Real Time Versus Real Life


By Samuel Greengard

Over the last couple of years, a growing number of articles have pointed out that visits to national parks are down—particularly among younger people. Personally, I can attest to the fact that getting my kids out for walks and mini-hikes is about as challenging as negotiating an international arms treaty or herding butterflies in the Serengeti.

Why go outside when there are perfectly good pictures on the Internet and videos on YouTube? Why bother with nature when there are perfectly good episodes of The Walking Dead to watch on your iPhone?

Getting my teen boys to stop using their electronics is like a game of whack-a-mole. Once they hit their limit on the computer, they're onto the TV or their iPhones. Shutting everything off requires draconian measures, including programming the router to limit hours of access and physically removing power cords or a mouse.

Tech addiction is no joke, particularly among Millennials (a.k.a. digital natives) engaged in a perpetual texting and social media stream. But the problem is more than the sum of the devices we use. Studies show that when we interact with nature and spend time hugging trees, our blood pressure drops, our stress levels plummet and we become more balanced.

Instead, we surf the Web and watch TV before bed. According to Nicholas Carr, author of the 2010 book The Shallows, Americans now spend an average of eight hours a day staring at some type of electronic screen. A recent Harvard Business Review blog post noted that the average American sits about 9.3 hours per day compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping. We're so used to this situation—because we're all doing it—that we actually think it's normal.

Study after study indicates there's a big problem. We're becoming more obese and unhealthy, we're becoming more disengaged from others and, if a growing body of research is right, we're rewiring our brains in undesirable ways.

Technology can do amazing things and can enhance our personal and professional lives in immeasurable ways—but only if we consider how we use it on a daily basis. So, have walking meetings, stare at the clouds and go for a run sans heart monitor and sport watch that clocks your speed and distance. And, while you're at it, force your kids to come along. You'll all feel better … and be better off.