Last Child in the Woods

Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder” was first published in 2005 but still receives a lot of attention from concerned parents and education professionals. Louv identified a syndrome he calls ‘nature-deficit disorder’ which implies that people, especially children, who have little access to the natural world can exhibit psychological damage. His work has been received with skepticism in some quarters, although it is often the driver behind activism related to digital detoxing and other ideas seen to be remedying the supposedly negative effects of technology. According to Wikipedia, Louv has said that “nature-deficit disorder is not meant to be a medical diagnosis but rather to serve as a description of the human costs of alienation from the natural world”.

In the decade since the book first came out, we have become gripped by our online lives in a way Louv probably didn’t – couldn’t have – anticipated. Concerns about alienation have grown with the evolution of a very digital-savvy generation and certainly there are issues here to be discussed. But there’s a problem, I think, to do with the appeal this kind of claim has to a hungry press media always looking for the next big panic.

“Last Child in the Woods” is an eloquent and moving read. I’d love to see an updated version that takes into account projects like the Digital Archaeology Weekend held in the New Forest in early 2016.  Hundreds of children and their families joined experts for a weekend of gaming and archaeology including laser mapping, Minecraft, Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.  There’s a lot of that kind of thing going on, and I’ll be reporting on it here.

Nature, nerds, and technobiophilic maps

A High Peak panorama between Hayfield and Chinley. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_District#/media/File:Near_the_High_Peak_-_pano.jpg
A High Peak panorama between Hayfield and Chinley.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_District#/media/File:Near_the_High_Peak_-_pano.jpg

When I was in my twenties I regularly went walking in the Derbyshire Peak District with several friends who were keen on the outdoors. I, in contrast, was very inexperienced and went along for the company rather than the exercise, so it usually Ordnance Survey ‐ Explorer OL24 Scale 1:25 000 Map of The Peak District - White Peak Areawasn’t long before I would become a little grumpy about the pace and distance. Sorry guys. But I did love the picnics because that was when we actually sat down for a while and those meals always tasted wonderful outdoors. I still remember the mushroom and potato curry, cooked the night beforehand, packed in tupperware and then carried in a rucksack for miles before being heated up over a small stove and eaten atop some remote sheepy moorland. Some of the best meals I’ve had.

My companions were also very keen on map-reading. I, however, thought of maps as a massive distraction from the business end of walking which involved feeling the sun warm your pallid city skin, breathing cold clean air,  and treading resolutely across springy turf in sturdy boots. I seldom joined in when maps were being consulted and had no understanding of the obscure ‘legend’ information contained therein.  I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t care. I just liked being out. (Of course it goes without saying that without the map-reading expertise of my friends I would inevitably have ended up lost, cold, and miserable.) Continue reading “Nature, nerds, and technobiophilic maps”