The Unexpected “Nature” of Social Media

I was sitting in my room chatting with a friend trying to decide the topic for this post.  We were hashing around ideas when I looked out the window for a brief moment.  It was a dreary day, one that it looks like its raining out but it isn’t, one of those days that make you want to stay inside with a cup of tea and watch a movie or read a nice somber book.  Ironically, there was something beautiful about the tree that was swaying slowly in the wind right outside my window.  That was when I realized I have not truly experienced the outdoors since coming to college at the end out August.
I have been outdoors, of course, but I don’t think many of us spend any time “experiencing the outdoors”.  We bike, run, walk, and meander outside but we don’t stop and take it in.  Furthermore, I don’t think it is possible to truly experience the outdoors in our current condition unless we go to a hiking trail or something of that sort.  If you think about it, when you live in a suburban or urban area everything you see on a daily basis was man-made.  The contractor at Boston College decided a specific type of tree would look good in the area right outside my window, so now it is there.  We took “nature” and placed it in this unnatural place, it is not natural.
I believe our disconnection from nature has been far more detrimental to our well-being than most of us realize.  Study after study has shown that nature decreases anxiety, depression, loneliness, stress, fear and anger.  It helps humans feel more connected to one another and to the world.  One interesting study conducted at the University of Illinois showed that residents in Chicago public housing who had more trees and green space around their building reported feeling more connected to the community and being more concerned with helping and supporting each other.  Further reading on this topic is posted at the bottom of this blog.
There are many causes for our disconnection from nature far beyond the internet, which I will not go into.  It is simply the way our society has developed.  It doesn’t make sense to leave civilization and reconnect with nature as exhibited by Chris McCandless’ journey described in the book Into the Wild.  The internet actually allows us to partly experience nature through photos our friends post on social media or through watching “Planet Earth” on Netflix.  However, a photograph does not come close to the delight one feels when actually experiencing the outdoors.
At this point, you might expect me to bash Social Media for taking us away from nature and allowing people to substitute actual experience for a photograph.  It has actually been a valuable instrument in raising awareness and bringing about real change in renewable energy efforts such as solar panels as well as many other causes associate with saving the natural resources of our planet.
One insightful article describes a phenomenon the writer calls “social solar”.  The costs for production have significantly decreased in the recent five years, which is allowing the prices to fall and create solar energy as a commercially viable option for homeowners.  However, for solar to really catch on, it must become “normal” to homeowners all over the world.  How does an idea become normalized?  One has to hear about others adopting the technology and having successful ventures with the product.  This awareness is increasingly being achieved by social media.
Although I do not know what will come of our connection to nature in the future, I hope it continues in the recent trend to save the world before we destroy it.  I believe just as I experienced a fleeting moment of clarity looking out my window right before writing this post, all humans have an innate connection to nature and we will inevitably save the planet.
Further reading:

3 comments

  1. Hey Bill, awesome post! I understand where you are coming from completely. The “BC Bubble” in and of itself is such a strong force in our lives; I rarely know of events happening outside of campus, as it is already so difficult (and yet necessary, thank you internship-searches and FOMO) to stay up to date with everything happening ON campus. But the concept of forgetting we are in an unnatural environment is truly fascinating, because that extends far past Boston College or even the cities we grew up in. Social Media plays a solid part in reminding people about what else is out there, what humans are doing to nature and how we can protect our planet. Lots of social campaigns have sprung in regards to the environment, and have been very effective thus far. Its also a great tool for seeing through the eyes of others- especially those more fortunate to get out of these “natural yet unnatural” environments and share with the rest of us how beautiful the world really is!
    -Faizan Javed

  2. Really liked this post! I recently was thinking about how the Chestnut Hill Reservoir is the only nature I really come in contact with here. However, like you said, I’m always just on a run or talking on the phone that I don’t take in my surroundings. I never thought about the benefits of nature for our mental health, but’s it is definitely an important consideration. Despite the ways SM has pulled us away from the outdoors, I enjoyed hearing about the positive efforts it has helped with.

  3. Hmmm…This post certainly brings up a number of points about the relationship between nature and technology.

    My initial reaction is skepticism over whether our “connection to nature” will miraculously cause us to save the planet, especially when we ultimately turn away from such “fleeting glimpses of nature” right back to our screens to type out our blog posts. The general population is becoming less and less familiar and comfortable being disconnected from social media and the Internet. I think it’s going to take more than blind optimism to save us.

    It’s true that the internet allows the spreading of awareness about technologies or practices that are environmentally sustainable. At the individual level, I think social media also allows us to reconnect with nature like never before. For example, planning hiking trips is incredibly easy by researching experiences and recommendations about the best trails from online forums and hiking communities. However, I think that to truly save the environment, we’re going to need legislation achieved at the international level. Can social media help make that happen…? It will be interesting to tell.

    Another consideration is the actual environmental impact of the Internet. This article (http://time.com/46777/your-data-is-dirty-the-carbon-price-of-cloud-computing/) notes that 2% of the world’s total carbon emissions are the result of IT-services. Social media companies such as Facebook received heavy criticism for their reliance of coal-based energy in years past, but users then generated enough pressure for them to invest in sustainable energies. Also, the Internet as a whole has also had environmental benefits, such as reducing the need for printed paper.

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