It seems like it was only yesterday when my Dad purchased our first family desktop computer in 1996. During that time school computer labs were furnished with clunky, colorful Macintosh desktop computers, CDs and VHS tapes predated MP3s and Netflix, and the Y2K hysteria dominated tech headlines.
My friends and I, most of whom were born in the early 1990s and grew up in Silicon Valley, often talk about the role of technology and its lightning-fast changes throughout our lifetimes. The consensus? A shared belief that the definition of childhood has evolved as today’s children are more in touch with technology, literally.
Growing up in a town where at least one member of each family worked in tech, meant every kid on the block had the latest and greatest gadget in his or her possession (and it still is the case today). Although I was often envious of my classmates who sported their shiny, razor-thin camera flip phones, I always felt happiest and more relaxed outdoors.
Swinging on my backyard swing set, puddle jumping with friends in a rain storm, playing organized sports at the local park, hiking around the Bay Area with my family, and backpacking with friends in the Sierra Nevada are my fondest childhood memories. And it is those memories of a time spent outdoors, that fueled my decision to begin my career as an environmental advocate at Save The Bay.
We are lucky to live in a region with incredible access to the outdoors, but only if we take the time to get away from our screens. Recently, I have become concerned that we’ll lose a connection that’s stronger than your wifi signal — our connection with the natural environment.
The truth is, technology is so inextricably woven into our lifestyle that it’s not just a millennial issue. Look around — anyone old enough to operate a smartphone most likely owns one (or at least has access to one). This constant connection affords an ability to know what is happening in real time, but it also takes away from using that “real time” to inspire the next generation of Bay Savers.
Today disconnecting from the world has transcended into a spiritual practice that cleanses the mind, body, and soul. This trend of “disconnecting to reconnect” opens a new area of study for social science researchers, provides fodder for a “reality” television show, and even inspires business entrepreneurs to found a tech-free, digital detox camp for adults. But here’s my question: Can the practice of seeking solace outdoors in this highly-connected era help solve the environmental problems we face today?
I’m not so naive to suggest that one glance of San Francisco Bay from the region’s tallest peaks, one day of biking along the Bay Trail, or one night of camping at Angel Island State Park will immediately inspire you to tackle today’s environmental challenges head on. But, I do believe that prioritizing and making a continuous effort to play outdoors can redefine what is really important to us as individuals. And if we value outdoor recreation, then the next logical step would be to commit to preserving and protecting this open space.
If the old adage “Today’s children are tomorrow’s future” rings true, then it’s our collective responsibility as adults to make play a priority for our children by signing off of technology and plugging into the world around us. It is time we all see and experience the world through our own eyes — not live vicariously through someone else’s photograph of a beautiful landscape posted online.
This weekend, I challenge you to go outside and enjoy a day by the Bay free of technology. Then store those memories in your mental computer and and share them with your loved ones in person. I bet you won’t even miss your screen.