In an increasingly electronically connected world, author and journalist Richard Louv believes that a new generation of joystick-wielding, mouse-clicking thumb typists have become too disconnected from nature for their own good.
Apart from the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle, “they miss out on this larger thing of being totally alive,” said Louv, who will deliver the keynote speech at a Dec. 4 symposium in Cedar Rapids.
Louv, author of the 2005 bestseller “Last Child in the Woods,” said he will discuss recent research showing that regular contact with nature improves people’s health and well being.
With the selection of Cedar Rapids, Marion and Iowa City as Blue Zones Project demonstration sites, the symposium, titled “Green & Blue: A Natural Connection,” will explore how a daily dose of nature can benefit individuals as well as the economic vitality of communities, said Jo Ann McNiel, special events coordinator for Trees Forever, the symposium’s lead sponsor.
Other speakers include Chuck Peters, CEO of The Gazette, and William Sullivan, professor of landscape architecture and director of the Sustainability and Health Lab at the University of Illinois, who will discuss how planners and officials can incorporate more trees and other natural features into their communities.
Louv said research shows American children now spend more than 54 hours per week plugged into electronic devices.
Regular computer users spend a lot of time deliberately blocking out their senses, according to Louv. “By definition that makes us less alive. What parents want their child to be less alive?” he said.
Youngsters’ preference for television, computers and video games, at the expense of outdoor physical activity, contributes to obesity, myopia, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance, according to Louv, who introduced the term “nature-deficit disorder” as a metaphor for the ailments – physical, mental and spiritual — attributed to dissociation from nature.
“I’m not anti-tech, but we have to have some sense of balance. Nature is the best antidote for overexposure to electronic media,” he said.
Louv said the “children in nature” movement is growing, with pediatricians starting to prescribe nature time for their patients.
Conservationists worry that children who grow up estranged from nature will care less about it as adults, Louv said. “If kids don’t experience nature just for the joy of it, who will be the future stewards of the earth?” he asked.
The symposium runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel. For more information or to register, go to www.treesforever.org