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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Understanding a trip to Maine and "generational amnesia"

I imagine most people have had at least one experience in their lives where they have been in complete awe of nature. I have had my share and hope to continue to pursue many more during my life, but my most recent - this past August in Maine, specifically Acadia national park – was particularly special for me. In a word… wow. The place is simply breathtaking.

We camped, car camped that is, for one entire week. I’d say it was pretty rugged for a couple quasi-urbanites, but the best part of these rustic accommodations was that it forced us to be at surrounded by the natural beauty of the place for nearly every minute we spent there.

I didn’t begin to fully appreciate the effect this vacation had on me until driving home when we happened to hear some quote on the radio (the exactness of which escapes me now). It was something like “the more people replace natural beauty with things virtual, they start to forget.” Hearing this and comprehending its meaning made my heart ache for all the natural beauty which has been lost over the years and for folks who just can’t/haven’t had the chance to experience such things.

I assure you that this is not some left wing plea for saving this and that, just a bit of reflection on something I find important to my life.

The next 11 hours of the drive provided ample opportunity for these thoughts to really sink in, and thus when I got home, I tried to do a bit of reading on the issue. The most original information I found was a thoughtful study by psychology researchers at the University of Washington who investigated specifically the effect of modern technology and its increasing encroachment on to human connection with the natural world…

Specifics of the study:

- Subjects under stress had much better quality recovery by actually personally viewing a scene of nature (outside) versus seeing the same scene in real-time high-definition television.

- Children were found to develop deeper and more social relationships with real-life pets versus robotic pets – however, they did actually develop one way superficial relationships with the robotic animals

At first thought, these may seem like trivial findings, yet if thoughtfully considered, it can be understood that over time, an increasing number technological nature experiences will do two things to our psyche as humans.

First, there will be a large void in our ability to find solace and healing in nature b/c we will be deprived of such experiences – perhaps w/out even knowing what is missing.

Secondly, and I find more interesting, the baseline of what people perceive as the full human experience of nature will shift - the researchers actually referred to this as “generational amnesia.” The reason for this is that people naturally believe the environment they encounter during childhood is the norm – thus measuring all environmental degradation later in their life versus their ‘norm.’ It can then be assumed with each generation the degradation baseline moves further and we become oblivious to changes of previous generations.

Take poor air quality and asthma as an example. There wasn’t always such rampant asthma in cities, but it is considered today to be a normal part of the human condition. Those coming up today will thus not see pervasive asthma as an environmental issue to contend with. More simply, what about the creek/stream you knew from when you were a kid, chances it’s close to being dried up today. Those coming up today won’t even see the difference by that dried up creek-bed.

That is an uncomfortable picture for me. I guess the point of this reflection is best summed up by a quote from one of the researchers: “We are a technological species, but we also need a deep connection with nature in our lives.”

Thanks for reading. A.M.D.G.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful Joe. I spent many hours of my childhood hanging out in wooded areas around our home. Building tree-houses, catching frogs, finding turtles, finding and eating wild black berries...just having a grand old time. Little did I know at the time just how lucky I was. And more to your point, not realizing that most kids didn't have this same experience then, and far, far fewer do today.
    I was far richer than I ever knew.
    I think I need to take a hike!