I hadn't walked in the woods behind my high school for years. I had almost forgotten that we had such a terrific network of hiking trails and bike paths there. Now I was getting ready to go on a short hike in search of hidden treasure with a small team consisting of my mom, my brother in law and a friend. I took a minute or two to calibrate the small, handheld GPS unit I carried with me, and we were off.
We walked for about 45 minutes, through a small hiking trail to a larger dirt road and then to a narrow foot path. As we drew closer to our objective, we walked off-trail for a bit, through the sand and pine needles under the canopy of trees. My GPS unit stopped measuring the distance to our objective in fractions of a mile and started measuring it in feet.
"It's about 385 feet up and to the left," I told my treasure hunting party as we bushwhacked through a thicket.
Within a few minutes, we were all spread out, searching the carpet of pine needles. A smile came over my face when I spotted an abandoned fox den at the base of a fallen tree. I reached inside and pulled out a small Tupperware container.
"Found it!" I yelled to the rest of the party. They all came rushing over.
Inside the container were a bunch of small trinkets - a Matchbox car, a key ring, a few assorted Star Wars toys, and a few other little things. We took a McDonald's gift certificate for ourselves and left a small Mag-Lite flashlight in its place for the next treasure hunter to find. After writing a quick note in a small notebook inside the cache, we sealed the Tupperware container up and placed it back in its hiding place. We then hiked back to the parking lot with big smiles on our faces, having found our first cache of hidden treasure.
The sport is called Geocaching, and it combines technology and nature in an interesting way. People hide small caches of trinkets in interesting spots all over the world. Using a GPS unit, they find the cache's exact coordinates and upload them to the Geocaching.com website at pages like these. People who own handheld GPS units (and a sturdy pair of hiking boots) can search the website for caches near them and go on little treasure hunts, using their GPS units to guide them. As they find caches, they report their finds back to the website. Caches are hidden all over the world. Stop by the site and search by ZIP code - I'll bet you have several within a few miles of your home.
I'm now thoroughly addicted to this sport after trying it only once. The next day, I went geocaching again with my mom and another friend. We found two more caches that day and got to spend some time hiking and enjoying nature.
One cache we located was on New York State-owned land near the site of the first transatlantic radio transmission. After finding the cache, my friend Dan and I walked around the site, looking at the remnants of what was once the most powerful radio transmission facility in the world. As I stared at the concrete base of what was once a 410-foot radio tower, I thought about how far media had come since that tower had broadcasted its groundbreaking message in 1921.
Geocaching can't exist as a sport without media. Without the Internet, there would be no suitable two-way medium that could let people share information on caches, not only in a one-to-many way, but also in a many-to-one fashion. Without the Global Positioning System that lets us know where we are in the world, we wouldn't be able to easily find where the caches are hidden, anyway.
I'm really impressed by the inventiveness of the sport of geocaching and how it combines new media with old pastimes. It's encouraging to see that we're still finding new applications for media and technology. And sometimes people come up with new applications of technology and communication that are not just for commercial use. Sometimes they're simply for fun and enjoyment.