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. gmail.com