The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

Abook called The Na­ture Fix has just been pub­lished. But don’t try to down­load it. That’s not the point. Get­ting fixed by na­ture is all about de­tach­ing from dig­i­tal de­vices and re-en­ter­ing the nat­u­ral world, and you’re not go­ing to do that with a screen full of words.

If you’re torn be­tween the tac­tile turn of a page and the easy swipe of a screen, it won’t sur­prise you that the two hot cat­e­gories in non­fic­tion at the mo­ment are the dan­gers of dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion and the heal­ing pow­ers of na­ture. And the sub­jects are so en­twined it’s im­pos­si­ble to see them as other than one coin, two sides.

Some of the dig­i­tal dooms­day books in­clude Dig­i­tal Ad­dic­tion, Ir­re­sistible, Dig­i­tal Detox, The Power of Off, Ad­dic­tion by De­sign and The Dig­i­tal Diet. And the gist of the dig­i­tal doom books will be ob­vi­ous to any­one who has ever pan­icked about leav­ing be­hind a mo­bile phone on a quick trip to the shops. That is, many of us are ad­dicted to our de­vices, we freak out with­out them and these de­vices are con­sum­ing more of our lives, our per­son­al­ity and what’s left of our pos­ture. On the other side are books like Your Brain on Na­ture, The Na­ture Prin­ci­ple, Ecother­apy, Na­ture and Ther­apy, and Last Child in the Woods — and that last book, by Richard Louv, was the one that sparked the rush and gave us the ex­pres­sion “na­ture-deficit dis­or­der”.

The idea that na­ture is nur­ture might sound like tree hug­ging but sci­ence has de­liv­ered lots of ev­i­dence that it works for us. Walks in nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments re­duce at­ten­tion prob­lems, smooth blood pres­sure and boost cre­ativ­ity. Hos­pi­tal pa­tients with a view of trees re­cover faster; kids who rum­ble in dirt get fewer al­ler­gies; work­ers who have nat­u­ral light are more pro­duc­tive; and even the sim­ple act of get­ting your hands in dirt fights de­pres­sion.

We know this. When we feel we’ve been star­ing at screens for too long, we know our deeper selves are call­ing for re­lease, to get out into the sun­shine, to feel the lungs ex­pand, to stretch the legs around hill­sides and hear the thrum of bird­song on the wind. Deep down, we are not sur­prised to hear that four in five teenagers in China are short­sighted be­cause they spend too much time star­ing into de­vices and not enough gaz­ing at hori­zons. We can’t be sur­prised that when we stick our hands into dirt (a de­scrip­tion of gardening if you have my weed prob­lems) we feel more grounded. And any­one who has lain in a hos­pi­tal bed with a bro­ken body has felt the pull of the trees out­side the win­dow.

It’s not rocket sci­ence but it is bi­ol­ogy and it makes so much sense you won­der why we didn’t see it be­fore. No one re­futes the de­hu­man­is­ing ef­fects of dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion and how easy it is to slip into dig­i­tal dazes; how we are so­ma­tised by the wiles of dig­i­tal cre­ators; how we can’t see the woods for the screens and can’t hear the bird­song for the pings.

And yet we fall for it. Too quickly we turn the new into a prob­lem. Fast food ar­rives to make our lives con­ve­nient and we turn it into an obe­sity cri­sis. Labour-sav­ing de­vices are so great that we for­get to move. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy is so easy we for­get to talk to each other. Games are so com­pelling we for­get what play­mates are for.

And while we overdo the new, the old slips away. We never feel un­even ground be­neath our feet, so we lose agility. We no longer watch for the weather or lis­ten for the change of sea­son. We might won­der why pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions liked bush walks when there are tread­mills avail­able. We for­get there are far hori­zons.

We’re ob­vi­ously not good for our­selves. So we must read­just. It wasn’t enough that we watch our di­ets, per­fect an ex­er­cise regime and mon­i­tor sleep­ing pat­terns; now we must sched­ule a na­ture in­take and dig­i­tal time out. We must sched­ule ran­dom acts of wild­ness.

And that’s what the ti­tles of those books are telling us. The Power of Off, Na­ture and Ther­apy, The Dig­i­tal Detox, these are our new­est self-help man­u­als. These are our guides for find­ing where the wild things are. They prom­ise that we’ll be fixed by na­ture when we detox from moder­nity with an old-fash­ioned book that can be read un­der the shade of a tree.

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