The Joy of Nature-Watching in our Technocentric Lives
April 26, 2019
A necessary counterpart to our modern lives is the reintroduction of the natural world. Few activities brought me more joy than the simple act of observing and photographing wildlife in their natural habitat.
My Personal Fallout
Unfortunately, it is far too easy to completely neglect the natural realm of our existence. Although I used to go out to the woods almost every week, these hobbies were gradually taken over by more sedentary pastimes: browsing the internet, video gaming, and not getting enough outside air in general.
I accumulated unhealthy habits to the point where both my physical and mental health was severely crippled. Without being in tune with natural daily rhythm, my routines became erratic. I was eating, sleeping, and working in unsustainable chaos. I was stressed, burnt out, and languished.
Only recently did I face this problem directly. It is a lifestyle that I have barely begun recovering from.
Nature as Mental Health Sanctuary
Nature might be an antidote. It operates in its own clock, largely unperturbed by the hectic cycles of our urban lives. It promotes a sense of existence in the present moment that our technologies do not.
To be separate from the silent noise of social media and to observe, without trying to manipulate, nature has an almost meditative effect.
Science tends to agree. Recent research studied the correlation between exposure to green areas in childhood residency and mental health issues later in life in over 90,000 Americans.
The results were staggering: those who lived in the most urban areas were over 55% more likely to be mentally ill than those who lived in the most rural areas, even after normalizing for other risk factors.
It's no surprise that urban areas are damaging to our psyche. Our minds were not adapted to handle such a degree of mental overload.
Tech-junkies like me or the computer scientist Cal Newport are starting to notice this compulsive need for retreating into nature. We're the ones most doped into technocentrism, and the ones most heavily affected by it.
Fortunately, I have my old hobby of wildlife photography to fall back to. My observations are posted at iNaturalist and Instagram.
Despite common perceptions, nature photography is not a hobby that absolutely requires equipment. These days, I only carry an iPhone 8 and a $50 Olloclip macro lens attachment. The photo above is an example of what iPhoneography can achieve. While it is nowhere near professional quality, it doesn't have to be.
The method of our forays into nature might matter less than that we do. Whether it is birdwatching, wildlife photography, wildlife gardening, trekking, or eco-tourism, it seems to greatly help our mental health.