How a retreat into nature might reverse how we behave

A friend linked this New York Times article on Facebook and it really struck a chord with me.

I grew up catching crawfish hiding underneath rocks in the creek a few blocks behind my house. My parents humored my brother and I and let us pick up every “lost” turtle we saw on the road. We built tree houses, camped, cut bamboo, raced our bikes and usually made it home by dark

While I’ve noticed an increase in reports touting the importance of nature/child relationship (to which I agree) — this brought up an idea I hadn’t really thought of, but have seen all too often.

I’m still involved with my father’s Boy Scout troop and last month, helped lead a group of boys canoeing in the Northern Tier.

It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.

Cellphones do not work here, e-mail is inaccessible and laptops have been left behind. It is a trip into the heart of silence — increasingly rare now that people can get online even in far-flung vacation spots.

… The believers in the group say the drumbeat of incoming data has created a false sense of urgency that can affect people’s ability to focus.

While on the boundary waters, the boys seemed to panic without their phones. Some sneaked iPods out on the water, others wore watches to keep up with the day.  I couldn’t say much; I brought my FM3 Buddha Machine

The article goes on to state how nature, rather than these devices, can refresh the brain.

“Our senses change. They kind of recalibrate — you notice sounds, like these crickets chirping; you hear the river, the sounds, the smells, you become more connected to the physical environment, the earth, rather than the artificial environment,” says Mr. Strayer, the trip leader.

“That’s why they call it vacation. It’s restorative,” Mr. Braver says. He wonders if there’s any science behind the nature idea. “Part of being a good scientist is being skeptical.”

All week, I considered taking a night to spend at Tyler State Park, sans cell phone, laptop or a watch, as an opportunity to decompress and recalibrate my senses. I know when I limit how much I use my computer, listen to my iPod or check my e-mail — when I just disconnect — I feel like I can re-prioritize and these things aren’t as important, aren’t as urgent as I make them out to be. But it’s hard to reason with 105-degree heat…


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Melissa Crowe

I’m Melissa, an adventure-seeking, budget-crunching, internet-loving journalist. Along with covering local government at Victoria Advocate, I write a weekly music column for Get Out and freelance for University of Houston-Victoria in my spare time. In this year’s Texas Associated Press Managing Editors awards, I won first place for star breaking news report of the year, first star online package of the year, first community service and first deadline writing. I also won third place for team effort, honorable mention for freedom of information, and honorable mention for star investigative report of the year. I also took first place for best breaking news story in the Local Media Association Editorial Contest, a national contest. Last year, I won second in the TAPME contest for star online package, third for star breaking news report and honorable mentions for star investigative report and team effort. The Local Media Association awarded me with an honorable mention for best breaking news story. I grew up in rural northern Texas and graduated from the University of North Texas. After working for a family-owned paper in the eastern corner of the state, I took an opportunity to move south. When I’m not filing FOIA requests, I enjoy spicy Bloody Marys, kayaking the Guadalupe River and exploring South Texas. Would you like to hire me to write or edit something? Or ask me a question? Or send me a link to a funny GIF? Email me!

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