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

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book is "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

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.

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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.

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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.” 



10 Comments

  1. Very good article Richard! Thank you! I am one of the “super birders” mentioned in The Nature Principal, and am working with connecting to nature projects here in Brazil, where I live.

    Reply
  2. True, all of it true! I find I have to get up from my computer and go to my garden and stay there to get away from the pull of the machine! Nature is soothing and technology is stressful. We can’t cant get away from either so we had better find the balance.

    Reply
  3. Good information. For a web site that is….

    Reply
  4. Richard,

    Nice work. These succinct points continue to tease out the effects of our ever-increasing technological appetite. I believe our abilities to function in the most balanced capacity on a day to day basis are related to the amount of real-world perspective we afford ourselves. I look forward to reading “The Nature Principle” on my B&W Kindle soon!

    Jack

    Reply
  5. I took a class of 8 year old children on a habitat walk to a Local Nature Reserve recently, and they were all equipped with ipods’ which instantly became the focus of the session, with commands from the teacher such as “ipods away”, “ipods out”, “don’t walk with your ipods out”, “if you lose your ipod, stop immediately and tell someone”.

    I’m just wondering what they will remember, thankfully at the end of session feedback the ipods were not mentioned.

    Reply
    • Richard Louv

      Were the iPods provided by the Nature Reserve?

      Reply
  6. Greetings Richard! Thank you for your article! For the past fifty years plus, I have made it a point to educate people to their roles as Stewards of this Planet. My new tag line has become, Educational, Scientific, Magical. We have awaken people to feel the God Spark is in everything and everything is of creation. We must step out into our natural world and show it honor and respect, rather than using and abusing it. We have discovered that if you love a fruit tree as you are picking the fruit, the fruit becomes sweeter; love a flower and the fragrance becomes greater; love a tree and the magic of nature becomes alive! During our walkabout programs we always put people between trees, so they can feel the energy of the trees coming through them. I even got a Scientist from NASA to feel the energies of the trees. Environmental Education Teachers have indicated, after a walkabout at the LEEF Conference, they realized that they were teaching only the Science of Nature, however not how to connect to it. Our Home Planet/Earth/Tara/Gaia needs us (you & I) to learn how to connect to the energies of nature and hear the Language of Nature.
    Be In Joy!

    Reply
  7. No doubt internet brought revolution and it seems that even survival is impossible without computer but there should be some balance and it is the responsibility of parents, do not buy their children 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’.

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

    Reply
  9. Better than a siren: How new technology is keeping people safe from tornados. A peculiar corkscrew sensation goes up one’s spine when a tornado siren goes off in the dead of night.

    Reply

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