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.