“Natural Happiness” By Paul Bloom

There is something primal about our need for nature — for time in the out doors, for sunshine, for fresh air.  Psychologist Paul Bloom writes, “Our hunger for the natural is everywhere…People like to be close to oceans, mountains, and trees.  Even in the most urban environments, it is reflected in real estate prices: if you want a view of the trees of Central Park, it’ll cost you.  Office buildings have atriums and plants; we give flowers to the sick and the beloved and return home to watch Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel…And many of us seek to escape our manufactured environments whenever we can — to hike, camp, canoe, or hunt.”

Yet on the heels of a study that just came out last week saying that teenagers spend up to 7.5 hours per day on digital devices — up an hour from the previous year — one wonders what is happening to our individual relationships to the natural world as a result of technology.  My previous post explored some of the broad ethical relationships between technology, human behavior, and the environment; today, I’m featuring an article which raises an important and related question: Is nature important to our happiness?  And if so, then why do we spend so much time attached to our technologies, and detached from nature?

In his article “Natural Happiness,” for The New York Times Magazine’s Green Issue, Paul Bloom, a psychologist from Yale University, asks us to ask ourselves these questions.  Read Bloom’s article, ahead.

imagesPaul Bloom is a psychology professor at Yale University.  His article, “Natural Happiness” originally appeared in The New York Times Magazine Green Issue and is reprinted here with his permission. His book, “How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like” comes out in June.

Natural Happiness

Tree in the handsWhy should we care about nature? Should we care about it for its own sake — or for our sake, because it happens to make us happy or healthy? These might not seem like the brightest questions. Few people need convincing that the destruction of rain forests, the mass extinction of species and the melting of the ice sheets in Greenland would all be very bad things. Do we really need to list the reasons?

We do. After all, in many regards our species has already kissed nature goodbye, and we are better off for it. Technology has come to be more diverse than the biosphere. In 1867, Karl Marx observed that there were 500 types of hammer made in Birmingham, England. In 1988, Donald Norman, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, suggested that the average American encounters 20,000 different kinds of artifacts in everyday life, which would be more than the number of animals and plants that we can distinguish. And right now, there are about 1.5 million identified species on Earth — impressive, but nothing compared to the more than 7 million United States patents.

This is mostly good news. No sane person would give up antibi­otics and anesthesia, farming and the written word. Our constructed environments shield us from heat and cold and protect us from predators. We have access to food and drink and drugs that have been devised to stimulate our nervous systems in magnificent ways. We sleep in soft beds and have immediate access to virtual experiences from pornography to classical symphonies. If a family of hunter-gatherers were dropped into this life, they would think of it as a literal heaven.

FieldOr maybe not. There is a considerable mismatch between the world in which our minds evolved and our current existence. Our species has spent almost all of its existence on the African savanna. While there is debate over the details, we know for sure that our minds were not adapted to cope with a world of billions of people. The life of a modern city dweller, surrounded by strangers, is an evolutionary novelty. Thousands of years ago, there was no television or Internet, no McDonald’s, birth-control pills, Viagra, plastic surgery, alarm clocks, artificial lighting or paternity tests. Instead, there was plenty of nature. We lived surrounded by trees and water and animals and sky.

E. O. Wilson popularized the “biophilia” hypothesis: We thrive in the presence of nature and suffer in its absence

This history has left its mark on our minds. Children are irrepressible taxonomizers, placing the world of distinct individuals into categories based on their appearance, their patterns of movement and their presumed deeper natures, and some psychologists have argued that the hard-wired capacity to organize and structure the world is specially adapted to nature: we are natural-born zoologists and botanists. We may also have evolved to get pleasure from certain aspects of the natural world. About 25 years ago, the Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson popularized the “biophilia” hypothesis: the idea that our evolutionary history has blessed us with an innate affinity for living things. We thrive in the presence of nature and suffer in its absence.

TrekkersOur hunger for the natural is everywhere. It is reflected in art: the philosopher Denis Dutton, in his book “The Art Instinct,” suggests that popular taste in landscape painting has been shaped by preferences that evolved for the African savanna. The appeal of the natural is also reflected in where we most want to live. People like to be close to oceans, mountains and trees. Even in the most urban environments, it is reflected in real estate prices: if you want a view of the trees of Central Park, it’ll cost you. Office buildings have atriums and plants; we give flowers to the sick and the beloved and return home to watch Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. We keep pets, which are a weird combination of constructed things (cats and dogs were bred for human companionship), surrogate people and conduits to the natural world. And many of us seek to escape our manufactured environments whenever we can — to hike, camp, canoe or hunt.

Wilson emphasizes the spiritual and moral benefits of an attachment to nature, warning that we “descend farther from heaven’s air if we forget how much the natural world means to us.” But there are more tangible benefits as well. Many studies show that even a limited dose of nature, like a chance to look at the outside world through a window, is good for your health. Hospitalized patients heal more quickly; prisoners get sick less often. Being in the wild re­duces stress; spending time with a pet enhances the lives of everyone from autistic children to Alzheimer’s patients. The author Richard Louv argues that modern children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” because they have been shut out from the physical and psychic benefits of unstructured physical contact with the natural world.

Richard Louv argues that modern children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” because they have been shut out from the physical and psychic benefits of unstructured physical contact with the natural world

So the preservation of the natural world should be important to us. But how important? The psycholo­gist Philip Tetlock has pointed out that many people talk about the environment as a “sacred value,” protected from utilitarian trade-offs — when the Exxon Valdez spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil, 80 percent of the respondents in one poll said that we should pursue greater environmental protection “regardless of cost.” But he also points to the need to balance environmental concerns with social and political and personal priorities. (Few of these respondents would be willing to hand over their pensions for a more efficient cleanup of the Alaskan shoreline.) And even if we did value nature above everything else, we would still have to decide which aspects of nature we care about the most. You can see this in the debate over the creation of giant wind farms in the ocean or on hillsides. Proponents are enthusiastic about the cheap, green energy; critics worry about the loss of natural beauty and the yearly filleting of thousands of songbirds and ducks.

In the end, an indiscriminate biophilia makes little sense. Natural selection shaped the human brain to be drawn toward aspects of nature that enhance our survival and reproduction, like verdant landscapes and docile creatures. There is no payoff to getting the warm fuzzies in the presence of rats, snakes, mosquitoes, cockroaches, herpes simplex and the rabies virus. Some of the natural world is appealing, some of it is terrifying and some of it grosses us out. Modern people don’t want to be dropped naked into a swamp. We want to tour Yosemite with our water bottles and G.P.S. devices. The natural world is a source of happiness and fulfillment, but only when prescribed in the right doses.

NaturePlasmaYou might think that technology could provide a simulacrum of nature with all the bad parts scrubbed out. But attempts to do so have turned out to be interesting failures. There is a fortune to be made, for instance, by building a robot that children would respond to as if it were an animal. There have been many attempts, but they don’t evoke anywhere near the same responses as puppies, kittens or even hamsters. They are toys, not companions. Or consider a recent study by the University of Washington psychologist Peter H. Kahn Jr. and his colleagues. They put 50-inch high-definition televisions in the windowless offices of faculty and staff members to provide a live view of a natural scene. People liked this, but in another study that measured heart-rate recovery from stress, the HDTVs were shown to be worthless, no better than staring at a blank wall. What did help with stress was giving people an actual plate-glass window looking out upon actual greenery.

treeinhandsAll of this provides a different sort of argument for the preservation of nature. Put aside for the moment practical considerations like the need for clean air and water, and ignore as well spiritual worries about the sanctity of Mother Earth or religious claims that we are the stewards of creation. Look at it from the coldblooded standpoint of the enhancement of the happiness of our everyday lives. Real natural habitats provide significant sources of pleasure for modern humans. We intuitively grasp this, and this knowledge underlies the anxiety that we feel about nature’s loss. It might be that one day we will be able to replace the experience of nature with “Star Trek” holodecks and robotic animals. But until then, this basic fact about human pleasure is an excellent argument for keeping the real thing.

This article touched on so many interesting ideas, the most fascinating also being the most simple: We need nature.  We look to nature for many things: for relaxation, for play, for spiritual sustenance.  Indeed, writers and philosophers alike have turned to the natural world to reveal truths about humanity. (“I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” Thoreau once famously wrote.)

And yet, it’s interesting that even in light of this, people find it challenging to commit to spending time in nature, or even to preserving it.  We seem to have little problem enthusiastically championing technology, embracing new products and new developments in our technologically-driven lifestyle — but we do this even if and while nature is being eroded at its expense.  We know nature is important to our happiness in some fundamental way, yet we seem to take it for granted, and increasingly live our lives enveloped by the technologies we have created for ourselves.

cubicle

This mentality seems important to examine.  The study of trying to recreate nature scenes on HD TVs is telling: it raises the issue that there is value to nature that can never be replicated or equaled by technology.  The experience of interacting with nature — full-fleshed, real nature–it seems, can never be equalled by a virtual, digital experience.  We can watch Avatar in 3D (whose message, ironically, is to respect nature), 11 million of us can play “Farm Town” on Facebook per day, and we can even try to hook up HD TVs with nature scenes to recreate the calming, serene image of a forest; but these digital mediums can never substitute for the authentic pleasure that nature can provide.  And this seems interesting to reflect on, particularly if we are pursuing a world that is centered and focused more and more on technology, and less and less on appreciating and being in the natural world.  Are we ever as fulfilled after a day on the computer as we are spending a day out of doors?  If not, then why are we such slaves to our screens?

So this article left me thinking: What is the value of nature, and why in our technological age does it seem harder and harder to be in touch with it?  Are there ways in which technology has enhanced our experience of nature, or are nature and technology fundamentally at odds with each other?  By choosing to embrace technology, are we automatically giving up a close relationship nature?

Questions:

Do you spend more or less time in nature as a result of technology?

How has your appreciation for nature shifted over time as our lives have become more “digitally” focused?

24 Responses to ““Natural Happiness” By Paul Bloom”

  1. Beau Kramer says:

    I would say that nature has become more valuable to me as my life has become more “digitally” focused. I find myself constantly gazing at the Fremont hills from my ninth floor window as I try to study or write a paper. I agree with the idea that the presence of nature influences our emotions. Having compared studying in my room to studying in the library basement, I find the former to be more calming and less stressful. I think that this value stems from scarcity. As mentioned in Avatar “there’s no green there” (referring to Earth). Every year it seems like a new development goes up in my hometown. For me, however, the times when I feel most alive are not in front of a monitor or in building, but in the expanse of nature. The view from the top of half dome easily surpasses any digital image, even James Cameron’s masterpiece.

    • erick rivera says:

      As technology has evolved, so has the human’s perspective on nature. Nature use to be this necessity that our species needed to survive, and now it is just a pretty sight to look at. Taken into consideration that Nature is no longer what it use to be, the forward progression of technology has brought many more positive things then negative. This article shows nature as something to look a, and not something that we rely on, and this is true. The need for nature is no where near as great as our need for technology. Living in a world with very little nature would probably not affect me as much as a world without technology. I may be a little more stressed because I can not look at some trees, but imagine the stress level when instead of getting an email with in seconds I had to wait days for an important message. Humanity has moved away from nature and towards technology for help. This is called evolution, and there is nothing wrong with that

  2. Jay says:

    I think I have spent less and less time with nature as I have grown older. This may be due to the fact that technology has increased significantly during that time period. However, regardless of the technological advances, it is my choice and technology has definitely influenced that choice. As a child, there was no internet, cell phones, ipods, or even laptops. Because of this, I spent most of my time outdoors playing sports and doing other activities. Once the internet and other new technological advances globalized, my time outdoors slowly began to dwindle. Ultimately, I shouldn’t let technology control my lifestyle. Instead, I think finding a healthy balance will greatly increase the amount of happiness I experience and I will get more out of life.

  3. Clay Bavor says:

    Good post!

    Some of my best memories from the past few years are from being in the “real” outdoors: hiking in Yosemite, a hike in Scotland, and, more simply, running in Arastredero Preserve. So yes, I agree! Nature -> Happiness. And I’m sure I spend less time outdoors because of all the interesting things I can do with the various computers and other gadgets around my house.

    One technology that may help offset this tendency is photography: I’m highly motivated to go outside, into nature, with my digital camera to capture some beautiful images. London is kind of far from “real” nature, though…

  4. Kevin Buiza says:

    I actually spend more time in nature now than I ever had before. Even though technology has influenced my life and I constantly use technology everywhere I go I always managed to find time in order to take a walk around parks, forests or anywhere else. I always find myself to be calm and capable of deep thought that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do if I was stuck in a room with not even a view of the outside. It is true what this article mentioned, that nature has an incredible way to help everyone which includes reducing stress all the way to recovering sick patients. Although technology will constantly be upgrading, there will be no replacement for actual living nature. Although my life has been including a lot more of technology for my personal use, such as Ipods, as well as educational uses I never forget how much nature has helped me over the years and I appreciate nature because of its positive influence over my life. For these reasons, nature will always be a part if my life no matter how far technology advances.

  5. Jflesher says:

    I remember going camping with my family a whole lot more as a child. Something changed as I got older, but I don’t think it was technology that was the reason I spent less time camping. I think it was all the time commitments with school and work on the weekends as well as my sibling becoming involved in sports year round. While I don’t think technology was the reason I spent less time camping I definitely can say that it is responsible for me spending less time outside and enjoying nature. When I was a child my friends and I would always play outside, but as we got older and technology improved, playing outside turned into playing video games and watching television with my friends. I definitely spend less time in nature today due to technology, we are so fascinated with the newest pieces of technology that they are replacing the activities we could play outside. Instead of playing a pickup game of basketball or football outside with friends we can play as our favorite athletic team on our Xbox instead. I think that we should get more time outside and appreciate nature and break this addiction to technology.

  6. Nathan Zolezzi says:

    I spend time away from nature engrossing myself in technology, partly because I have to. Like many college students, I have to complete papers and turn them in online and calculate homework problems through an online program. I definitely use technology more as a result of being in college and this has decreased my time spent in nature. Although I did not spend much time in nature before college, my need for this time has grown as I find it relieves stress in my life. My appreciation for nature grows as, and I believe this is the case for any human being, the stress in my life grows. Over the past couple of years, I have desired to see the sun more, at sunrise and sunset, especially while at the beach; I am a proud southern Californian. But even now, I simply wish to enjoy the mountains and rain in northern California. I wish to enjoy nature no matter what form. Nature gives healing and I see that more now. Along with my appreciation of nature is the consideration I must give it if I want to be able to stop and enjoy its very sight. From the stress technology, although not solely technology, brings into my life, I have taken for granted the ability to stop and enjoy nature. I have become accustomed to this man-made habitat of computers, phones, and television, but struggle to remember that those are not the only elements to my habitat. I appreciate nature more because it is something I need, something that is good that I lack.

  7. Robert west says:

    Technology has influenced many different aspects of my life. But it has not determined my time out immersed in nature. I grew up in the mountains of Colorado climbing trees and going up to the slopes, so being outside is an essential part to my life. There are so many opportunities to go outside and experience nature, such as participating in a sport or just going on a short jog. The problem why people do not get enough nature lies within the motivation of the person. The lethargic characteristic of us today affects our willingness to go step outside and breathe in the fresh air. Instead of relaxing in front of the computer, one can go grab a book and sit outside. It just takes a couple extra steps. The apathetic nature of humans in today’s society affect our interactions with nature, not the fact that there is so much more distracting technology.

  8. A. Hong says:

    As our lives become more “digitally focused,” I believe our appreciation for nature has integrated itself with technology. This statement has been especially relevant for me during the past two rainy weeks. I plug in my headphones and listen to my iPod while watching the rain from indoors. I think it is soothing to watch raindrops fall, hit the ground, and create ripples in the puddles. When the sun comes up, even if it is only for a few hours, I have the urge to go outside and soak up some sun. I go outside for a walk and again, I keep my iPod in hand. As a society, our addiction to technology is undeniable. We carry our cell phones with us when we go camping, we use iPods to count our steps when we go running, and we ride electric bikes or scooters at the park. My appreciation of nature remains unchanged and I think that technology just serves as a constantly changing accessory.

  9. Sam Peterson says:

    As a child, I was lucky enough to have parents who encouraged and sometimes even forced me to experience nature. They would take me on hikes and to all of the national parks, however as I grew up school and the other inevitable stresses of life began to consume all of my time and I no longer had time for nature. I think the reason why nature brings such happiness and makes people less stressed is because technology represents the stress of our current lives. Our work, school, and hectic schedules all rely on modern day technology. Because nature is the opposite of technology, all of the stress that we unconsciously associate with technology disappears. I was lucky enough to go to a school that took a week out of every school year for what they called Outdoor Education. They took each class to a certain location in the wilderness and we camped for a week with no running water, no electricity, and no technology at all. These weeks were hands down my favorite part of every year because I had literally nothing to worry about. We need nature because we associate it with freedom and it lets us forget about our stressful lives for the brief moments that we spend with it.

  10. nicholasjchung says:

    The importance of nature and wilderness are stated clearly in the technological citizen. The blogs presents the idea of how nature and our personal lives are interconnected which brings up the question if we really do take advantage of nature. The introduction of the blog presents that although in our minds we tend to enjoy and prefer scenic views, we spend up to 7.5 hours a day on digital devices. The blog shows us this to show that although in our minds we tend to lean towards enjoying nature, we instead pursue other interests that technology has given us proposing that we have become detached from nature. The use of Paul Bloom’s article also opens up to the idea that although we have moved away from nature, technology has been more beneficial than what nature has provided. Bloom’s idea that more patents have benefited makes it clear that nature is surely and most likely will be behind us. Although we value nature and often envy its beauty, Bloom states that technology has already catalyzed the way we live our lives.

  11. Jamie Swartz says:

    I would have to say that I spend much more time sucked into the internet, smart phones, and my ipod than I do with the natural world. In America, I am conditioned by society to be wrapped up in the latest technology rather than to spend quality time in the great outdoors – and it is just getting worse over the years. As a kid, I used to go camping all the time and would beg my parents to take me outside. Back then, when life seemed more simplistic, it was easy for me to just be in nature without thinking of anything else. As I got older, and technology also become more advanced and we became more dependent on it, it was harder to get away from it all and just be in nature. I still love being outdoors, and especially love going camping, but I would complain endlessly if I had to do it without my cellphone, and I’m sure most others would be the same. People definitely don’t appreciate nature as much as they used to. My parents, for example, are able to give up technology to enjoy the wonders of nature more easily than I am. On the other hand, I think most fifth graders have iphones now, which takes away from the adventurous and outdoor-oriented childhood that I experienced. I can only imagine what it will be like a few years from now. Society is becoming less interested in the great outdoors and the beauty of nature and more focused on getting their hands on the newest piece of technology. I think people can (and still do) enjoy nature, but technology comes along with it. I am from San Diego and certainly miss the beach while I am in Northern California at school; I appreciate it’s beauty and love just sitting in the sand, watching the waves. Still, I always bring my phone with me when I go to the beach and will typically text throughout my day there. While I think our society still appreciates nature, it definitely has changed as technology has become, in ways, more important.

  12. Will Jacobson says:

    It’s tough to evade the natural world, but we do a pretty good job trying. The bigger the television, the brighter its picture, the clearer its sound…the more likely I am to waste an afternoon sitting in front of it. Sure I could spend that time meditating beneath an aged Oak tree, marveling at Nature’s glory, but I much prefer lazing on my couch watching reality television actors make fools of themselves. People generally strive towards innovative ideas and new gadgets because we like experiencing new things. And believe it or not, technology never fails to meet this demand. The new iPhone, for example, brings something new to the table and people can’t help but to adore it because of this. The newest BMW? We love that too. The 10 year old tree across the street? Well, it’s just not quite as interesting (and it looks identical to the million others standing beside it too). Figure out a way to turn it’s bark into a touch screen, and you might just attract my attention.

    In all honesty, I am from Seattle and, like all true residents, I love the outdoors. It’s hard to go a day without seeing a dozen parks, too many bodies of water, and countless mountain ranges. As such it’s easy to overlook these things and takes people time to recognize nature’s simplistic beauty. Few of us have the privilege of taking time out of our hectic work day to gaze at an Ocean, but those of us who do find a sort of pleasure much more satisfying than even Call of Duty.

    So yes, I do believe that our constant technological advancements have, to an extent, estranged us from the natural world. Is it a bad thing? Probably, but I’ll wait for the commercial break to decide.

  13. Aaminah Khan says:

    Honestly, I don’t like the fact that our lives have become more technology focused. I feel we should be more connected to nature and immersed in its beauty rather than staring at TVs all day. But as much as I like to be outside and rolling in the grass, I don’t get many chances to. In this life we all have to live, I think a problem is that no one has the time to breathe in the fresh air but everyone wants to. There are too many things that have been invented to keep us busy inside the homes or office that we long to see nature but find reasons not to. I often find myself too lazy to go outside but on the chance that I do, I don’t like to be back inside. I can walk endlessly taking in the fresh air and staring at up at the sky forgetting about all the work that needs to be done for tomorrow. And that’s because I am not staring at a computer that reminds me of a paper that needs to be written or a binder that has the notes I have to study or a TV that reminds me of the shows I don’t want to miss. I like being in nature and in the outdoors but in reality, I can only be out there for so long because at some point, for some reason, I will need to come back inside and that’s just the way it is.

  14. Matt Davison says:

    As our society grows more and more dependent on technology, the importance of creating time for relaxation increases exponentially. People rely on technology such as email and cell phones, now available in one device, in order to always be able to contact and be contacted at any given time. While these technological achievements are immensely commendable, they always detract from mans interaction with nature. Nature, in any form, can provide a necessary break from the hectic lifestyle most people live in modern society. I find that I often enjoy my time the most when I am removed from big cities or the burdens and stress college life creates. My favorite places in the world are small, rural towns where I can immerse myself in and explore the various forms of nature (mountains, lakes, beaches, forests). My time now is mostly devoted to school work and social activities, but I still try to step back every once in a while to enjoy my surroundings. I think most people would agree with me in that nature provides relaxation and stress relief, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to break away from social demands because everyone feels the need to be connected at all times.

  15. alex perez says:

    Our desire to be in contact with nature is only matched by our desire to develop and advance. The world is becoming more and more technologically submersed and that isn’s something that is going to slow up any time soon. As humans we need to progress; make things better, faster, stronger, easier.. and technological advances are the way in which we express our growth as a species. The typical modern day life is very demanding. Technology has decreased the amount of effort required to perform everyday tasks such as sending a message, reaching a location, or making a purchase. An ‘all natural’ lifestyle would be much more peaceful and healthy, but also much more difficult. Our levels of exposure to both technology and nature are determined by our desire for each. In some ways we need both, but how much of each is up to the individual.

  16. tbowlby says:

    For me, nature has always been a distraction from the world of technology I live in. When I’ve been inside for hours working on an essay, or playing video games, watching TV, or on Facebook, walking outside rejuvenates me. With that said I think that technology has the ability to enhance our interactions with nature. Few question that kayaking, mountain biking, fishing and hunting are nature bound hobbies, yet each often requires some form of technology. Unlike the HDTVs at the University of Washington, these pieces of technology allow people to relax and enjoy nature or enhance its natural thrills. Fishing is still brings peace of mind to many and kayaking still provides adrenaline and a certain harmony with the world around you. I don’t think there is any denying the intrinsic values of nature or its effect on human happiness, but it is not entirely in conflict with the technological world

  17. Kyle Arrouzet says:

    Even as a child I have always had a deep love for nature. My mom used to tell me that as a toddler, I would sit by the window in our San Jose, CA home and stare out at the trees, birds, squirrels, and other plants for hours at a time. Today I still value nature, however I feel as though technology and human advancement deter humanity from experiencing nature. The more that urbanization occurs, the less and less natural our surroundings become. One could even argue that places like Central Park, as mentioned in the Robert Bloom article, aren’t really natural, for all the flora within the park was put there by man. Sadly, living in the bay area, one must drive for at least 20-25 minutes to find nature in its unaltered state. I believe that as technology continues to progress, especially here in silicon valley, urbanization will continue at astronomical rates to accommodate the work force needed to sustain high-tech companies such as Apple and Cisco. Thus technology forces me to spend less time in nature, as the more urbanization occurs, the more of an inconvenience it is to spend time in nature. Furthermore, I find that technology hindered the amount of time I spent outdoors as a child. My parents used to tell me stories of how they would ride their bikes everywhere and how they would be outdoors all day as children. I’m not proud to say that my younger brother and I, like most male children of our era, spent the majority of our childhood indoors playing video games and watching TV. Thus, technology has caused me to spend far less time outdoors than I would otherwise.

  18. sam harrison says:

    Nature is a daily component to my life. I am on the sailing team, numerous flag football, soccer, and softball teams, I ski in Tahoe during the winter quarter, and I go on hiking and mountain biking. I have always been very athletic and never let non nature related technology interfere with my love for the outdoors. Technology has allowed me to sail, ski, mountain bike, play football, soccer, and softball. Without it we have no ski’s, bikes, athletic balls, sailboats, etc. Many technologies are negative and destroy peoples relationship with nature. Some examples are PlayStation, Xbox, T.V., computers, and music systems. It is unfortunate when society takes breaks inside with technology, for every minute spent using indoor technology, is a minute wasted from the relationship with nature. I encourage everyone to move toward technologies which require outdoor physical activity. Not only is the relationship with nature ruined by staying inside, but the body has lost its excursive and will no longer perform to its maximum potential.

  19. WaterHeater says:

    Perhaps its the engineering blood in me that looks towards technology, or maybe I’ve just never experienced the thrill of nature, but I don’t feel particularly connected to nature. To be honest, I enjoy convenience. Nature just isn’t convenient. The thing about nature is that it can be beautiful at times, but at other times, it can be downright ugly. I mean, who would want to watch a fox devouring a rabbit. Much of the nature that we see is controlled by our technology. Its almost intertwined together these days. I believe that most people have never experienced a true moment of just pure nature, devoid of all technology. But I’m not saying that pseudo nature is bad. In fact, it may be just as good at pure nature. All that it proves, is our ever closer dependence towards technology.

  20. rachel says:

    I see Thoreau as a prime example of why it is important to preserve our appreciation for nature. In a world cluttered with distractions and deception, he wanted to discover truths about the world through transcendenence–of external, artificial limitations. Of amenities and obtrusive voices and material mechanisms. Of that which prohibits us from enjoying the simple pleasure of existing in our pure, raw, uncensored flesh. Trascendence of the narrow scope of our being to reveal the infinite scope of the universe. He recognized that confronting and embracing life’s essence was possible only through extracting himself from that which is unnatural—technological constructed societies—and living deliberately in the most fundamentally natural way.

    I think nowadays we veer further and further away from nature because we are afraid of what a full submergence into nature, as Thoreau did, would reveal about our essential selves. We are afraid and thus reluctant to locate and orient all five senses towards the wind, the trees, the hills, the sky. We are afraid that the simplicity and the quietness of our surroundings would, well, bore us. Think of those who go exercise outside. While they may enjoy the brisk air, the changing scenery, and the fresh smell of grass and leaves, they surely have their iPods plugged in.

    I agree that people still value nature as something that is inherently beautiful, and holds value unequaled by any attempt at artificial recreation or simulation. Look at those people who willingly explore the natural wonders of nature, like Yosemite and other national parks protected from industrialization. Thousands of people express interest in experiencing and learning about nature’s grandest gifts. We do still very much appreciate nature and are continually both humbled and awed by its magnificence, regardless of the technologically-dominant age we live in.

    On the other hand, we also acknowledge nature’s power and ability to control, intimidate, and sometimes deceive us. Like you said, look at the emergence of increasingly accessible G.P.S navigation devices, and the prevalent use of these devices by people exploring Yosemite. We don’t want to venture into nature without a secure means of finding our way out, or without a supply of bottled water to help fight against our depleting energy and strength that nature challenges us with.

    If we were stripped of the comforts, conveniences, and distractions of daily technological ways of living and placed in an isolated environment, as Thoreau voluntarily was, what would we do with ourselves? Without the constant crutch of the comforts and entertainment provided immediately by technology, how would we act and interact with the world around us? I think we simply don’t know how we could be as happy and fulfilled, and in this unknowingness, we would fall into a state of panic, confusion, and distress. I think we detract ourselves more and more from nature because confronting these questions is harder than staying indoors and watching Planet Earth.

  21. christine says:

    After reading this article I was reminded of Lori Gruen’s essay, “Technology”. This article does not necessarily reflect her opinion, but she does however discuss the value of “fake” nature. It amazes me that human beings have somehow found a way to make everything around them technological, even something as natural as nature itself. The article touches on examples of this such as HDTV screens displaying calming scenes of nature and robot toy kittens. Gruen reminds people that even many of our “natural outing experiences” of lakes and parks are man made. Frankly, this idea that even nature has been infiltrated by technology disgusts me. In Gruen’s article she points out that while technology is made to serve human ends, nature exists for itself. I believe that while many people do find an appeal in nature, its purpose is not to provide something for mankind, but to simply exist. This is quite possibly a key explanation to why people find it so appealing. Nature exudes a sort of simplicity and beauty that we cannot get from a television screen or computer screen. The problem that mankind seems to face is that our materialist greed for bigger and better things seem to outweigh the simplicity of nature so much that even nature itself is slowly losing its “natural” traits.

  22. msavage says:

    First off, it should be pointed out that nature still serves a practical use within society. As a species, humans rely on natural resources in order to survive, and so we must manipulate and convert nature into useable sources of energy in order to meet our production and consumption needs. As our dependency on fossil fuels and oil has grown apparent, it has become clear to humankind that natural resources are limited, and therefore an effort must be made in order to find renewable sources of energy that would require the preservation of nature. So in this sense nature plays a vital role in our immediate survival, and therefore we must make the effort to preserve it simply for economic reasons.

    This aside, there is an importance to nature that I believe Paul Bloom has correctly begun to identify. The simplicity of nature allows we as humans to connect to something much deeper and more meaningful than our everyday tasks. It can remind us that we are connected to something much greater than our own lives, or even to humanity as a whole. Ultimately it is a primal connection that we share with nature that we have become alienated by because of our technologies. We think that we are greater than the natural order, that we can create our own means of survival, and this causes us to forget that nature is not only there to support us, but also to comfort us and to remind us of where we belong. The philosopher Langdon Winner wrote that the pace of life drastically increases in a technological society because of our ability to multitask and be more efficient. Nature draws us back to a place of calm spirituality in which all that matters is the present moment. Outside of its aesthetic worth, to which a whole field of philosophy is dedicated, I believe that there is a spiritual and metaphysical essence that lies within nature that connects humanity to a more complete sense of purpose and belonging than any of our careers or technologies could create.

  23. Sara Phillips says:

    Coming from Hawai’i, I would say that my own use of technology while I am away from my tropical home differs tremendously. Surrounded by the lush trails of Leahi and the stunning beaches of Haleiwa back home, I almost have no choice but to embrace the beauty of nature. The combination of coming to a place where the weather changes seasonally and living on a college campus, forces me to live within the bounds of technology. How can we not rely on technological advances to sustain a comfortable living environment for ourselves in the middle of a rainy winter? Then again, in the middle of a college campus surround by Silicon Valley, one of the leading economic areas in technology, we are not given the same opportunities to experience pure nature. This simulated environment we have created for ourselves almost always encases us. Because we do not experience “raw” nature every time that we step outside our doors, we almost forget about the beauty of the natural world. Until we take the time to get away and experience real nature for ourselves, we never really get the chance to enjoy its innate splendor. In fact, the only time we really do experience the beauty of nature is when we plan to experience it. This experience has also been controlled by technology and is viewed more as a way to experience short-term pleasure than something that is completely natural and really should be experienced more often than not. Whenever I go home, I am almost never on the Internet or watching TV. I’m out enjoying nature as much as possible. The difference lies in the way nature is revealed here, in Silicon Valley, and the way it is revealed back home, in Honolulu. Granted, not every city is as accommodating as Honolulu in terms of weather and scenery. However, because Honolulu has not yet reached the same technological capacity that places like Silicon Valley and San Francisco have, nature plays a larger role in the lives of those who live there. One of my greatest worries is that one-day Honolulu will become just another metropolis in our technological society.

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