Most of my best childhood memories are related to nature.
The need to be outdoors is very strong in me, thanks to my father, who took me on lots of nature trips as a kid. My father was in touch with the earth and knew that being in nature was as important as breathing. Today I am instilling that same sense of the deep, healing connection that we all have to the natural world in my son.
I have to admit that when I first came across the term “nature-deficit disorder,” in Richard Louv’s The Last Child in the Woods, I was alarmed. Louv has built his career on the premise that children are becoming disconnected with nature and more connected to technology. This trend is not unique to children, however, as adults with nature-deficit disorder are the focus of Louv’s follow-up book, The Nature Principle.
“But what does this have to do with me?”
I found myself asking, as I took on the task of writing about my connection and my son’s budding connection to nature. During a trip through the Southwest, I thought it over.
The first time I made this trip was in 1994. Though it sounds shocking now, I didn’t have a cell phone or G.P.S. to rely on then. Instead, I used maps and had to notice natural signposts along the way, so as not to get lost. The significance of this is that I didn’t see my car as a blip on a digital screen, following a course of limited scale. I had to navigate the four directions and get a sense of timing from distances. In other words, I had to pay attention to nature and, as I hadn’t yet developed a nature-deficiency, I found this to be of great interest.
Now, with my cell phone and G.P.S. in tow, I realize that the world is different. And so am I.
Even though I don’t tend to use my cell phone when driving, hands-free means that I can use it on speaker if I want to. And so I did. Also, there were email messages and texting when we stopped for the restroom, snacks and gas. For the first couple hundred miles this all seemed very important. But, as I relaxed into our trip, I realized that my head was full and I needed to empty it out like the vast expanse in front of me. So nature, even out the window, could seep in.
Driving always gets me thinking, and there were moments of complete bliss between my eight-year-old son and me. While the radio may have been tuned to his favorite R&B and pop songs more than I liked, I still reflected by switching the speakers on in the rear. As I did, I began to wonder what the real value of technology is for me and why it is being blamed for nature-deficit disorder.
Having worked extensively in tech, I think its benefits are great. I don’t really need a GPS, but it was nice to have for locating hotels, stores and sites effortlessly; this saved a lot of time and added to my enjoyment. I don’t really need a cell phone either, but it was nice to be in contact with friends and family via text, email or voice, and it was nice to be able to run a web search when necessary.
I notice that with technology, the boundaries between what we intend to do and what we end up doing at home and at work get blurred. I wondered if we are too distracted by all of this technology to pay much attention to nature anymore or if it is just not a priority. I guessed both.
When computers came into vogue, it was argued that they were more interactive and we would make them work for us. The result so far is a media blur, with an endless array of messages coming to us from a multitude of sources and a lot less time to focus on what we love.
I am proud to say, I have intentionally restricted my son’s access to media to a limited amount on the weekend. This a great gift to him: to be able to go out into nature, play, camp, hike and think for himself. And while he might love to have his own computer, a D.S., a Wii, and an Xbox, he can often be found engaged in creative play all his own. This will protect him later on from being bombarded by all of the media, waiting in the wings to thoroughly distract him when he becomes his own man.
Elizabeth Daniels is Associate Editor at Common Ground Magazine.