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Fairbanks, Alaska • Parents, educators and doctors have recognized for years that an addiction to technology has been keeping children from experiencing, seeking out and enjoying experiences in nature.
Richard Louv helped identify just how large of an issue it had become with the release of his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder in 2005. The best-selling book has been used as a guide by those working to get kids outdoors.
"The book did not create the movement, but it has proven a pretty good tool for fueling it," Louv told members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America Wednesday during the organization's annual conference at the Chena Hot Springs Resort 60 miles outside of Fairbanks.
Louv spoke to the OWAA at its 2007 conference and thanked the members for helping to make "Last Child" a success and igniting the movement. Since then, Louv said, he has identified 108 regional campaigns across the United State and Canada designed to connect children with nature.
The programs seem to be making a difference, he said.
Louv noted, for example, doctors in some communities are writing "prescriptions" for families suffering from nature-deficit disorder, a term the author coined. "They are recommendations to families to get outside," he said.
Louv has heard a lot of response to Last Child and at the speaking engagements that followed. He used those discussions as material for his new book, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.
The latest title explores the idea of a future "in which our lives are as immersed in nature as they are in technology." With nature incorporated as a daily part of life in homes, cities and workplaces, the overall population will be better off psychologically, physically and spiritually, according to Louv.
"We spend less time in the outdoor world than any time in history," he said. "There has been a huge break away from the outdoors in the last 30 years due, in a large part, to technology, but it is not all because of that. There is a fear of strangers in the outdoors, and that translates in a fear of nature itself."
Louv said that while the number of child abductions by strangers has been going down in recent years, the length of the news cycle has been going up.
The media "take a handful of terrible crimes against children and repeat them over and over and over," he said. "It makes you feel like there is a bogeyman around every corner and a murderer in all the woods."
Another major obstacle is the sense of despair that many of those who seek to protect and enhance nature have created over the years, Louv said.
He told the story of recently sitting down with a group of environmental studies college students after a presentation and, while they were excited to work in the field, they seemed a little intimidated.
He said one 20-year-old woman told him she's been told all her life that it's too late to preserve nature. "I started thinking about that and about how many times people receive that same message again and again and again. We are telling them it is too late and they may as well pack it up. We need to send a different message."
That message could be spread in traditional ways, but it can also be incorporated into everyday life, Louv said.
"The more high tech our lives become, the more nature we need; and the more technology we use, the less alive we feel," he said. "Why can't we have cities filled with nature? Perhaps it is time to begin thinking of a new kind of city."