Ever find yourself riddled with angst or anxiety and wonder why? Or perhaps, after a long week of grinding away in front of a computer screen, you stumble out into your Friday-afternoon freedom with a strange sense of being a little less alive? If so, the remedy to your maladies, according to an ever-growing number of doctors and experts, may be as simple as prescribing yourself a full dose of Mother Nature. As Richard Louv, the former San Diego Union-Tribune columnist turned international best-selling author who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder,” put it recently, “Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.”
For Louv, the crusade to inform — or reinform — this technology-altered modern world about the restorative powers of nature has been essentially a full-time job since his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder was published in 2005. That book, with its cautionary message about the destructive side effects of kids’ ever-increasing tendencies to hang out indoors — and with technology — more than in the sweet embrace of wilderness, helped spark a worldwide debate about the emerging societal phenomenon to such a degree that nations such as Canada, Australia, and Holland, as well as more than 20 states in the U.S., have all since adopted formal policies aimed at curbing the trend.
Louv’s new book, The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, expands his message to include humans of all ages and notches up its urgency. As he writes in the first paragraph of the book, “As a species, we are most animated when our days and nights on Earth are touched by the natural world. We can find immeasurable joy in the birth of a child, a great work of art, or falling in love. But all of life is rooted in nature, and a separation from that wider world desensitizes us and diminishes our bodies and spirits.” In short, no matter how awesome and helpful the new iPad may be or how mesmerizing the quality of the picture on our wall-sized plasma TVs, we humans are hardwired for nature, and when we ignore this fact, we pay a wicked price.
Talking last week with The Santa Barbara Independent from a hotel room in Maryland, Louv, while ironically lamenting how little he is actually able to enjoy the outdoors these days thanks to his busy schedule, pointed to things like bad urban design and people being constantly kidnapped from the moment by their technological devices to new correlative studies suggesting that depression will soon become the number-one killer in the world (interestingly, the World Health Organization also recently announced that it agrees) as symptoms of our collective nature-deprived state. Explaining that he is by no means anti-tech, Louv said simply, “Now, more than ever, we need nature as a balancing agent.”
Richard Louv gives the free talk Saving Our Children — and Ourselves — Through Nature as part of UCSB’s Arts & Lectures series Tuesday, May 15, 7:30 p.m., at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). For more information, call (805) 899-2222 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu