Whose fault?

A study by The Nature Conservancy blames video games, the Internet and television, among other several factors, for a nine-year decline in visitor traffic at U.S. national parks:

“While more than two dozen variables were tested, (University of Illinois ecologist Oliver Pergams, one of the analysts of the study,) said that video games, home movie rentals, going out to movies, Internet use, and rising fuel prices explained almost 98 percent of the decline in people visiting national parks.”

A report on this study at MaineToday.com generated some interesting explanations.

Is the problem economic? Some people, like “Ed” of Kennebunk, Me., think so. He commented on the article, saying:

“The fact of the matter is simply that there are many many more competing outlets for our ever-shrinking disposable income than ever before.”

Or is it a case of today’s generations going soft and lazy? Here’s how “Jay” of Brunswick, Me., put it:

“I know many, many Baby Boomers who used to camp with a vengeance and have since grown soft and wouldn’t think of roughing it in a tent. And as a result they probably haven’t sufficiently exposed their children to camping. And when they have, the pushback from the more sedentary, computer/video gaming and heavier youth has probably been greater.”

Sure, technology can be a distraction, and that’s a logical explanation for the drop in park attendance. But the problem is more intrinsic.

We’ve become afraid of the outdoors. And worse, we have no patience for it. In the process, we’re driving out our natural need to remain connected to the outdoors.

We’ve become fearful of the same bugs and germs that our ancestors coped with every day. And we’ve scared ourselves indoors with a constant stream of stories about gang violence, child abductions and rampant drug crimes.

We’re so busy we’re constantly seeking ways to add structure and order to our lives. We put our kids in organized leagues instead of kicking them out of the house and making them find playmates.

To see evidence of what I’m talking about, you don’t have to go to a national park. Just drive around your own neighborhood on a nice, sunny day. Go past a city park. Do you see many kids outside playing? Are they riding their bikes in the street? Are the playing pickup games of baseball or kickball?

Probably not.

If you do see kids playing it’s probably in a league sport or with parents hovering nearby.

When I was a kid, playing outside on our own came naturally. In fact, we lived outside. We played in it, explored it and thrived in it.

Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson has developed an explanation for why we did this. He calls it the biophilia hypothesis.

To explain, he says, “There is something in us that needs nature.” It’s part of our DNA, he says.

But he also warns, “When we don’t get it, we don’t do so well.”

I fear the consequences of this trend of fear and impatience are worse than just a decline in park attendance. As we reduce the value of the outdoors we reduce the urgency to solve problems like global warming and over-consumption of non-renewable natural resources.

And then we really won’t do so well.

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2 Responses to Whose fault?

  1. winehiker says:

    Well said; couldn’t have done better on this topic. Today’s kids admire style over substance. As their parents, it’s our fault — we’ve failed to honor the relationship with Nature that we once enjoyed. I, on the other hand, have felt that siren call of Nature for so many years that it’s almost hard for me to grasp that most other people don’t hear it.

    Nature giveth. Nature also taketh away. Which is why we need to remain connected to Nature. OK, it’s not a case of “need to” — we MUST. We must pay forward and continually strengthen our natural connection with our one-and-only Mother Earth as part of our educational system. It’s either that or hurtle pell-mell toward oblivion because we can’t persuade enough of the next generation that this planet — whether in the macrocosm of global warming or the microcosm of local disappearing species — is worth saving.

  2. […] I’ve been reading some of the posts on Cutter’s blog. In one of them, Whose fault?, Cutter, with reference to a Nature Conservancy study, examines why there’s been a nine-year decline in visitation to our National Parks. He raises such questions as “Are we distracted too much by toys and technology?” and “Is it a case of today’s generations going soft and lazy?” […]

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