Out on a forest trail, I was just closing on a particularly gorgeous specimen of Passiflora Edulis with my iPhone camera when the phone gave the morose little beep of a dying battery. What?? It was fully charged when I headed out! I glanced down with surprise at the glowering red battery icon… How I could have used up that much battery in the last 2 hours?
The answer was pretty simple. I was completely immersed in experiencing the world through my viewscreen- a couple hours of continuous use was more than enough to use up the battery. Thinking back, I realized that lately I had been spending far more time behind the lens of my phone’s camera than I had directly experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of the world around me. I recognized then I needed to once again re-evaluate my use of tech in nature- to find a balance that enhances my connection, rather than detracting from it.
Here are some key steps I use to help me find my personal balance between technology and nature:
1. Realize that Modern Technology is not inherently nature’s enemy– it’s just a tool.
Used correctly, Tech absolutely can help us connect better with nature: Online nature photography can motivate us to visit a beautiful place. Google Earth can help us plan our expeditions. Hiking forums, web based meetup groups and amazing outdoor photo communities like Yonder can inspire us to join together with others.
At the same time, unaware usage can narrow our experience of nature; shut down our senses, funnel our experiences through the lens of our camera, have us checking our social media or chatting on the phone while out on the trail.
In order to see if you need to rebalance your personal relationship with tech and nature, ask yourself: which side of this equation do you usually fall?
2. Test for addiction. The instant gratification of snapping a photo provides your brain with a quick shot of dopamine. If you’re not sure where you stand, try this simple test for addiction: Shut your camera in your pack for the day. If you find yourself automatically reaching for it at every beautiful view, instead of letting your eyes explore and caress the mountains and valleys, then you might just consider a more extreme digital detox for your addiction.
3. Leave it behind. As a digital detox, choose designated times or trips that you will leave your tech (cameras, music, etc) behind and just experience nature through your own eyes and ears. No matter how useful your tech is, it should not become a replacement for your own senses. Using our own eyes and ears helps us develop and strengthen mental pathways that actively connect us to the patterns of the world around us.
4. Take time to Interact with Nature without your tech. Sitting down on a rock and drawing what you see, writing or even just deeply listening to the world around you are all far more intimate and revealing interactions with nature than simply snapping a photo. Photos are so quick and convenient, we don’t have to be really there to take them. A more committed form of ‘recording the moment’ may ask more of you, but also can gift you with far more connection with your world.
In the end, technology is only a tool. It offers the opportunity to get closer to nature- and an equal potential for separation. It is in how we use our tools, our technology- mindfully, that we define our relationship as addicts or independents.