We went away, spending time on a llama farm in West Virginia. The girls had seventy acres of grass, ponds, and streams to explore and they went about it with gusto. There was a lot of rolling around, shrieking, mud stains, and exhaustion. And when I came back I promptly fell ill. With the kind of coughing that lasts all night long and was so intense it produced dry heaves. For two weeks. So apologies - there has been no blog writing or reading.
Before our trip I got the book Last Child in the Woods on my Kindle. I've been interested in reading this book for awhile now, but hadn't bothered to buy it, even though it was on my list of books to get. When two bloggers (Jaime and I can't remember the other one) mentioned it in one week though, I felt it was calling to me.
This book really highlighted for me some of the issues I feel are coming out of encroaching technology, as well as pinpointed others that I hadn't thought of as being related. I mean, like any old person (in today's world, that's about 28 or so, right?) I just assumed young people thought they were information messiahs because they were still at the age where they apparently know everything, despite having experienced...nothing. Louv, though, points out that these children, young adults, and yes, even some of us old people, feel like they know everything because they have access to information, usually by computer. But they don't have experience. He goes on to talk about how people are finding it hard to even teach young people these days because they have not actually done anything hands on; they don't understand the mechanics of simple things because they haven't ever touched them, "These young people are smart, they grew up with computers, they were supposed to be superior - but now we know that something's missing." Ouch. Its a pretty damning assessment of both technology and young people.
I was enthralled and horrified by this book at the same time. It provided answers to some thoughts I had been having; it also affirmed what I already knew, regular contact with nature does more for any one person and humanity as a whole than anything made by Apple. Here is a selection of my favourite quotes:
The problem with computers isn't computers - they're just tools; the problem is that over-dependence on them displaces other sources of education, from the arts to nature. As we pour money and attention into educational electronics, we allow less fashionable but more effective tools to atrophy."
"What I see in American today is an almost religious zeal for the technological approach to every facet of life, " says Daniel Yankelovich, the veteran public opinion analyst. This faith, he says, transcends mere love for new machines. It's a value system, a way of thinking, and it can become delusional."
...[A]s human beings we need direct, natural experiences; we require fully activated senses in order to feel fully alive. Twenty-first-century Western culture accepts the view that because of omnipresent technology we are awash in data. But in this information age, vital information is missing. Nature is about smelling, hearing, tasting, seeing..."
Not surprisingly, as the young grow up in a world of narrow yet overwhelming sensory input, many of them develop a wired, know-it-all state of mind. That which cannot be Googled does not count.
I've been seeing "delusional" thinking over technology lately. People discussing how nothing could ever end or stop the internet, or Twitter, or whatever their personal pet tech happens to be. Really? Electrically supported technology is obviously not independent. Ever heard of rolling black outs? Solar flares? Nuclear meltdowns? Any number of things could stop this kind of technology in its tracks. It seems foolhardy to have the attitude that it is invincible. Even more so to rely upon it so indiscriminately and emotionally. It is a tool that is to be used to its fullest, but can still be lost or broken one day.
There are many other issues Louv discusses, but it all goes in one direction, less screen/tech time, more nature. I found myself absolutely agreeing with the almost spiritual way Louv discusses nature, but then again, I belong to what he calls the last generation to have grown up with nature. It's been even more clear to me that I belong to these remnants of a childhood outside now that I have kids. This winter, with its abundance of snow, who could resist sledding on the steep slope across the street from us? Apparently every child in the neighborhood but mine. She was out there everyday. I would look in awe at that bare hill, wondering where the children were. What should have been, in the girls' and my mind, the most awesome thing to happen to kids all winter, was clearly less exciting than whatever was going on inside the house.
When I was very young, we lived in public housing apartments built in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia. The apartments circled a playground, which I was allowed to play on unaccompanied because my mother could watch me from our apartment. Behind the apartments were endless cornfields, which I was not allowed to go into, but...ahem, often did. They were forbidden to us, so it was with breathless and retching excitement that we would crash through them and back, experiencing fear and delight at the same time. Later we moved to the city, and my friends and I would navigate the maze of alleys behind our home. Finally, my mom got her garden; we had an acre in the suburbs, and five more belonging to a neighbor to explore. With no television, video games, or computers (I didn't have a computer until college), we were outdoors almost all the time. As I grew older and more attached to electronics, I would often put my cd player up to my open window and then go and stretch out on the driveway so that I could both listen to music and be outside. Even at 19, if it snowed, you better believe I was out there on a makeshift sled. And my mom has the enormous metal mixing bowl dented by my bum to prove it. Indoors was where you were when you had to be.
I've been thinking for months about disconnecting/unplugging. Not from a solely child/nature oriented direction, but also from an environmental point of view, and because I realize that I too, am allowing the pace of my life and day be ruled by these machines. A few things have happened recently that have coalesced these thoughts into a decision: We need less of this. We need most of the week to be a digital sabbatical. Using the computer often makes me feel bad in general; the barrage of information, even if it is utter tripe that I reject, still takes energy from me. I'm not nearly as selective as I should be. It's getting warmer, we need to be outside, singley, together, and as a whole family. And lastly, Japan. An environmental blog I follow even though it is way over my head because the dude is a scientist and I'm not, made a big impression on me. Yes, I've been endeavoring to "go lightly" for years now, but for some reason this post really brought home to me where (mostly) all my things are plugged into. A nuclear power plant. And so, I'm not just talking about limiting my tech time, but also greatly reducing our electricity usage.
I don't really know what this is going to look like. I do know that I'm pretty committed to unplugging everything (except the fridge, because I can't figure that out logistically at the moment) until it needs to be used. On restricting other things such as Netflix and computer time; that has to be worked out. And I'm going to take my monkeys outside, even though the streams in Philly smell like the sewer.
How do you all feel about nature vs. technology? Does your life have a balance of both or are you biased in one direction?