In the age of accessible and high-use technology, Boy Scouts of America is a way for some members to unplug.
For Troop 76, campouts are usually more traditional, with technology used sparingly for music or keeping in contact with family.
“We rough it,” Scout Gavin Knowles, 16, said. “We don’t necessarily use technology that much. We might play some music or something.”
While adults tend to use GPS during campouts, the scouts prefer using maps and compasses, Scout Orion Forster, 17, said.
“We prefer to use a map and compass because we have merit badges associated with using a map and compass so that especially helps when we have guys on our troop who don’t have that badge, so that way they can navigate and get the requirements for that badge,” Forster said.
There isn’t a specific “no cellphone” policy on campouts, but scouts are expected to not be rude with phone use, like using phones while a merit badge lesson is being taught, Forster said.
Troop 76 Scout Master Tommy Townsend said scouts don’t spend much time on technology and focus on leadership, outdoor ethics and personal skills.
“We’re still teaching basic outdoor skills, leadership skills, and none of those require technology,” Townsend said.
Technology in BSA is mainly used for communication and administrative purposes. To communicate with parents and scouts, troop leaders can use applications like GroupMe, Longhorn Council Executive Board member and Troop 75 Chairman John Park said. Troop records and the advancement of each scout is kept online and updated there.
Park said because of modern-day technology scouts can use their cell phones to pull up GPS and maps, and take pictures of plants or animals on campouts to identify them for merit badges.
“Now they can actually take a picture and show their counselor what they’ve seen and talk about it,” Park said. “They have an instant camera that helps them with some of the plant identifications. They’re out there and they’re looking at plants, they can actually Google plants to confirm that what they’ve found is accurate.”
Troop leaders have access to their training through the internet and YouTube, preventing them from having to drive far for classes, Park said.
“If you wanted to be trained on certain things, you had to get in your car and drive anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours to go get that special training,” Park said. “Now, a lot of it is online.”
Some merit badges are technology-focused, such as computer design, computer science and programming.
Knowles said he thinks BSA may incorporate more technology with tradition.
“The old-style camping, traditional ways are very appealing to some people to get their kids into, to teach them those skills,” Knowles said. “But, school, high school especially, the electives you take can set you up for a career. I’m not trying to predict the future, but I think scouting will lean toward that more.”
In years past, BSA would compete with band and sports for kids’ time. Now, the organization has to also compete against kids who play games on their phones and tablets, Park said.
“That just wasn’t around during my day,” Park said, who used to be a scout in his younger years.
“That’s a new challenge that we have to get the kids to enjoy the outdoors and nature, and get away from those things. The kids are still kids, so it’s just a matter of getting them interested in the programs.”
Getting the kids engaged is the key to overcoming this challenge, Park said.
“We gotta get them out there,” Park said. “Once we get them out and get them involved, they might get excited, and then we might have a chance to hook them. Again, it’s getting them to put down their phones and come out and do an event with us and come to a meeting, and once they do that and see the fun and fellowship, then we have a chance.”
Forster, who said he is mostly “glued to [his] phone,” said being in BSA can serve as a relaxing disconnect from technology.
“I can go on a campout and put my phone down, and I can just enjoy what’s natural,” Forster said.
With the advent of allowing phone use in school, being able to disconnect is helpful for scouts, Scout Maximilyan Tulin, 15, said.
“I feel like it keeps us sort of grounded to the Earth and not just being on our phone or social media 24/7,” Tulin said.
Despite changes in technology, BSA’s core values remain the same, Park said. BSA teaches kids respect and offers them friendship and fellowship.
“We’re one of the few organizations still left that we still say prayers, we still do the Pledge of Allegiance,” Park said. “Those things are going away in a lot of other schools, everywhere else. We’re still trying to teach that and instill values in the youth today.”
Knowles talked about some of the experiences he has had in BSA and said he enjoys the fellowship and being outdoors.
“While we do get to disconnect, it’s a great time to hang out with friends, unrelated from school, get to catch up,” Knowles said. “We get to have good experiences, get away from the home really. I’m not trying to say I don’t enjoy home, that’s not it at all, but I really do enjoy just getting to go outdoors and get a break.”