Enjoying the outdoors virtually: Good or bad?

Are electronics helping us lose our connection to the outdoors?

Enjoying the outdoors virtually: Good or bad?

I was enjoying some dinner one evening at an outside café after a large 4-H event. The café was located next to a park along a river in a mid-sized Michigan city. The park itself was beautifully landscaped with numerous trees, shrubs and flowers; a great place to outside within an urban area where concrete and glass often dominate. It was a beautiful evening and I was encouraged to see many people outside.

Upon closer observation, I began to notice people intently looking at their phones. Not just a few people, a lot of people! I decided to take a count by identifying how many people were looking at their phone for the next 100 people that walked by. The results were staggering: 82 of 100 people! That’s 82 percent! People in groups, people alone, people on bikes, even someone on roller blades, all looking at their phone. The percentage likely would have increased had I continued tallying after I reached 100. Numerous people came by all looking at their phone after I completed my small survey. I mentioned this to the waitress who said it is common. She even saw a mother who had two children on a leash while she was looking at her phone. I left feeling puzzled and curious.

There was no means of knowing what these folks were looking at on their phone. However, I suspect this was at the peak of a craze where people were seeking out virtual “creatures.” Perhaps they were browsing the ‘net, checking their Facebook page, texting or looking at any number of options the internet has provided us today. Some were actually talking on their phone.

This got me thinking. Have we really lost our connection to the outdoors? Can we be surrounded by natural beauty and yet be focused on an electronic devise, oblivious of our surroundings? Yet, these people were outside in a nice setting at a beautiful park and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Electronics have provided many great tools to help people get outside even more: GPS, radios, satellite communications, etc. Where does the harmony exist between these two conflicting sides?

The realization for me came full circle later this summer when I was hiking a large, remote, roadless area in a National Forest with my son in search of brook trout. He had a navigation system on his phone that showed me air photos of my exact location and where I wanted to go. This made it far easier for me to find my way and allowed my mind to free itself from the worry of being lost. I was free to enjoy my surroundings and my quest for trout.

Since that time, I have come to realize a greater appreciation for just being outdoors, regardless of what gets you there. It is far better to have people outdoors than to regularly be inside. The call of a cardinal, a brilliant sunset, the flash of whitetail deer, wind blowing through trees, a warm rain on your face or bats on a feeding frenzy can only fully be appreciated by being outside. Regardless of what gets people outside, I am glad to see people enjoying the outdoors rather than doing the same thing indoors. So get outside, whatever motivates you to do so!

Michigan State University Extension encourages participation in new experiences that are safe and expose youth to science involvement with 4-H Science: Asking Questions and Discovering Answers. Please contact me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for ideas on spending time outdoors with youth.

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