By Asha Kreiling
Since when are computer and television screens more exciting than the outdoors? When did iPads and video games replace fort building and tree climbing? Are we, especially younger generations, losing touch with the natural world as technology advances?
It seems we are spending more time working, communicating and socializing behind some sort of screen than experiencing “real life.” In many ways, technology makes life more efficient and interesting, but we also develop dependencies and attachments to our devices that keep us from spending time outdoors and appreciating the natural world.
Like many people nowadays, I spend the bulk of my day working on my laptop — checking my inbox, reading online articles, and trying to organize my life in a digital calendar. Spending quality time outdoors seems to occur only when I make special plans to do so. Even when I get that chance, I am often thinking about when I can get back to my computer to continue working and responding to emails.
But, I think that’s just a result of the modern hustle that leaves little time for outdoor play. What’s more disturbing to me is that children are increasingly more interested in playing video games and watching their favorite cartoons than playing outside. Children of younger and younger ages have Facebook and Twitter accounts so they can post comments and goofy photos of themselves and their friends. School and public computer labs are often more packed with kids than the outdoor playgrounds and ball courts. Old childhood pastimes like pick-up baseball games and building tree houses seem to have disappeared in favor of the cyber world.
And it’s not even just playtime. Kids have their DVD players embedded in car seats, and while parents grocery shop, toddlers play with iPhones and iPads as if to occupy their minds with something other than their actual surroundings. Apparently, touch screens and computer monitors make great babysitters.
More and more classrooms are implementing the use of laptops and touch screen tablets as a method of teaching. It’s innovative and impressive, but at the same time, it’s a little bizarre — but maybe I’m just old-fashioned. Electronics can be great tools in the classroom, but I fear they promote an increasingly electronics-dependent generation that is even more obsessed with smartphones and the internet than we are.
Playing outside as children and adults promotes psychological and physical well-being that no gadget can. Being in nature allows us to be more creative and to use more senses than just our fingertips or our strained eyes. I am not suggesting we all need to start playing with twigs and tin cans, but we need to set boundaries so that screen time doesn’t reduce our understanding, appreciation and connection to nature. There are mountains to climb, creatures to be discovered and adventures to be had.