Out on a forest trail, I was just closing on a particularly gorgeous specimen of Passiflora Edulis Sims with my iPhone camera when the phone gave the morose little beep of a dying battery. What? It was fully charged when I headed out!
I glanced down with surprise at the glowering red battery icon … How could I have used that much battery in the last two hours?
The answer was pretty simple. I was completely immersed in experiencing the world through my viewscreen. A couple hours of continuous use was more than enough to use up the battery.
Thinking back, I realized that lately I had been spending far more time behind my camera lens than I had directly experienced the sights, smells and sounds of the world around me. I recognized that I needed to once again re-evaluate my use of technology in nature — to find a balance that enhances my connection, rather than detracting from it.
Here are some key steps I use to help me find my personal balance between technology and nature:
1) Realize that modern technology is not inherently nature’s enemy. It’s just a tool. Used correctly, technology absolutely can help us connect better with nature.
Online nature photography can motivate us to visit a beautiful place. Google Earth can help us plan our expeditions. Hiking forums, web-based meetup groups and amazing outdoor photo communities like Yonder can inspire us to join together with others.
At the same time, unaware usage can narrow our experience of nature — shut down our senses, funnel our experiences through the camera lens, have us checking our social media or chatting on the phone while out on the trail.
In order to see if you need to rebalance your personal relationship with tech and nature, ask yourself on which side of this equation do you usually fall?
2) Test for addiction. The instant gratification of snapping a photo provides your brain with a quick shot of dopamine. If you’re not sure where you stand, try this simple test for addiction.
Stash your camera in your pack for the day. If you find yourself automatically reaching for it at every beautiful view instead of letting your eyes explore and caress the mountains and valleys, then you might just consider a more extreme digital detox for your addiction.
3) Leave it behind. As a digital detox, choose designated times or trips you will leave your technology, i.e., cameras, music and even phones behind. Just experience nature through your own eyes and ears.
No matter how useful your technology is, it should not become a replacement for your own senses. Using our own eyes and ears helps us develop and strengthen mental pathways that actively connect us to the patterns of the world around us.
4) Interact with nature without your tech. Sit on a rock and draw what you see. Write or even just deeply listen to the world around you. All are far more intimate and revealing interactions with nature than simply snapping a photo.
Photos are so quick and convenient, we don’t have to be really there to take them. A more committed form of “recording the moment” may ask more of you, but also can give you the gift of far greater connection with your world.
In the end, technology is only a tool. It offers the opportunity to get closer to nature and an equal potential for separation. It is in how we use our tools, our technology — mindfully. That is how we define our relationship as addicts or independents.