Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods

From the Blog

THE SIRENS OF TECHNOLOGY: Seven Ways Our Gadgets Drive Us Nuts

I love nature. I like high-tech. There, I’ve said it.

In 1982, I bought an IBM Displaywriter — a “word processor” as we called the first post-Selectric writing machines. The Displaywriter was the approximate size of a Chevy Vega and sounded like a garbage truck. As the years passed, I stayed on the leading edge of communications technology.

Now that I own three computers, a Kindle, an iPhone and an iPad, I just may have gone over the edge.

Understand, I recognize the benefits of technology, otherwise I wouldn’t be using the Internet or refrigerating my food. And the Internet has certainly been essential for building the children and nature movement.

But consider a few recent findings, reported here in the Twitter tradition of 140 characters, more or less:

• The Internet can be a real a downer. British psychologists have found a  link between excessive Internet use and depression, or at least a warning sign of depression.

• When we use GPS, we can lose ourselves. New research suggests overuse of GPS devices may reduce our ability to develop “mental maps,” possibly by changing brain structure.

• Can high-tech make us big babies? An Oxford University neuroscientist warns social networking technology may be “infantilizing the brain into the state of small children …”

• Speaking of babies...The medical journal Pediatrics reports children who watch fast-paced cartoons perform worse when asked to follow rules or delay gratification. Some technology developed to enhance cognitive abilities of infants or adults may slow learning.

• Lucy, I’m home. Lucy?  A UCLA study showed unrelenting electronic media use breaks down basic family communication, reducing traditional greetings to grunts.

• What were we talking about?  The info-blitzkrieg has spawned a new field called “interruption science” and a newly minted condition: continuous partial attention. Constant electronic intrusions leave interrupted workers feeling frustrated, pressured and stressed, and less creative.

• The more sophisticated our tablets, the fewer books we'll finish. One year ago, 46% of publishers considered iPads and similar tablets the ideal e-reading platform; that figure has fallen to 31%. People are realizing that a more powerful tablet “can fragment the reading experience, or stop it in its tracks.”

That last statement is by New York Times reporters Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel, who give a pass to the now old-fashioned black-and-white Kindle because it lacks the full menu of Internet distractions.

I can relate. Lately, I’ve been reading (or at least finishing) fewer books and enjoying what I read less. When traveling, e-books are great, but I miss that satisfying feeling of settling into a good book, the feel of it in the hand, the spacial reality of it. That pleasure has been displaced by a queasy feeling that, even as I read an e-book, I’m being lured by the sirens of e-mail, by that weather app that shows the next storm rolling in.

To be fair, a list of bad side effects, like the warning labels on the packaging of pharmaceuticals, do not tell the full story. The point isn’t that technology is bad, but that daily, monthly, yearly, lifelong electronic immersion, without a force to balance it, can drain our ability to pay attention, to think clearly, to be productive and creative.

What to do? Match screen time with stream time. Research suggests that the best antidote to the downside of electronic immersion will be an increase in the amount of natural information we receive. And let's go one step further: children and adults can develop “hybrid minds” by seeking the benefits of both virtual and natural reality.

___________________

Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of The Children and Nature Network and the author of "THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age," which includes a chapter on the "hybrid mind," and "LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." 

Photo: R.L.'s current desktop computer.

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Comments

I would propose a seven day sabatical from technology dedicated to time spent in nature and see how one feels.

Our age of digital high tech has brought many benefits.  But, as you point out there are downsides as well. 

We’ve all seen people who can’t seem to go for long without being tied to their smart phone or iGadget.  And lots of folks treat it as a status symbol.

We should keep in mind that technology is just a tool.  We should not become overly dependent on it. 

I like Steve’s idea of taking an occassional sabatical from our high tech.  If you can’t do it for a week, then try for a day once in a while.

Yes we certainly need to regain balance by having more time with mother nature on a regular basis.
my happiest memeories are growing up, playing in the woods, building dens,playing hide and seek,making daisy chains,feeling the sun, wind and rain on your face,getting dirty…I could go on and on….the thought that childrenare not experiencing nature these days is devastating.
“Mother” nature wants and needs to wrap her arms around us all,embrace us as we explore mother nature and stay connected as we grow and explore ourselves, our planet and our life journey.
Children need to hear birds sing and smell the flowers.
I understand we cannot leave our young children to explore nature on their own at times but there are many ways to create a situation where children can explore mother nature,be safe and still feel they have freedom.
It is up to the parents and gurdians to ensure that our children do not lose the magic and mystery or our mother natures embrace.

I’ve done a few things that have helped.
1. Kept a “dumb” phone. Texting is a hassle. No email.
2. Gotten off Facebook and other social media sites.
3. Started practicing a kind of sabbath - at least 24 hours without electronics.
4. Promised myself I’ll work and at least get something important done in the morning before checking email.

Ok less time on PC’s etc. So to keep mental well being get out there and discover your local ancient trees on a long walk…(you can if you like get inspiration at http://www.flickr.com search for thetreehunter to see what can be found. Rememeber there are two types of people…DO’ERS & EVALUATORS…become a DOER, get out there exercise/breathe/talk to folks and enjoy a proper life…

No doubt internet brought revolution and it seems that even survival is impossible witohout computer but there should be some balance and it is the responsibility of parnets, do not buy their childeren computer at early age until and unless it is necessary and later also they should hold check on them otherwise free use of computer and internet will destroy their physical as well as mental abilities as every one must have heard ‘access of everything is bad’.

I agree with Erica’s comments, the internet really brought on this evolution.  And I recently saw this article talking about the growth of smartphones: http://thenextweb.com/apple/2013/01/08/att-sold-a-record-10m-smartphones-in-q4-2012-helped-by-best-ever-sales-of-android-and-apple-devices/

It really is crazy to see how dependent we are becoming to our electronic devices.  We recently talked about this in our Purdue class: https://www.purdueonlineengineering.com/computer-science/

We challenged ourselves to not use an electronic device for two days, and it was tough to do.  I did a lot of reading!

It is interesting you refer to psychologist linking excessive internet use to depression. I would have thought that the internet is an outlet for depressed people. Not only does it give them something to do if they suffer from boredom, but if they are social outcasts, it also gives them a place to escape to and create their own social reality.

The key is definitely balance, as it is with so many things. A chocolate bar is not an inherently unhealthy thing, but over-consumption of chocolate to the exclusion of a wide array of foods is. A few hours spent sitting on the couch watching a film or TV once in a while is not a lazy lifestyle; hours a day to the exclusion of movement, social engagement, and other activities is.

I’m a deeply-connected technologist who also happens to be a Master Naturalist and avid outdoors enthusiast. I lead hikes for the public with an iPad in my hand as a teaching tool (using interpretive materials I developed). I do land management projects with a thumb on the GPS for recording significant features of my projects. I photograph and blog - sometimes excessively - my gardening and other outdoor activities. Much of it actually helps me learn new plant species… sometimes on the spot as opposed to hours or days later when I can get back to my numerous “field” guides. (I have too many to carry with me continuously).

And through it all, I never find myself pining for simpler days without electronics. In most cases, my gadgets enhance the experiences.

agree with your article, thanks for sharing

How much of the natural world do we miss even when outside when our heads our pointed down out our iphones?

great article, i think gadgets is too important in 2014 gadgets

Unfortunately, human nature has not kept pace with technological developments.

An interesting thing about reading books.
When I read a book, I feel that I have read a real book. When I read some e-book I feel that I have read just some text.
You know what I mean smile

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