A few days ago I was visiting Richard Louv’s Facebook profile. One of his sons told him that he does not exist unless he has a Facebook profile. This is quite funny given that he is the author of Last Child in the Woods one of the best selling and most influential environmental books of recent years. Unlike many high profile authors, Richard doesn’t hide away under a pseudonym. He lets any of his FB friends leave comments and occasionally chips in to the chat that happens there.
Half way down the page I noticed a woman asking for advice about her 14yr old step-daughter. Since getting her iTouch she is reluctant to leave the car or go on family walks as she wants to spend time playing with her toy. Rather tentatively I put in a response. I’m always slightly wary of doing this in the environmental world as there are many that believe digital technology and the Great Outdoors belong in different universes and ne’er the two shall meet.
I don’t think this is an unusual situation. Since the dawn of film and TV, many children and adults have had a screen addiction. Many people love their gizmos and gadgets and this is true in the outdoor world too. The use of geographical information systems and GPS is an accepted part of the way many individuals and organizations now work. Thanks to remote sensing technology we know more about the planet than ever before and have been able to observe and confirm changes on a macro level such as climate change and a micro level such as carbon dating.
The world of mobile technology is booming at a personal as well as scientific level. Three months ago, my son was given a Do-Be Learn It. This is a MP4 player designed for teenagers. It comes in a funky box with a pre-loaded content of study skills, practical advice about coping with school and life and loads of space for uploading music. Many schools, especially in Scotland, have recognized how clever this gadget is and have bought them for pupils to use. MJ took the Do Be home and instead of switching on the TV, he laid back on the sofa and followed the deep breathing exercises. He proceeded to work out how to upload music from CD to the DoBe. When he goes on trips he takes his Do Be. It doesn’t interfere with an activity anymore than my husband answering his mobile phone or me checking my email every now and then. When something interesting arises, he stops, takes a look and joins in the conversation. In fact for some sports, such as skiing, being able to “rock” down a piste is quite good fun!
So, rather than fighting the tide of change perhaps we need to acknowledge the role of mobile technology in our own and our children’s lives. Let’s capitalize upon what it can offer to help engage children with the natural and built world around us. Let’s use these digital tools as agents for positive change. What have we got to lose by doing this?