September 14, 2017 by John Crapper
Technology is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing right now if it weren’t for its wonders. But I just got back from taking an hour-long walk.
A recent study from Australia found that of the 1975 children surveyed, 37% of children spent less than half an hour a day playing outdoors after school, and 43% spent more than 2 hours a day on screen time (i.e. watching TV, videos or playing computer games).
The story is similar from most urban places round the world. In the US, between 1997 to 2003, studies have documented a 50% decline in time that 9-12 year olds are spending outdoors. Issues of safety, both working parents, lack of parks and natural surroundings in our bleak urban landscape and the lure of the TV and computer are important reasons why children are spending more time indoors.
Richard Louv, in his latest book, The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, details the threat of technology overload and his personal struggle with nature-deficit disorder. He coined the term not as a medical diagnosis but as a way to describe the way our modern world is isolating and alienating us from the natural world.
Technology improves our lives in many ways. It’s hard to imagine a world without our modern day means of communication such as the internet and mobile phones. Information technology isn’t bad but its overuse and addictive use can be unhealthy.
As Richard Louv states:
“As children and adults spend less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically. Studies indicate that time spent in nature can stimulate intelligence and creativity, and can be powerful therapy for the toxic stress in our lives, and as prevention for such maladies as obesity, myopia, and depression. It has huge implications for the ability to self-regulate and for attention-deficit disorder.”
Daily electronic immersion, without balance can affect our ability to pay attention and think clearly. We surf the net and receive constant short messages from the pages we browse. We text message in short abbreviated code. Twitter restricts us to 144 characters. This constant short messaging both into and out of our psychic affects our ability to think clearly and concentrate. Richard Louv calls it “interruption science” which is a condition of continuous partial attention. But it is possible to live fully in both the digital and physical world. As Louv says:
“We should maximize our use of technology to process intellectual data, while also maximizing the use of our senses in the physical world, which in turn will stimulate all of our senses and accelerate our ability to learn, to feel, to creatively connect the dots. As we become aware of the advantages of meaningful contact with nature, we’ll choose to regularly leave the electronic nest to engage with the natural world. The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need.”
Again from Richard Louv:
” The idea of an “ecological unconscious” now hovers above the crossroads of science, philosophy and theology—the notion that all of nature is connected in ways that we do not fully understand. I was surprised that so many religious figures, on the right and the left, were supportive of Last Child. I came to the conclusion that they intuitively understand that all spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder. Nature is our most immediate, shared window into wonder.”
I would like to argue that nature deficit disorder can be exacerbated not only from us being isolated from nature by our electronic devices but also from the way in which we interact with nature while out in it. Take for example when doing yard work. Rather than reach for a rake to gather the leaves in our yard we are now reaching for the leaf blower and putting on the ear muffs. No longer are we listening to the cadence of the rake rustling through the leaves but trying to protect our ears from the deafening sound of the engine used to generate the gale force winds necessary to blow the leaves into a pile.
How can we expect to be good custodians of our Earth if we increasingly conspire to isolate ourselves from it? I previously touched on this subject in The Noise in Our Lives.