A few years ago, there was a news story that went around the Internet about a youngster who was seemingly always connected to his hand-held gaming system. There were pictures of him everywhere — on vacations and outings to places of great natural beauty and historical and cultural significance. Head down, eyes and mind fully engaged by a tiny screen. That story has stuck with me. Those images are burned into my brain, of this fortunate young man who is being given the opportunity to see so much, but appeared to have had little interest in what was beyond that tiny screen.
As many of you know, I live in Washington, DC which has been in full blown tourist season these past few weeks. The cherry blossoms bring people from all over the world to our fine city, making a unique opportunity for people to connect with nature as well as history, great architecture, cultural pursuits, and each other. I am pleased to say that I did see quite a bit of just that — people taking it all in, and truly seeming to enjoy it.
I also saw quite a few tweens and teens plugged into their MP3 players and cell phones, seemingly oblivious to what was around them. Perhaps a quick glance up from time-to-time, but then back to the constant buzz of something else — taking them somewhere else than this amazing place they were standing. Many for the first time. Probably quite a few for the last. Now, of course I cannot know how much they were actually absorbing, but I feel that it is safe to assume that it was diminished — that their experience would have been far richer and more meaningful had they simply unplugged. What will their memories look like when they revisit them? Honest and partial? Or will they be able to fill in blanks of what they truly experienced because there are so many pictures available of the sights of DC — mentally checking off the experience because they had “been” there? Again, I am not sure, but it does make me wonder.
Now, I am no technology Luddite. I have a MP3 player and a cellphone, and enjoy them both very much. That said, I made the conscious decision a few years ago not to use my MP3 player outside, because it distracted my mind from all the beauty and peace around me. I save it for planes and trains and the like. I also believe that there are some really cool pieces of technology and applications that can help introduce nature and wildlife to people, as well as enhance the experience for those who are so inclined. In fact, we will be talking about one soon here at TGSG.
That said, it is my hope that we learn to balance the use of technology, especially as it applies to nature and the outdoors. Use it, and if it helps get your kids off the sofa and out the door — embrace that. But do not let it replace or define the experience. Use an application to locate or report on something you see, but then put the device away and enjoy the experience. Soak it all in, and model that behavior for the children in your world. Set time and usage limits if need be. Be aware, and introduce the guidelines and limits when you introduce a new device or application — perhaps even with yourself.
I have written before on silence — the need for kids to learn to be comfortable with it. We are all surrounded by so much noise all the time. In our brave new world, there is hardly a buzz-free moment or time to let your brain rest. Does that sound silly — letting your brain rest? Perhaps so. But we all need that time. Kids really need that time, and sometimes you have to be the bad guy and insist that they get it. But you also have to model it.
So, next time you go out to take a walk or a run, leave your MP3 player at home. Just try it. Listen to the birds. Notice the colors — the shapes and forms of nature. Let your mind rest as your body moves, restoring more of you than perhaps you had bargained for.
See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru
Creative Commons License photo credit: XirannisX back On