Words we’ve been hearing in the news lately are being touted as good academic medicine by some schools around the U.S. One is resilience—the ability to face adversity with confidence and gritted teeth. Then there’s grit itself—the single-minded stick-to-it-tiveness that welcomes mistakes for their teaching potential.
Now comes the even broader term, durable. Like the slogan, “Built to Last,” durable means to be the best human being you can be, capitalizing on your own unique powers and drawing strength from the natural world around you.
In The Durable Human Manifesto, I applaud these words from Richard Louv’s best-seller, Last Child in the Woods: “One might argue that the internet has replaced the woods, in terms of inventive space, but no electronic environment stimulates all the senses.”Indeed, the essence of being durable is to appreciate that our senses are what give humans our edge over machines. We can see, hear, taste, smell and have the magical sense of touch. But even when we may lack one or more of those Famous Five, we have many other human-only attributes including creativity, intuition, compassion, and—especially obvious in children—the sweet sense of wonder.
But these days, our awesome human abilities are getting swamped. If we sit too long at a keyboard, for instance, our highly-evolved muscles atrophy from lack of use. The same can happen to our minds. As I cite in my upcoming book, Cover Your Assets, Chinese researchers are studying a condition they call “Internet Addiction Disorder” which causes “academic failure and reduced work performance” plus significant changes in the structure of the brain. Turns out that students who spend more than 10 hours online per day have less gray matter—the thinking stuff—than students who spend two hours or less on digital media. The researchers conclude: “Structural abnormalities in the internal capsule [of the brain] could consequently interfere with the cognitive function and impair executive and memory functions.”
This could explain the tragic consequences for a 15-year-old South Korean who doctors determined has “digital dementia.” For a full decade after he turned five, the boy “intensively” watched TV, played video games and used the web. His memory has now deteriorated to the point he can’t remember the 6-digit code to get into his house.
So it may be that the ability to be a durable human in a world of tireless devices boils down to opportunity cost. If we don’t pay enough attention, the time we spend on technology can gobble up the hours available for everything else, including mind- (and body-) wandering, from which new ideas spring.
That’s why kids need unfettered time to explore. As I write in The Manifesto,“Early childhood is the only time in life when a person is completely free to discover his or her native ‘gifts.’ I’m not saying that gifts of tablets and apps are not amazing, but their time will come. In the meantime, when toddlers range around, freely using all of their senses to examine, taste and play with whatever they choose, they are making rich and lifelong neural connections.” If they do that before diving deeply into tech, they’ll learn first about their own operating systems and what makes themselves tick.
Older kids need down time, too. Although they may have less time to play, the simple act of getting themselves to school can benefit their bodies and minds and connect them with the soul-sustaining rhythms of nature. “It is really interesting that the exercise you get from transporting yourself to school reflects on your ability to concentrate for about four hours into the school day,” observes public health research director Niels Egelund of Denmark’s Aarhus University. So, by walking or biking to school—or even just a stroll to the bus stop—kids gain more autonomy plus settle down to schoolwork faster, concentrate better and ultimately learn more.
I invite you to learn more about about The Durable Human Manifesto, a breezy 10-minute read you can download for free.
Additional Reading and Resourc