the beast is glaring

Tonight, I loathe the machine that drew me back in to its white-blue glow only to laugh in my face: “No new emails! Mua ha ha ha!” (I have never used the term “Mua ha ha ha” before.  What a guy thing.)

I started reading Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology today.  I’ve only begun the book, but I’m already so enthralled.  Eric Brende (a Topeka, KS, native and Washburn, Yale, and MIT graduate) and his new wife move to a electricity- and motor-free community for eighteen months.  Brende talks about how technology takes so much energy to sustain itself that sometimes it doesn’t improve the quality of life at all.  I know — we all say we know this.  But why, as Brende did in high school, do we continue to work our jobs to pay for our car… just so we can get to work?  In his year and a half of isolation from the modern world, Brende hopes to figure out what balance of technology is healthy and helpful.

In a way this is tied to our need for the therapy of nature, as Richard Louv talks about in Last Child in the Woods.  Our mental, physical, and spiritual health, our ability to imagine and discern — would these be all the more agile if we worked with entire bodies in the living, breathing world?

When I am sucked back to the computer to feed my checking-email-and-blogs addiction, I hope to gain some new bit of information — perhaps a book recommendation, an idea for dinner, warm greetings from my family.  I guess I’m trying to expand my mind, finding fuel to feed my passions.  But in all the checking and staring at the flashing screens, am I actually damaging my mind?  Am I turning it into a stagnant button-pressing machine?

A couple weeks ago, I wondered how much it would matter if I let my blog go to pot.  No more guilt about not posting on a regular basis, no addiction to the comments from readers.  What if I wrote in a notebook instead?  Wrote a book or a journal?  Maybe someday, I’d still have readers — those who were patient enough to wait for me to arrange and edit and publish any good bits of writing I may have churned out.  Maybe it’d be a better use of your time, too, than to watch me muddle through my questions.

Advertisements
  1. From another blog-addicted reader to you: Don’t stop! We LOVE your blog! I think reading each other’s blogs and emails are ways to stay more connected. If *everyone* were willing to give up their technological connections and write more letters on paper. I don’t know a solution to the problem. Modern life has enabled me to know *more* amazing people, but it also has stressed me out, because I don’t know how to genuinely connect with all of them except through using technology. Is it a copout to say this is just a reminder that we’re not in heaven?

    Let us know whether you recommend the book, OK?

    Huh, I actually have sweat trickling down my leg from my run. As you’ve never said “mua ha ha ha” before, so I have never had sweat running down my leg.

  2. Interesting. The million dollar question is… does technology bring us together or tear us apart?

    However, as I ponder that million dollar question, there is a voice inside my head (in a panicky voice nonetheless) yelling, “Don’t stop blogging!!”

  3. It’s funny this should come up, as manhattandoula and I (she’s the one that referred me to your blog, and I am so glad!!) were just talking about this the other day.
    I could honestly live without the t.v. and even electric lighting… but I love the internet. It’s one of the few places I can connect with like-minded people (I love unlike-minded people as well, but we all need that connection to people that understand us!), being as weird in conviction that I am… and I also love learning new things, all the time. The internet makes a lot of the information I want far more accessible that hunting it down on foot.
    I believe we all need a healthy balance. People to spend time with in person, face to face, and it’s also good to be able to jump on this box and interact with others that intrigue us, help us learn and grown, and support us in things that other’s just don’t “get.”

    Now that I’ve been introduced to your wonderful blog, I really would hate to see it go. 😀

  4. Last Child in the Woods ––
    Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
    by Richard Louv
    Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
    November 16, 2006

    In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

    But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building “forts”, farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what’s to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

    It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though (“conveniently”) never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, “Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!”, at http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3.

    It should also be obvious (but apparently isn’t) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don’t learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building “forts”, mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

    On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: “Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back.” Then he titles his next chapter “Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?” Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are “nature-lovers” and are “just hikers on wheels”. But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It’s not!

    On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one’s health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one’s experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the “civilized” world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I’ve been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can’t remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

    It’s clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.

    References:

    Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

    Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

    Flannery, Tim, The Eternal Frontier — An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

    Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

    Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

    Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature’s Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

    Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

    Vandeman, Michael J., http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/ecocity3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/sc8, and http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/goodall.

    Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

    “The Wildlands Project”, Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

    Wilson, Edward O., The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

    Abstract:

    It is anthropocentric thinking, and irresponsible, to promote the invasion of wildlife habitat without considering: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building “forts”, farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what’s to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

    • clbeyer
    • July 10th, 2008

    Oh, come on guys, don’t get all panicky yet! I doubt I’ll give up my little ranting space any time soon. But it sure is interesting to hear how addicted you all are to living in the blogosphere.

    Today I decided not to check anything (email or blogs) until evening. I lasted until noon. Self-control doesn’t come in one day, I guess.

    manhattandoula: Have you really not had your legs sweat before? I sweat behind the knees all the time. I think it’s kind of cool and macho.

    Brooke: I like your million-dollar question. I think the answer is both, depending on what technology and how it is used.

    Mrs. Gunning: Welcome to _passage_! It’s good to have you here.

    To all my readers: I’m sorry if Mike Vandeman Ph.D.’s comment is distracting to you. I accepted it, although admittedly it has the stench of spam to it. At least it’s interesting spam.

    • Betsy
    • July 15th, 2008

    All I have to say is that I would hate for you to stop blogging because selfishly, I feel connected to you through reading your blog. I also, like everyone else LOVE your words and writing. Thank you for encouraging me to think about what I put in my body and other issues of importance….Love ya, B

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: