Posts Tagged ‘children and nature’

Your brain on computers; cyber mobs; natural theology

September 15, 2010

I had the good fortune of (finally) meeting Tom and Christine Sine of the Mustard Seed Associates in a coffee shop in a suburb of Chicago. We were all leading (different) workshops at the Christian Community Development Association meeting last week.

In our conversation, Tom raised the question of how computers and our use of them affects our social, spiritual, emotional development. Our use of computers changes us in some pretty fundamental ways. I shared with him a little about things we’ve been posting at Flourish about children, videophilia and nature-deficit-disorder, the roots of (literal) myopia, and Sabbath.

As so often, since that conversation I’ve come across more and more material about the connections between computers, morality, and elemental sociality–

1. At Flourish, my friend Kristyn Komarnicki, editor of PRISM magazine, write about the things she learned when she went on vacation without her laptop. For one thing, she was challenged about the way she worked the rest of the time, preaching to her kids about too much computer time but keeping her laptop open nights and weekends.

2. Another post, a panel interview actually, at Big Questions Online, asks “is the cyber-mob a threat to freedom?” This post has more to do with pathological social organization than with individual moral development, but they are related.

3. Alan Jacobs, who rarely disappoints, asks “why has Internet discourse devolved into a ‘war of every man against every man?’ ” One paragraph describes the strange passions ignited by online debates:

The author and commenters bristled at my critique. I bristled right back. The argument escalated. At one point, I said to myself, “All right, you want to play hardball, we’ll play hardball” — and I would have cut loose and said exactly what I wanted to say, except that at that moment my hands were shaking too violently for me to type accurately. I looked at my trembling fingers for a moment. Then I closed that browser tab and spent a few minutes removing all …[the related] blogs from my bookmarks and my RSS reader. I stopped reading those blogs and have never looked at them again to this day. I don’t think I’ve ever made a better decision.

Implicit in all of this is the sense that we may not have been created (or that we “didn’t evolve”) to cope with the high-tech, anonymous, hyperconnected, high-energy environments we now have created, so we might be prone to infelicitous side-effects. Kind of like we aren’t well adapted physiologically for automobile domination, given that the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 1 and 24 is car accidents, and the obesity epidemic is more linked to the decline of walking and rise of automobile transportation than to changes in diet or organized sports.

Taken together, modern technologies quite a lot more mundane than genetic engineering and stem-cell research raise the question of what it means to be truly, fully human. I hope that some of the intellectual heft behind natural theology can eventually be put toward some of these extensions of the “theology of the body.”

Why do outdoorsy kids avoid the near-sightedness epidemic?

January 14, 2010

Americans are losing their vision. Literally.

In the past 30 years the prevalence of myopia in the U.S. has increased 66 percent (from 25% of Americans aged 12-54 in the early 1970s, to over 40% of Americans today, according to researches at the NIH’s National Eye Institute). Genetics are known to be a factor, but that’s a dramatic increase, so researchers figure something else has changed.

It turns out your parents were wrong about why you need glasses–at least in the case of near-sightedness. For many years we all heard the same advice: don’t read in dim light, don’t use a flashlight to read under the covers, don’t watch too much TV.

Researchers are learning that the real reason for the dramatic surge in myopia is that we are becoming a nation of dedicated indoorsmen. (more…)

Videophilia replacing love of nature

March 16, 2009

In the late 1900s researchers like E.O. Wilson and Stephen Kellert began using the term "biophilia" to describe the basic love of other living things that humans seem to exhibit–an affection that encompassed nature, other species, diversity. So strong an affinity, so powerful an affect, was biophilia that the researchers decided it must be instinctive, built into the human brain by natural selection because it was an aid to survival.

Or else it's part of God's (intelligent, by definition) design–to make gardeners who love the garden. I'm betting on the latter hypothesis.

But there's a competing impulse, a dark attraction that fights for the affection of humans. Is it money? Sex? Power?

No, it's actually video screens. There is a strong negative relationship between the amount of time people spend on the Internet, playing video games, and watching television and movies, and the amount of time people spend outside in nature. Humans seem to have a (built-in? instinctive?) love of flat screen TVs and handheld video devices.

Biophilia is being replaced by videophilia.