Monday, March 06, 2006

Technology, kids and the outdoors don't mix, so a choice must be made
by Tom Conroy, MN DNR

Darn near have the whole TV remote - DVD/VCR player thing figured out. Have even mastered the options on my cell phone. Yet I keep falling further and further behind in the dizzying world of technology. Henry David Thoreau once warned that the day is coming when we will become tools of our tools. Old Henry was pretty prophetic. That day arrived long ago. Now, the three worst words in the typical workplace are, "The computer's down." When the computer system crashes, employees are suddenly relegated to doing tasks that don't require a computer - mostly dusting their office furniture or re-arranging the pens and pencils in their desk drawer.The latest technological craze, apparently, is something called the Xbox. As I understand it, the Xbox console is a gizmo that allows a user to access somewhere in the neighborhood of three billion computer games, not one of which anyone over the age of 40 would have the slightest idea of how to play. Microsoft sold 450,000 Xbox 360 consoles on November 22, the first day they became available. Of course, by this time next year the 360 will be obsolete, to be replaced by the XXgeekbox, a device that will allow the average ten year-old to completely avoid reality for the next 25 years.Last year in this country alone, $8 billion was spent on video games. At the rate we're going, the limbs of our young people are going to start to atrophy to the point where someday only the push button fingers will work. Mother Nature, it seems, is losing the battle with technology for the hearts and minds of the young. Rather than race home after school to join dad for a couple hours of pheasant hunting, many of the younger crowd races home to the computer. Rather than trade stories with friends about their latest outdoor adventure, they talk (in code) to complete strangers over the Internet.We live in a world of information overload. It comes from so many sources, so quickly, that it's like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant. If it isn't fast-paced and glitzy, many kids lose interest. There are no such guarantees with nature. Its' flow and rhythms can be slow, measured, even droning. On the other hand, it can suddenly become furious, brilliant, awesome. You take, with patience, what nature gives. She won't be changed by the click of a mouse or remote control and that, in the minds of many, can be a turn-off. Patience is no longer considered quite the virtue it once was, it seems.Growing up in a small southern Minnesota town along the Minnesota River provided splendid opportunities for exploring the outdoors. A bike ride of just a few blocks took us from the tame life of town to the wild side of the country. There we might build a fort of tree branches, follow a killdeer feigning injury, float a homemade raft across a backwater pond, cast heavy braided line into the river, or hike deer trails up and down ravines. Contrast those youthful experiences to present day, when a walk through a city park can be considered a wilderness experience. So, as young people become less inclined to immerse themselves in the outdoors, where will the future advocates for natural resource conservation come from? Studies have shown that environmental attitudes are formed as a result of life experiences rather than any specific program designed to change attitudes. A great deal of these life experiences are learned during childhood, such as hunting, hiking, fishing, or camping. And parents are the principle introducers of young people to the outdoors.When young people are introduced to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the outdoors, they gain awareness of natural resources. Awareness leads to appreciation, appreciation leads to emotional attachment, and emotional attachment leads to action. In the end, we conserve only what we love and appreciate.Years ago famed conservationist Aldo Leopold opined the following. "A man may not care for golf and still be human, but the man who does not like to see, hunt, photograph or otherwise outwit birds or animals is hardly normal. He is supercivilized and I for one do not know how to deal with him. Babes do not tremble when shown a golf ball, but I should not like to own the boy whose hair does not lift his hat when he sees his first deer. ?When the last corner lot is covered with tenements we can still make a playground by tearing them down, but when the last antelope goes by the board, not all the playground associations in Christendom can do aught to replace the lost." As adults, the choice is ours. Another video game or a walk in the woods.


Blogger amanda said...

Peggy also sent us a copy of this article in the mail -a good one.
I feel confidant in the choices we've made so far on this topic... not really hard choices to make, what's not to love about watching kids take in and learn from the world outdoors. What I'm proud of is that now the boys are old enough to make some of their time management decisions on their own and they still prefer to head out into the fresh air rather than sit in front of the TV.
Although -I suppose the fact that we get only get reception for 2 channels and don't have an X box do help them along in this decision a bit.
Hope we can keep sticking to our ways on this.... gets a little harder the older they get, the more all their friends at school prefer to do all that other stuff. The majoity of their pals have had their eyes glued to gameboy screens since kindergarten-much to our surpirse! Here we had kids who went to kindergarten so uninterested in tv, etc.. that they didn't even know what the 'Lion King' was.
James can come up here and play around the pond or go for a walk in the woods with them anytime!

4:52 PM  
Blogger amanda said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

I am very afraid of the TV, video game, DVD culture that is created by parents and brought to our schools... I'm probably worrying about it too much... but maybe not. I think your kids have it great where you are - I'm very happy about that.

So far James hasn't watched a TV show or a DVD. He has seen the TV in action here and there, but never sat down and watched it... snippets of a football game or the news now and then.

I very much agree with the points made in this article, and I hope that James becomes a person who recognizes real things - real beauty and meaning... I believe he will.

8:25 AM  
Blogger hcmom said...

hi, not only do i visit the site, but i use some of your narratives as "inspiration choices" for my students in some of the projects we do. we will be doing a message poster and then need to choose something they feel strongly about. the narratives give them some things to choose from and help get their minds going on different topics.
It is good to see the values and traditions of the outdoors continue in the next generation of children. (I don't image any of you remember how unpopular I was for NOT having computer games in the house and pushing the outdoors instead. It was definitely worth it)

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