With summer upon us, our kids will (hopefully) be heading
outdoors. But chances are they won’t be going anywhere without that little
companion in their pockets: their mobile phones.
I don’t know about you, but I’m saddened when I see young people
missing out on the wonders of a beautiful day because they’re staring down into
a screen. You’ve probably noticed this too – families at the beach, or a
national park, everyone busy texting or checking their email and social media
Surely there’s a way for nature and technology exist together happily?
A couple years ago my friend Michele Whiteaker, founder of FunOrangeCountyParks.com and co-founder of NaturePlayTrips.com asked me to
collaborate with her to answer the following question: “How to be a good digital citizen outdoors?” We decided to take a look at this issue from the perspective
of family balance and respecting the rights of others to enjoy our natural
resources. We both believe that finding a healthy balance between our online and
offline lives, especially for our children, is one of the great challenges of
With these thoughts in mind, Michele
and I came up with the following guidelines to help families as they head
outdoors (you can download these guidelines and printer-friendly mini-posters
- Research before, share after. The time to use technology to
enhance your nature experience is before you go outdoors and after you get
back. Michele calls this strategy “bookending.” Of course it’s okay to make
some time and space to snap a few photos while you’re out, but otherwise turn
that selfie stick into a walking stick, put your smartphone in your pocket and
be present in your nature experience.
- Turn off the sound and look around. Part of the
nature experience is silence and wild sounds. No one wants to hear the click, click, click of texting or
taking photos. If you’d rather hear music on the trail, wear headphones. Nature
is a sacred place to those who are enjoying it and the wildlife
that calls it home. Do your best not to interrupt others.
- Don’t trample the woods to share your goods. Getting that
one-of-a-kind shot to share with “friends” doesn’t mean you should trample or
deface natural resources. Recent events of graffiti at national parks shared on
Instagram or ex-Scout leaders knocking over ancient rock formations to shoot a
video show the inappropriate extent people will go to “share” their experience
- Tech is not terrible, but how you use it may be. Technology is
often vilified and placed in opposition to nature experiences, but it can be a handy
tool. Use it for identification, research, or like how you would use a book
(remember those?) to enhance your outdoor experience. But remember, you don’t need
to know the name of something to enjoy it.
- Don’t be driven to distraction. Ask
yourself: Is your tech helping you see things or is it making
you miss the moment? If your goal is time in nature to balance your tech use,
give nature 100 percent of your attention. There are tales of a whole class
missing the breaching of whales during a coastal hike or others who missed a
deer smack in front of them because they were distracted by their devices.
- Let “why” be your guide. Always ask yourself if you need to be connected (Are you blogging to inspire others? Keeping a
nature photo album? Telling a story? Doing research? “Collecting” flora and fauna
through photographs? Navigating your way around?) If the answer is “no” – then
put away your devices for later and enjoy the moment.
- Nature is its own best teacher. The real value of
nature comes when we can experience it for what it is. When you see something
occur in nature that you’ve never seen before and may never seen again, you’ve
found the wonder that makes it so beneficial. This is a small dose of what Richard Louv calls
“Vitamin N,” which can
help us navigate struggles and makes us healthier, smarter and happier.
- An hour away is more than okay. Always, always,
always leave time for enjoyment and the purity of the moment. Don’t let the
constant beeping of text messages, tweets and waiting Snapchats get in the way.
They will be there later. As you get out more, you’ll get better at this. We
For myself, I’ve found a nice balance between technology and the
outdoors in a handy little app called Strava. It records my outdoor pursuits on a bike or a hike without any
action from me (other than remembering to turn it on) and lets me share my
experiences with friends afterwards. Michele is constantly writing
about her outdoor experiences in her blog, but her “bookending”
strategy of taking photos when her family arrives at a place, putting it away
during the outing, and sharing later when she gets home gives her all the
benefits of getting outdoors without the distraction.
So, in other words, being a fan of nature doesn’t mean one has
to be an enemy of tech. It’s all about balance.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com.