First, a quick hello from internet-land! I spent this past weekend down in Long Beach and surrounding areas for Ghostwriters Unite!; I was at the conference to help moderate panels and lend my small press experience to the general milieu, though I also got a lot of schmoozing in as well. I learned a lot about ghostwriting, to include that it’s much more complex a profession than one might think, and I met all sorts of fabulous people from a variety of backgrounds, and I wish we’d had more time together. A huge thank you to Tyger Ward for getting me connected to the conference in the first place! I ended up making a long weekend of it since I was down there on my own anyway, and on my off time I explored the Long Beach marina, went up to the La Brea Tar Pits, and even stomped around Griffith Park for a while, where I saw my first rattlesnake in the wild (probably a southern Pacific rattlesnake) and walked by the cages for the old Los Angeles zoo. All in all, it was a most excellent trip, and I plan to do it again.
I spent time today playing catch-up on email, messages, and the like. While I was taking a quick break on Tumblr, I ran across an image depicting two children, one using a smart phone, and one holding a small bird. Below these two images was the caption “Teach your children well”. I’m not entirely sure what the anonymous compiler’s intent was; perhaps they wanted to contrast the detachment of the one child, accessing the world through the virtual reality on the phone, with the direct experience of the other child interacting with the live bird in his hands. Or maybe they agreed with me when I said:
Yes. Teach your children that through the internet they can access more information about the world than ever, from places they may never see for themselves, from people they might never have known existed, about topics they never even knew existed. And then teach them that while this knowledge is well and good and valuable, it’s not a replacement for also going out in the world and experiencing it, and being out in it. Let these things complement each other. Let the internet be a way to fill in the blanks about the new type of bird you encountered while you were breathing in the fresh air out on a hike, moving your muscles and negotiating rocky terrain. Let the words of others who have recorded their experiences and shared them via technology enhance your understanding of what you see with your eyes, or hear with your ears, or touch with your fingers. Let the internet spread the word that a particular species of bird is highly endangered and should not be harmed, even for food, and let on the ground action and protection follow it up.
Both of these pictures are children learning well. Let them teach each other, too.
Of course, this also brings up the issue that there are many, many children (and adults) who don’t have access to the internet, and some whose access is restricted either through government censorship, or limited computer access, or illiteracy, or other barriers. All the internet connectivity in the world won’t help if you can’t get to it, or understand what’s there. It also doesn’t bring into account that more and more children in the US and elsewhere are being denied access to wild, open spaces in which they can roam and explore without helicopter parents hovering over their every move. By the time they’re old enough to make their own decisions on where they can go, the window for early fascination with nature has long since closed, and many simply don’t care.
Unfortunately, tech and nature are often set against each other in an either/or dichotomy. As we create increasingly complex technologies, they may distract us from the world around us, especially the outside world. Those who wish to preserve nature and the human relationship with it may sometimes claim moral superiority because they don’t have a tablet PC or smart phone. I’ve written before about how nature vs. technology is a false dichotomy, and I still hold with that. Both of these influences contributed invaluably to who I am today, from the antibiotics that saved my life a few years ago and the computer I use to communicate with you folks via this blog, to the small, sacred places that raised me and all the trails in the Columbia River Gorge I’ve explored as an adult.
Both unfettered nature and technology have their good and bad sides from a human bias. Unfortunately, we’ve lost our respect for both of them; we take and take of the good while pretending we’ve completely overcome the bad. The Black Plague may be a distant memory, but over a million people die from malaria worldwide every year. Cars get us from place to place with independence and speed, but oil spills are just one of the many costs the petroleum industry likes to sweep under the rug. Still, if people are able to live happier, healthier, longer lives, that can’t be all bad–especially if we can do so in sustainable manners that also leave plenty of room for all of our nonhuman neighbors on the planet.
We won’t learn to respect both sides if we demonize one or the other. This is why I am neither a Luddite nor a technophile, and why I enjoyed both the museum at the Tar Pits and the trails at Griffith Park. Everyone’s personal balance may be different, but I firmly believe that as a species if we are to survive and thrive we must respect both the uncontrolled, wild nature we came from and the technology that we tool-using apes have created.