Unplug and Play in the BWCA

     Get your laptop off of your lap, your cellphone off of your ear and get outside. The Cook County Visitors Bureau is promoting it, Patagonia is suggesting it and we’re hoping you’ll listen. We’d love to see you unplugged at Voyageur.

unplug and play

Unplug and Get Outside
By Annie Leonard

Growing up in Seattle, summer meant long days exploring the neighborhood with my friends: climbing trees, playing Frisbee in the park, swimming in Lake Washington – as much outside as I could fit in before my mom yelled out the back door that I had to come in for dinner right now. Today it’s a different story. To entice my daughter away from an afternoon spent staring at her computer screen, I tell her, “When I was a kid there was this great thing we used to play with. It’s called outside.”

Outside. The word itself conjures up good feelings of exhilaration, adventure and, when needed, rejuvenating solitude. Unfortunately, kids today spend far less time outside. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv links the “nature-deficit disorder” of today’s wired generation to the increase in childhood obesity, ADHD and depression. And it’s trending. From 2006 to 2010, says Wall Street Journal columnist Jonah Lehrer, the proportion of young children regularly engaged in outdoor recreation fell by 15 percentage points. Concern over these trends has sparked a much-needed campaign to get kids back outside, illustrated by the t-shirt slogan I saw at an environmental educators’ conference: No Child Left Inside.

Getting outside, of course, is not just important for kids. Too often we adults spend our days staring at screens in our cubicles and our nights staring at screens from our couches. Even when we exercise, it’s often on a stair machine at the gym. If it’s success we’re chasing with the extra hours at the office and gym, we should know that an indoor lifestyle may be holding us back. Researchers have found that the creativity and problem-solving ability of hikers rose markedly after time in nature and off the grid, with no cellphones or email. So, unplugging outside is not just fun, but it actually makes us smarter!

As Louv says, “The future will belong to the nature-smart – those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

I know I don’t need to preach the primal necessity of time in the wilderness to the Patagonia community. We know the joys of climbing, paddling, hiking, running and just being outside. And we certainly don’t have to trek to some distant land to reap the benefits; research shows that just a stroll in the park or an hour digging in the garden makes people happier and more focused. As Lehrer says, if there were a pill that delivered the same results, we’d all be popping it.

What does this all have to do with our obsession with Stuff? Everything. If our lives aren’t so focused on shiny gadgets, we’ll spend more time watching sunsets, paddling canoes and flying kites. If we spend enough time in nature to get to know and love it, a list of our favorite things will include a secret fishing spot or a patch of wildflowers instead of a car or a cocktail dress. Maybe we can’t afford our own wilderness hideaway, but we’re all owners of the national and parks and other public lands – ready for use all summer long!

So whether it’s hiking the Utah canyonlands or walking the dog to the park after dinner, what are we waiting for? It’s summer. Get outside.

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