My 2017 book is now being read as a handbook for the Age of Covid-19.
Three years ago I wrote ‘Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age’. It was aimed at readers who were feeling overwhelmed by the digital and worrying about spending too much time online. It included 50 practical tips on how to feel better without logging off, and an explanation of the research behind the book. Today, the book is becoming a manual for living in the Coronavirus Age.
Now, as we battle Covid-19, the very technologies we once feared would destroy our lives are helping to save us, or at least to keep us sane.
In 2017, I knew that when I offered 50 ways to feel better without logging off, some people would find the idea dangerous and unnatural, yet in the current crisis the tables have turned. Now, many people stuck in lockdown are devising their own methods of staying in touch with the outside world via the internet.
So here are a few ideas to try for yourself. I’ve taken five activities from the book and made some small adjustments for lockdown.
- When you’re browsing through Facebook, Instagram, or anywhere else on the web, take time to stop and appreciate other peoples’ nature photos. They can be spectacular. Look out for breath-taking sunrises, evocative dusks, gorgeous landscapes and intoxicating blooms. And of course you could create your own album. How about sharing a photo of the same window view every day for a month to see how it changes?
- If you’re able to get hold of them online, you can buy an amazing range of vinyl wall stickers, sometimes called decals, which can transform a space, especially if teamed with real plants. I have a floor-to-ceiling decal of a leafy tree, and in front of it a wildly flourishing monstera deliciosa. I think they look fantastic together! (See above.)
- Stream the outdoors to the indoors via the web, TV or even radio. Some channels show ‘slow TV’, hours-long live programmes of landscapes, and there is a fashion for radio broadcasts of outdoor sounds of all types. Birdsong and rain are probably the two favourites. And there are thousands of webcams live-streaming landscapes, birds and animals all around the globe. All you need to do is search.
- Use your imagination. You have many biophilic memories stored in your subconscious. Use them to recall long-forgotten smells, tastes, sounds and sensations of nature. They may have been dormant since childhood but can still be summoned if you allow yourself to drift in that direction. For me, the list includes the warm odours of a hen-house; the intense perfume of greenhouse tomatoes; white dog-roses; anything to do with the beach; the scent and feel of cool grass in a sunny park. Find them, recognise them, remember them. Bring them to the surface. (This could be helpful during or after meditation.)
- Finally, games. If you’ve never bothered with gaming before, now you have the time to learn. They’re not all shoot-em-ups! Try video games. Second Life has a wealth of landscapes to enjoy, and the mountains in Grand Theft Auto are stunningly beautiful all year round. Take a trip into virtual reality to explore VR forests, plains, deserts, and oceans — treat yourself to a cheap Google Cardboard kit or a fancy VR headset to open up whole new vistas. Whether you choose to become a gamer or a VR tourist, you will discover landscapes you never imagined.
Join like-minded people at the Digital Wellbeing Facebook Group.
A version of this post appeared at Medium on 9th April 2020.