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« Common Sense | Main | A New Truther »

"Get Off The Computer"

Here's an article at the WaPo on nature deficit disorder.

I wasn't that big on playing outside as a kid, myself, though I do remember messing around in a small woods near our house. I also used to fish at our cottage up in northern Michigan in the summer, and pick berries. But I always preferred to read.

But I enjoy nature now, as an adult, particularly when I lived out west, and there seemed to be so much more of it.

[Afternoon update]

Lileks has some related thoughts:

The reasons for the decline seem fairly obvious. The fewer kids growing up on farms or in small rural communities, the less hunting you have. The more expensive cabins get, the less access the middle-class has to the lakes, so kids donít grow up fishing with dad like they used to. Plus, the cultureís changed. Thirty-four years ago, Gov. Anderson could hold up a fish without worrying that a miniscule but vocal portion of his constituency would criticize him for not choosing a cruelty-free Time cover photo op, such as composting melon rinds.

I donít think itíll ever come back, frankly; People will hunt, but in much smaller numbers. People will always fish, but video games have permanently altered the ability of millions to sit in one place for three hours, waiting for something to happen. Then again, the number of people who simply watch wildlife seems to be up: 13 percent since 1996. But everyone watches wildlife. It takes no skill, no equipment, no time. It would sad to think that itís now considered a sport to look out the window at a bunny on the lawn. From the bunny's point of view, of course, this is just fine.

[Update at 4:20 PM EDT]

Continuing the conversation, Lileks has further thoughts:

Whatever the reason and whatever the eventual impact, itís all changed; the idea that a parent wouldnít know where their kid is, but trusted him to wander back by supper, tired and hungry, socks full of nettles, seems like pure hokey Norman-Rockwell stuff, quaint and outmoded, and downright dangerous in a world where creeps and pervs have their own chatrooms to marinate in their evil.

Then again, itís summer; wouldnít you want to ride your bike to the end of town, just to see whatís beyond?

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I used to ride my bike out to Bishop Airport in Flint, to watch the planes take off and land. I lived on the east side--the airport was on the southwest side, the other side of the freeway--it was several miles. On one such expedition, I was in fact propositioned by a perv*, to the point of being groped. In retrospect, it was stupid to accept the invitation into the house, but fortunately, he wasn't interested in someone clearly uninterested and unwilling, and I left without further incident. But I'm here, and I'm fine (and I wasn't "converted," despite the myths of those who believe that this is possible). And I'm glad I did it (the bike rides, not the perv encounter). I do think that today's children seem overprotected.

And not against just the big things, but the small. I recall reading reports recently that incidents of allergies are up in the younger generations, because they've spent so much time in cosseted and sterile environments that they never develop immunities. I don't know if it's true, but I certainly wouldn't be shocked.


*I use "perv" here in the colloquial sense of homosexual. He was probably in his twenties, and I don't think he was a pedophile--I was a teenager, and like many heterosexuals of dubious morals, he probably just preferred the targets of his lust to be young.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 19, 2007 07:47 AM
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Rand, I'm glad you linked to this. Nature nurtures us. These days after a long day staring at a computer, even a short walk at night in our quiet leafy neighborhood, the occasional sight of a deer or even a fox, the rare nights when we can actually see more than a few stars (due to ambie*nt light), one returns refreshed and calmer and invariably better prepared for sleep. Nature sustains us. A reason for all of us, irrespective of silly political tags to care about the environment and to preserve what remains of the worlds forests and wildlife. We seem to be so removed from the natural order that millions of years of evolution have conditioned us for. I think these kids who would rather play their video games will find one day that something is really out of whack in their lives. At that point rather than pop some mind-altering pills, they may find that a hike, a climb or a paddle provide a much better solution.

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at June 19, 2007 08:09 AM


People will hunt, but in much smaller numbers. People will always fish, but video games have permanently altered the ability of millions to sit in one place for three hours, waiting for something to happen.

Believe it or not, hunting and fishing games are a significant market niche. (No, I don't understand this either.)

Posted by Edward Wright at June 19, 2007 11:40 AM

I loved playing outside as a kid. There was this wooded area down the street from where we lived. My friends and I used to play there all the time.

We moved to a more upscale neighborhood when I was 9 years old (4th grade). This upscale nieghborhood both lacked the other kids as well as the wooded areas. Also, the kids at school got nastier with time (probably the divorice revolution, this was the mid-70s's). So, I became more introverted and liked reading more and more.

When the hormones kicked in at 14, I started becoming more extroverted again. As an adult, I love the outdoors and like to hike and do other outdoor stuff as much as possible. Living in the Pacific Northwest is very conducive for this.

Posted by Kurt9 at June 19, 2007 11:48 AM

Playing outside in the woods are my happiest childhood memories. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live as a kid not being able to play outside in the woods. I feel sorry for the kids these days who do not have the opportunity (or desire) to play outside in the woods.

Posted by Kurt9 at June 19, 2007 11:52 AM

I wonder how many teenagers, compared to a generation ago, participate in outdoor activities which are more equipment-intensive and require more serious commitment. Mountain climbing, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, sailing. I suspect that number has increased, if nothing else more people (of all ages) can afford to do such things -- but is still very small part of teenage population, for obvious reasons.

Posted by Ilya at June 19, 2007 11:52 AM

Outdoor play such as "cowboys and indians," tag, tree climbing, or even walking 6 blocks with your buddy to the store, have all been found fraught with risk to spirit and body: (adversarial games, helmetless climbing, unchaperoned exposure to kidnappers, etc). No one is going outside because there is nothing left to *do* out there. The nanny state has taught us well, and No one is going to abide these risks, not even to salvage the fading spirit of youthful American adventure.

Posted by jheslin at June 19, 2007 12:34 PM

At least, if you stay on the computer, be sure to visit Stranglethorn Vale, Feralas, and maybe Zangarmarsh.

Posted by Paul Dietz at June 19, 2007 01:01 PM

The nanny state has taught us well, and No one is going to abide these risks

The nanny state has nothing to do with this. It's clear you would love to tie environmentalism or some other failure of liberalism into this, as perhaps does Lileks. Unfortunately the opposite is true, environmentalists would like nothing better than for us all to enjoy nature without trashing it. The more people appreciate the natural world, the larger the demand for preserving it.

In addition, there is more to being out in nature than looking for something to hunt, you know ;-). Liberals know that you can actually enjoy the outdoors without ipso facto having to kill something to make it worthwhile.

Posted by Offside at June 19, 2007 01:30 PM

Environmentalism may have nothing to do with children not going outside any more, but overprotectiveness and inflated fear on the parents' side most certainly does. When I see 2-year olds pedal their ticycles with helmets on, I wonder if their parents are completely insane, or just where their children are concerned. I would not blame it on "nanny state" though -- I think the causality goes the other way. We have mandatory helmet laws and bans on transfats in school cafeteria (Brookline, MA) because people are paranoid, not the other way around.

Posted by Ilya at June 19, 2007 01:48 PM

My girls participate in competitive softball. We travel every weekend. They go camping and hiking maybe once a year, but they fish more often than I do. They are also considering FFA.

Maybe it is because we live in Texas.

Posted by Leland at June 19, 2007 01:55 PM

Paul: Snort.

I grew up on a farm. People are jealous of that, sometimes, which always makes me shake my head. City folks generally don't understand the concept of the 24/7 workday that goes along with farming, nor the physical labor, nor the repetitive nature of it all. That said, the combination of hard work, with no project managers other than physics and weather, no cubes, and no relief from the boredom other than your own initiative and imagination, probably helped generations develop more than we like to think. I hate the thought that maybe kids have to be put through hardship and forced to rely on themselves in order to "grow up right", but then again... look at Paris.

Posted by Big D at June 19, 2007 02:45 PM

I too used to go to watch planes (and helicopters) take off and land, except in my case it was ag aircraft. When I was 10 or 11 I would walk up to maybe 10 km just to hang around where one was operating. Usually that would result in the offer of a ride (joy!), and several times a pilot about to head home would ask when I lived and a few minutes later my mother would be surprised by a Hiller 12e or Hughes 300 landing next to the house.

Posted by Bruce Hoult at June 19, 2007 04:05 PM

I thought about the whole thing for a while, and came to conclusion most of you probably will not like. Parental overprotectiveness is certainly a factor, but if kids really wanted to play outside, they'd find a way around it. They don't, because Internet is more interesting! Most outdoor activities simply can not compete. Really, how many evenings can you spend in a treehouse before it becomes boring? Perhaps a lot, when all that went indoors was "moms yakking about soap operas", but that's no longer the case. I was as outdoorsy a kid as any, even if not very athletic (my preferred activities involved ants and tadpoles, not soccer balls), but if I had a computer with ISDN line back then, I'd be in the forest maybe for one week every June, then to the screen. "Cowboys and indians" grows stale fast when "World of warcraft" is available.

And Big D, you may be right about "no relief from the boredom other than your own initiative and imagination" helping some people develop, but if you do not have much initiative and imagination to begin with, that's a recipie for lifetime dullness. I suspect more people grew up on a farm to be drones with no single original thought, than grow up that way today in suburbs. Even if they had more "practical" skills.

Posted by Ilya at June 19, 2007 04:29 PM

because they've spent so much time in cosseted and sterile environments that they never develop immunities.

I thought the reason was that the immune system needs to be fighting something? The absence of microbes, viruses, fungi, bacteria etc. to fight makes the immune system pick up on other targets in a hypersensitive fashion and eventually turns on the body itself in autoimmune disorders.

Kind of like the military if it isn't fighting at least some kind of war some of the time ;-).

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at June 19, 2007 04:31 PM

Ilya, I agree with you. The rapid fire response of the internet is stimulating and interesting. It's just that evolution hasn't really prepped the body for this. So over time I think these over-stimulated kids and adults will pop. We need the natural world simply because that's what millions of years of evolution processed and filtered us out of.

So how about going outside and trying to resuscitate that Rose bush? Who knows, an Ivory Billed Woodpecker might just fly by.

Posted by Toast_n_Tea at June 19, 2007 04:39 PM

"At least, if you stay on the computer, be sure to visit Stranglethorn Vale, Feralas, and maybe Zangarmarsh.
Posted by Paul Dietz at June 19, 2007 01:01 PM"

y I'll give 1g for p.15

Posted by Josh Reiter at June 20, 2007 01:10 AM

"My girls participate in competitive softball. We travel every weekend. They go camping and hiking maybe once a year, but they fish more often than I do. They are also considering FFA.

Maybe it is because we live in Texas.
Posted by Leland at June 19, 2007 01:55 PM"

Yea I was thinking this might be a Texas thing. Not sure about other areas but many suburban projects are now built up around community centers. These centers have fishing ponds, nature walk trails, recreational events for the kids. Granted the whole community including the community center is gated in but still it provides some measure of outdoorsiness.

Posted by Josh Reiter at June 20, 2007 01:15 AM

I grew up in a New Jersey suburb that was already some decades old when I was born. For the most part, my family hasn't lived on farms for hundreds of years. The one exception I know about was an old woman who bought a farm to live on. She had a real farmer look after the farm.

When I was a child, reading was a very important activity for me. I was a complete failure at sports. On the other hand, I did go out and play with friends in the neighborhood. Sometimes -- in good weather -- outdoors. Oh -- snow days could be good weather.

Walking to school was normal. Walking around the neighborhood was normal. Unsupervised play was normal.

All these things help me grow into an independent adult with a wide range of abilities. There are people out there today who don't much care for people like me -- and quite a few people who post here. Politics is only a small part of it. There are too many abusive bullies who attack anyone who challenges their control. It can be in politics, in academia, in corporate life, in the arts, in sports, whatever.

It does look, though, that people are starting to get fed up with the current status quo. People in aerospace can point to things like Columbia and Challenger. The larger community looks at things like Katrina and its aftermath and wonders about the competency of the people in leadership positions.

I don't know what the future holds. I do suspect, though, that those of us with more independent minds -- especially if we can work with others who are somewhat different from ourselves but who still show independence -- hold the keys to the future.

Oh -- for what it's worth, I did find a sport I am actually good at in my 20s -- running. People in my high school class are still talking about me finishing a marathon. I also swim -- and even ski a bit.

Posted by Chuck Divine at June 20, 2007 06:39 AM

I don't really believe its a pure Texas thing. In Colorado, I see people out all the time. In California, I don't know about the children, but the young adults (16 - 25) seem to be getting out. Thing about Florida is that any place that isn't an alligator infested swamp is a housing community or far too expensive for kids to trespass.

Still, many parts of the midwest are still getting use to high-speed broadband Internet. It takes a long time for the infrastructure to get there.

BTW good post, Chuck!

Posted by Leland at June 20, 2007 07:10 AM

My job does sometimes have its good side.

Today, I was treated to the sight of a female Black Bear and two cubs. She walked mabey 20 meters from me crossing the major recieving stream with her two new cubs just below the confluence with the stream I was assessing. I was reading some insturmentation and looked up and she was there! She was non-chalant and did not seem to worry at all about my presence. Even though I was over a mile from the nearest house I suspect somebody might have been feeding her as she was entirely too comfortable with my being there.

Once she had left, I realized I had forgotten I had a camera around my neck and cussed myself profusely for the oversight. This was truly the neatest bear encounter I have ever had and regret not having any pictures. Made my day!

I feel sorry for those who never learn the necessary fieldcraft to be at ease in the outdoors.

Posted by Mike Puckett at June 20, 2007 06:35 PM

i want this off my computer

Posted by stan burkhart at July 6, 2007 03:50 PM

i want this off my computer

Posted by stan burkhart at July 6, 2007 03:51 PM

Hi, there!..
81cf2759987abd109a56051a71b570dc

Posted by John at November 18, 2007 03:29 PM


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