camouflaged as scary – whether it’s a soldier, a hunter, or a taped tupperware. Strangely they don’t mind sending their kids to school or camp in camo clothing (I’ll get back to this**). In any case, if it’s camo and looks “home-made”, it’s a pipe-bomb to the average yahoo, not that anyone who hasn’t lived in Belfast or Tel Aviv has ever seen a pipe-bomb. The brighter bulbs call the police, the dimmer bulbs take the thing home and call the police. The police, when called, MUST do something. The police work on what amounts to a script, just like a military response team. They’ve trained for it – it’s a drill. There’s no point in pouting about it or blaming the police.
Gordon made an interesting observation as well:
Microcaches and nanocaches can still cause the police to be called, either because someone sees the container and still thinks it’s suspicious or because of the suspicious behaviour of the people looking for it. And, bomb squads have been known to blow up micros (and the small trees they were attached to).
That’s really the crux of the matter. Perhaps it’s time for all geocaching participants to evaluate which is more important: Putting a cache everywhere a cache can be put, or keeping geocaching around for future participants.
Thus, the short summary is that I think the days of hiding containers of any size in urban areas are numbered. I also think that geocachers have to get way from cuddly “guidelines” and move more toward “rules” and “enforcement” or there will be an increasing number of these incidents which will culminate in severe restrictions or banning of geocaching in various jurisdictions. After all, we’re just a bunch of nerds, so a ban doesn’t really affect anyone, right?
Geocachers have to self-police… and I know that sounds ominous. Self-policing activities tend to attract control-Nazis, but I think geocaching is an activity with enough diversity among the participants to avoid those kinds of issues for a very long time. The other part of self-policing is the literal policing of one’s self. Before placing a cache, every geocacher should be thinking “Do I really need to put one here?”; “Could a random person misinterpret this hide as something nefarious?”; “Is this a safe area to which to attract visitors?”; and the very important “Have I found enough caches to make a reasoned decision on what constitutes a decent hide?”
Will this sort of thinking lead to a reduction in the overall number of geocaches? Perhaps… but maybe that’s a good thing. In the comments to the previous post, Geocaching Online said:
This is a fun game with all kinds of benefits besides just cache acquisition like health, hiking, nature appreciation and quality family time. It would be a shame to lose this.
and he’s absolutely right.
** When your child goes missing, especially if the child goes missing near the woods, I assure you that everyone who might have to search for your child will appreciate it greatly if the child is NOT wearing camouflage. You would think this goes without saying, but camo is really popular on kids, it seems. I love seeing someone at a campsite with their 5-year-old in camo. In 60 seconds, that kid could be so gone… run off into the woods and CAMOUFLAGED against observation (ouch!) Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent. (back to the main text)