Reflections

Nature deficit disorder and a New Year’s resolution

Prospect park

One of my resolutions this year is to avoid email first thing in the morning and last thing at night. It’s a frightening addiction to reach for my phone before I fully open my eyes. This is proving way more difficult than I anticipated, but it’s truly transformative to spend the first and final moments of the day stretching, reading, listening to music, or going for a walk outside. Walking to the park to read for even just 20 minutes starts the day off with fresh air and trees, and it feels awesome.

Our lack of nature shows in our health. Obesity is rampant, our indoor spaces are temperature-regulated thus minimizing the needs to expend energy, and the flu rages across the Northeast. As Timothy Egan says in the NY Times, “There is an obvious solution — just outside the window. For most of human history, people chased things or were chased themselves. They turned dirt over and planted seeds and saplings. They took in Vitamin D from the sun, and learned to tell a crow from a raven (ravens are larger; crows have a more nasal call; so say the birders). And then, in less than a generation’s time, millions of people completely decoupled themselves from nature.”

Welcome nature deficit disorder. Journalist Richard Louv published Last Child in the Woods in 2008, which sparked a global debate on the concept; he cites scientific research that attention deficit disorder and depression can be alleviated with more time in nature. Last year, Stephen Kellert published a new book called Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World. NPR interviewed him a few days ago. Kellert explains, “For more than 99 percent of our history as a species, we evolved in a natural — not in an artificial or human constructed or created — world, and therefore we became deeply attuned to the resident rhythms and stimuli that originate in the natural world.”

Ft Greene park

Being outside certainly inspires creative thought, as most of us can probably attest to. Even disco was inspired by the sounds of birds, waves, and wind. This is from an undergrad paper I wrote for Musical Urbanism about disco DJ and party host David Mancuso:

Mancuso was inspired by natural rhythms of his childhood countryside. His flowing beats and song mixing imitated the biophony of nature, blurring the separation of urban and rural by creating an audiophile’s utopia, one rooted in the asphalt metropolis but with a dynamic and relentlessly physical natural rhythm. Disco music it at once experiential, its dance beat inescapable. Its popularity emerged from a harsh and unforgiving cityscape, however since the modern urban cannot help but parallel nature in its regular patterns and orchestra of inhabitants, neither can the music.

We New Yorkers can take small steps. Hopping on the train into the Hudson Valley for a hike is transformative, but then again so is a walk in Prospect Park’s woods. Let’s inspire one another to reach for our socks and coats instead of gmail when the alarm clock rings.

Reading in the park

Further reading:

How ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder’ Is Making Us Fat, Sick, and Depressed (via GOOD.is)

ExcerptBirthright: People and Nature in the Modern World by Stephen Kellert (via NPR)

The Biophilia Hypothesis, coined by E.O. Wilson (via PBS NOVA)

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