Monday, 17 September 2012

Nature-Deficit Disorder

“The future will belong to the nature-smart....those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

For most people in their 50s and 60s, memories of childhood are wrapped up with nature: visits to farms owned by friends or relatives; days spent poking around the creeks or fields that intersected the suburbs; a tree house assembled by an unsupervised crew of 10-year-olds in nearby bush, mostly using materials pinched from home.

In just one generation, Louv argues, this easy access to nature has largely disappeared. This matters in all sorts of ways. Louv cites the recent leap in the incidence of short-sightedness. According to a 2008 Australian study, 12-year-olds with the lowest levels of outdoor activity were two to three times more likely to develop myopia. The reason: their eyes have not been exercised by focusing on a distant horizon.

There's something unbelievably sad about a childhood without far horizons: not only the missing eye exercise, but the missing daydreaming and hike planning, the urge to both wander and wonder that comes with the sight of a distant horizon.

According to Louv, time in nature also reduces anxiety by giving us perspective on our problems.

I remember childhood conflicts, with either parents or friends, and how I would take off from home and go walking in the bush and climb a tree so I could look out. Suddenly I was calmer and no longer felt caught in the centre of a storm.

Instead of this time in nature, many people - both young and old - now spend time with social media. Social media, of course, has many good points, especially the way it allows us to form communities outside the limitations of what's on offer in our own neighbourhood, office or school.

It strikes me, though, that social media also involves experiences that are exactly the opposite to what I found in nature.

If the bush makes you seem a small part of a big world, social media makes you feel like a big part of a small world. If nature dissolves ego, social media pumps it up.

No wonder so many of us are anxious.

Facebook and Twitter create a sense that we're at the centre of a Universe of our own creation - we're the planet around which everything swirls: our friends, our tastes, our hobbies.

They don't call them iPads and iPhones for nothing.

Even the name Facebook suggests a mirror into which we gaze at our own reflection. There can be power in that, I guess; the self-esteem of "likes" and "retweets", friendship requests and extra "followers". Yet, as every teenager knows, ego always seems to travel hand-in-hand with self-doubt, and time spent staring appreciatively into the mirror almost always turns sour.

So remember the antidote and the cure lies just an hour or two north, or south, or east, or west of where you are sitting right now.

It waits. The sky so bright it hurts your eyes. The eucalypt leaves glinting like silver.

These two photos below were taken on 1st September 2012 when a girlfriend and myself spent 4 hours wandering through Piles Creek reserve in the Brisbane Water National Park (about an hours drive north of Sydney).


HappyOrganist said...

That sounds like fun - hiking with a friend (it reminds me of my childhood). Hope it wasn't hot outside ;)

Christine said...

4 hours is a long hike! I so agree about the comfort of nature, I do problem solve when I walk, although some people might find that stressful in itself!

And nice to hear from you Peggy!

Mike Smith said...

Great to read your wise words again, my friend. It's been far too long!

McMGrad89 said...

It is sad that I have to make specific plans for my children to experience the great outdoors but living where I live, I am hesitant to just let them go exploring on their own. I wish I could. Fortunately, we are within driving distance with many beautiful outdoor areas so we do get out but it does take a conscious effort.

Lilly said...

She's back! And about time too. Wonderful post Peggy. Times were different in many ways when we were young as we could just disappear for hours on end with our friends and play outside. Or I remember every weekend we would go somewhere as a family and climb hills and picnic outdoors. We were only allowed to watch TV for 30 minutes a day and we were always being hunted to go outside and play. For some reason we don't let kids do that anymore for fear something will happen to them. It also seems that if kids are outdoors they are playing organised sports. The sense of adventure is not there. Perhaps kids in the country are different I am not sure. I agree social media could be creating a whole lot of narcissists. As well as short sighted people. I have become short sighted as well. I blog but try as I might I cannot get into Twitter, Facebook and the rest. Given all the focus on Bullies online at the moment this would be a very publishable post in the broader media. Hope things are well with you as always.

Anonymous said...

Great post - I hope you do more. It's good to wander - and live in the real world not inside our computers! I think it was one of the reasons I stopped twittering. Because I realised it was the ultimate expression of ego. Everyone tweeting and no one listening to each other. Ego loves it!

miruspeg said...

Jen - Hope you and your family will be able to go hiking soon, it is a wonderful experience.
It wasn't hot, as Spring has just started in Sydney and we are having beautiful warm weather.

Christine - Thanks for the welcome back to blogging. The 4 hour walk was quite tiring but the beauty of the bush was definitely worth a few aches and pain the next day.

Mike - My "old" mate, thanks for stopping by and leaving one of your lovely comments, you are a treasure. ♥

Annemarie - Your children are very fortunate to have a mother who realises how important it is to experience the great outdoors. When they are older hopefully they will travel wide and far and appreciate the beauty of nature.

Lilly - I feel our generation is one of the luckiest by a long shot. We have amazing childhood experiences to reminisce and appreciate what the world was like before social media took a hold.
Hence we now have the best of both worlds and can tap into either one with very little effort.
Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed comment, you are a gem!

Stoneweaver - Ahhh yes a dirty word! We all need an ego to a certain degree, we just need to know how to control it. We have to learn how to balance between our ego and our feelings.....often easier said than done.
Thanks for stopping by, you know I love reading your and my ego!!

Chapter Forty said...

Great post, hitting the nail on the head my friend.

Love the ipad iphone observation its so true

miruspeg said...

Thanks a bunch CF! Now that Spring has arrived I am looking forward to spending more time in the garden planting some herbs and vegetables and generally just appreciating the beauty of the outdoors.
I wonder if I will be able to leave my iPhone at home when I journey outside??

Roban said...

Peggy, this is all so true. I, too, remember my childhoods days spent playing in the woods and fields near my home. Behind my house now is a virtual playground for make-believe where trees tower overhead and rocks invite you to climb up and explore the world. Sadly, the only time Hannah played and walked in those woods was when I took her along with me.

I had never thought about the "i" in iPad and iPhone, but I think you've got it. It does make it seem that we're the center of things. It just takes a few minutes in nature to realize that we're not!

So glad to hear from you. You always see things so clearly.


miruspeg said...

Hey Roban!
The world is a different place now, for one thing the world population has grown from 3 billion in 1960 to 7 billion in 2012. More than doubled in 50 years...scary eh!
It's good to hear you have a nature playground near your house to take kids to explore, certainly better than concrete and clay.

And yes it only takes a few minutes in nature to realise there is a much bigger picture to focus on than ourselves and our little world on our machines.

bill lisleman said...

Many good points in your post. The myopia idea seems far fetched but I certainly agree that people need to get out into nature. You always hit on another problem in my mind - too much structured time. Kids need to exercise and develop their imagination.

miruspeg said...

Hey Bill thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.
There is much debate about structured time verses free time for kids.
Some say one is not better than the other, they are complimentary, and each provides important aspects for a child’s needs. It is all about balancing the two forms of play.
But I believe being involved in too many structured activities can cause huge amounts of stress for kids. They need time to hang out with their friends, use their imaginations, read books, and develop hobbies.

Good and plenty said...

Nature deficit disorder is the perfect phrase. Nature-deficit, silence deficit...the joys of being outside, the joys of solitude, of quite, of being free to roam and play. So many of the younguns don't knwo what they've missed but some do. I do believe there will be a balancing back and those of us who are connected to young people at all must expose them even if they kick and scream.

So nice that you are back. Your readers have missed you.

miruspeg said...

Hello Candelaria
I truly hope there is a balancing back and will be doing my up-most to encourage the young people I am connected with, to discover the beauty of nature.
Thanks for stopping by my friend.