We wake up early in the morning to the sound of an alarm on our Smartphone. Immediately, we turn off the alarm, slide open our phone and begin to scroll through our friends Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, and check to see if we received any late night emails. Once we eventually do get out of bed, we might turn on the TV to listen to the news while we drink a quick cup of coffee.
Once at the office, we spend the majority of our time stuck in front of a small computer screen diligently doing whatever work we might do. During our lunch break, we mindlessly eat a sandwich while watching YouTube videos and chatting with friends via WhatsApp. After a long day at work, we head home where once again the TV turns on until we eventually fall asleep and start again anew the next day.
Our urban lives are almost completely subjected to a variety of tasks and pleasures that are dependent on technology. Apart from a weekend camping trip once a year, the majority of people in our industrial, consumer-driven society have almost no contact with the natural world.
In this short article, we will briefly look at the consequences of our dependence on technology, the benefits that come with reconnecting with the natural world, and offer a few tips on how we can once again find happiness and fulfillment through getting outdoors and enjoying the world around us.
The Consequences of Our Enslavement to Screens
If someone were to ask you the name of a certain type of bird that you saw sitting in a bush in front of your home, chances are that you would pick up your phone and ask Google to give you the answer. Over half of the human population now lives in cities and urban areas, and we derive our livelihoods from occupations and professions that have little direct contact with the world around us.
Because of this reality, the accumulated ecological knowledge and practical skills of livelihoods that were once tied to the land have all been but lost. A typical fourth grader can tell you the names of hundreds of fast food restaurants, cartoon characters, and sports figures, but most likely doesn´t know the names of the birds that sing in the trees, the trees that hold the birds, and the fruits that each tree offers for our sustenance.
Our increasingly technological lives that have separated us from the natural world have led us away from one of the deepest and most meaningful connections that we humans hold: to the earth that sustains us. The lack of direct contact with the world around us has led, in part, to some of the greatest crises we collectively face, from global warming to the loss of topsoil to the poisoning of our oceans.
On a more intimate level, the lack of interaction with the natural world coupled with our technology-driven lives has also furthered a sense of loneliness and depression that defines the lives of many people. Screen-filled lives foster a deep-seated sense of individualism which borders on isolation and lonesomeness and is also a cause of some of the most serious health issues that we now face including obesity, heart disease and the like.
Benefits of Reconnecting with Natural World
Reconnecting with Nature through getting outside and spending time in unstructured environments is one of the most therapeutic things we can do in today´s world for several reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most pragmatically, getting outside requires exercise and physical exertion. Whether we´re simply walking through the woods, or climbing trees, or paddling down a river, the physical exercise that comes with being outside in the natural world is something that is sorely needed in a society where children and adults routinely spend the majority of each day sitting in front of screens.
Secondly, reconnecting with the natural world opens the possibility of relating directly with other people. With the rise of social media, so many of us have lost any sort of meaningful and face-to- face contact with people around us. We live in virtual worlds where the relationships we foster are defined through “likes”, “tweets” and “shares.” Getting outdoors and spending time in the natural world forces us to communicate directly with the people we are with. Many parents have found that the best way to have deep and consequential conversations with their children is through going for a hike together and leaving the screens behind.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, spending time outside in the natural world allows us to find a deeper sense of belonging. Our modern, technological civilization forces us into shallow relationships with other people and with the places where we live. We are continually pressed to embrace mobility and self-interest in order to “get ahead” in life, and because of that most of us don´t have any sense of deep-seated belonging to something greater than ourselves.
Spending time in the natural world forces us to see beyond the hectic rat-race of upward mobility that defines our lives. Contemplating the peacefulness of a forest during a light rainstorm or the glittering fire flies illuminating the evening compels us to question how we fit into this great community of life and ultimately brings a greater sense of meaning to our lives.
Strategies to Get Outside
One of the most unfortunate aspects of our technology driven society is that it demands our full allegiance and time. To be connected to the technological society means that our lives are most likely full of deadlines, cutoff dates and other supposedly important commitments that we simply can´t get out of.
To make time to get outdoors and enjoy the benefits that come with reconnecting with the natural world, the first thing we need to do is to disconnect. Make it a priority to turn off the phone, TV, and other screens that dominate our lives at least one day a week in order to enjoy the great outdoors without worrying about getting that last email answered.
Another great way to help you and your family enjoy the natural world is through taking a vacation. By physically removing ourselves from the routines of our everyday, screen-filled lives, we allow ourselves to fully experience the wider world. To plan out an unforgettable family vacation to the Great Outdoors, check out Live Once Live Wild which has several complete guides on some of the most iconic national parks our country has to offer.