Excerpt from Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age: How to feel better without logging off, by Sue Thomas. Paperback and Kindle. Buy Now.
Perhaps you have noticed that digital guilt has become the media’s favourite way to fill an empty column or two? The smallest mention of the dangers of technology is guaranteed to make us shift uneasily as we scroll through our phones and tablets.
Remarks like this, for example, can really sting when you’re doing your best just to get through the day:
‘Reading Thoreau by the fire, fishing for trout, and playing chess over blackberry wine are just some of the pleasures I’ve found since I turned my back on tech’
wrote digital detoxer Mark Boyle.[i] Ouch! That makes me feel so inadequate, with my phone always in my pocket!
This week I’m in Singapore as a Visiting Professor in the Biophilia Research Cluster, based in the Department of Psychology at James Cook University. I’ve seen dozens of fascinating examples of biophilic design here, but this post is about just one of them – the incredible gardens at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
It’s a general and acute care hospital which opened in 2010. Laik Teng Lit, its CEO, commissioned a design which lowers stress levels and helps patients and visitors to relax in what can so often be a naturally very anxious situation. The result is an astonishingly vibrant environment with dense plantings, water features, and carefully designed natural materials across the six floors of the building.
The hospital is keen to engage its visitors in auditing the wild inhabitants too, so it records all the many different birds and butterflies spotted on the site.
Some weekends there are free classes in yoga, tai chi, and meditation which are open to the public and take place next to the groundfoor waterfall amidst a biophilic riot of colourful plants and foliage.
And there’s another added extra. A rooftop organic community garden is cultivated and managed by local residents who grow a stunning variety of fruits and vegetables. Some of the produce is given to patients and some is sold to pay for the upkeep of the space.
Coincidentally, this week The Conversation featured an article about a rooftop garden project at a church in Sydney, Australia. This one was designed for patients recovering from mental illness, but the principles remain the same – stress reduction, wellbeing, and general health benefits.
At Khoo Teck Puat we were told that members of the community are encouraged to spend time in the hospital’s social spaces. In other words, you don’t have to be sick to go there. And indeed, many students take their laptops and study amongst the flowers, whilst older people and families also regularly go to the hospital just to chill out and relax!
Last week I re-published the chapter in which I tell the story of my ill-fated trip. The lesson I learned was that reality – and indeed virtual reality – should not be confused with the products of the imagination.