Technology vs nature: a balancing act

14 November 2014

Richard Louv

Visiting American journalist and author: Richard Louv gave a lecture at the University of Waikato on the importance of spending time in nature.

The more hi-tech our lives become, the more we need to be in nature. We should spend dollar-for-dollar on the virtual and the real. This is the key. It's all about balance.

This was the message from Richard Louv who gave a lecture at the University of Waikato on 13 November. Mr Louv was in New Zealand as the keynote speaker at the 'A Place To Live' conference in Whanganui. A journalist and author, Mr Louv has published eight books including "The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder". 

His lecture, "The Hybrid Mind: The more hi-tech our lives become, the more nature we need", was hosted by the Environmental Research Institute and Faculty of Science and Engineering Dean Professor Bruce Clarkson.

Issues associated with the amount of time spent on using technology

In his lecture, Mr Louv spoke about rising anxiety over the amount of time children spend plugged into technology, which he says results in increasing rates of childhood obesity and other associated issues as they spend less time in nature running around or inventing their own games.

"This perfect storm has helped propel a movement around the world that is gathering momentum," he says. "We need to see a connection to nature as a human right. It shouldn't be seen as a 'nice to have', but rather a 'right to have'. It's a human right to have a connection to nature."

Mr Louv says the way children play has changed drastically, from being "free-range in the woods" to there being a huge increase in time on technology. While technology has great benefits in education, he says there needs to be a balance.  

"We need to see and feel and smell the natural world. As a species, this is important for our psychological and cognitive health. This connection with nature is fundamental for our humanity."

Connection with the natural world

Mr Louv believes there will be reduced support for national parks unless future generations have a relationship with the natural world, and these relationships need to start when they are young. He says humans are part of, not separate to, nature. He spoke of the high number of children in the US on medication for ADHD, but that their symptoms decrease when they are exposed to more nature, and that nature shows a great calming influence.

As urbanisation increases, Mr Louv says two things could happen. People will lose their connection to the natural world, or there needs to be the creation of a new kind of city. There's no reason cities can't become engines of biodiversity, and he suggested cities go into competition with each other to be the best cities for children to grow up in.

"We should aim for not just a sustainable future, but a nature-rich future. Why not make New Zealand the best country in the world for children and nature."

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