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Back to Nature
Sunday, August 07, 2005
My friend Claudia L'Amoreaux, who hosts therapeutic learning conversations for troubled kids, turned me on to this article from the July/August issue of Orion magazine.

Diagnoses of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) among children have skyrocketed in recent years. Kids with ADD have trouble paying attention, listening, following directions, and focusing on tasks. They may also be aggressive, antisocial, and susceptible to academic failure. Stimulent drugs reduce the symptoms but whoa, Nellie, from 2000 to 2003, spending on ADHD drugs for children under five rose 369 percent.

Nature Deficit, by Richard Louv, presents compelling research that shows that kids taken into the woods to play suffer fewer ADD symptoms than those on playgrounds. In a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the laboratory found that children as young as five showed a significant reduction in ADHD symptoms when they engaged with nature.

It's not clear why exposure to nature would have such an apparently powerful influence on brain functions related to attention. One theory is that the experience simply engages a child mentally and physically in a "natural" way, consistent with how humans have evolved. In an earlier hunting and gathering or agricultural society—which is to say, during most of humankind's history—young people were more likely to engage in physically demanding, mentally relaxing activities that immersed most of their sensory receptors: climbing, hunting small animals, baling hay, splashing in the swimming hole.

We're raising the first generation of kids to be truly divorced from nature. Little faces are bathed in the glow of the idiot box, not the rays of the sun. Growing up, my grandparents had farms. I played in the fields, captured lizards and horned frogs, chased birds, caught crawdads, and climbed trees. My son did none of these things. My grandparents died years ago, and excluding a few winemakers, I don't think I know any farmers. Today I sat on my back deck under a giant Japanese maple tree for a few hours of reading, but many of my friends spend their working hours in buildings with hermetically-sealed windows, breathing recirculated air and working under artificial light. The article asks whether this might not stress us out, given that we evolved under such different conditions. I wonder, how could it not take a toll?

Claudia's email arrived at just the right time. Earlier this evening I was contemplating what big changes going on in our world really make a difference. One friend sees the world through Tom Friedman's glasses; another looks at everything as a result of Moore's Law. What trends do you feel are rattling our collective cage? My candidates are:
  • The rise of individuals over institutions. Empowerment. Blogging gives universal voice. The predictions of the Cluetrain are happening. Web 2.0 is two-way. Free agent nation. Dan Pink sees a conceptual age ahead that celebrates design. Perhaps the balance that needs rejiggering is logic/emotion.
  • Biological model is replacing machine model. Taylorism in death throes. Numbers are bullshit. Organizations are organisms. Lessons of world war II. ADDIE goes out with the trash.
  • Complexity are us. Unpredictability. Infinite connections. Disproportionate responses. Ending the illusion of control. Shit happens. Incredible upside potential. No more God as watchmaker. No more Cartesian breakdowns.
  • Just us humans. Three brains. Emotional. Lobes faking us out. Competing simpletons. Now augemented. Our footprint now big enough to be dangerous to survival of the earth..
  • Accelerating change. Can exponential change continue? In bio, nano, socio, auto, etc. all at once. When do the wheels fly off the vehicle? It's tough to keep up. Nirvana or Armageddon?
  • Network effects. Networks growing together into a single mesh of information, communications, genetics, nanotech, and access to people. Metcalf's Law: exponential rewards. Code is code. Singularity in commerce. Elsewhere? Is it all one big thing?
  • The world is flat. It's a small world after all. Global competition? No, global cooperation. Interoperability.


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