The Great Disconnect

There is a huge disconnect between the human race and the natural world. This is nothing new, of course, it is something that has gradually been developing ever since man first discovered farming and began to live in settled communities rather than living a nomadic existence. But it has accelerated rapidly since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, until we passed the point where for the first time there were more people living in urban areas than in rural ones. That may seem an obvious fact to many in the Western World, but that statistic is a worldwide one. 55% of the population today is urban, but the spread is very uneven. In North America, for example, 82% of the population today are urban, whereas across Africa as a whole it is only 43%.

This creeping urbanisation has had many obvious consequences, such as the growth of villages into towns, and thence into cities and finally into super-sized metropolises covering hundreds of square kilometres with hardly a tree or a bird to be found in some parts. Such as whole villages being abandoned as the population move to towns to find work, partly due to the growing mechanisation of farming and the demise of traditional rural industries. Such as a rapidly shrinking amount of land that can be thought of as wilderness. Even those areas that are not now covered with an urban sprawl may well be covered with farmlands or plantations, or large areas devoted to leisure activities such as golf courses which as far as wildlife and plant diversity are concerned, are little better than deserts.

And such as a growing and deepening disconnect between humans and the natural world.

037a

In small part, this is natural and necessary; it is a process that is inevitable as we evolve from a species indistinguishable from the other great apes in behaviour and purpose, into a species able to pursue activities unrelated to simple survival.

Of course, we have also become a species capable of wiping out our species and all other species, too.

But this trend seems to have accelerated at an alarming rate over the last thirty to fifty years. Of course, urbanisation continues to be a growing trend, the growth of technology continues to feed into areas such as farming, where we now have huge farms that can be operated by a couple of people alone, which might have required a labour force of maybe a hundred once, and we have social media and computers and gaming and thousands of on-demand TV stations.

050a

This last phenomenon I think is mainly the cause of what appears to be an especially severe disconnect between the natural world and the younger generations.

Now before everyone rushes to tell me of wonderful younger folk who love the natural world and who actively fight to protect it citing, perhaps, the incredible people who make up Extinction Rebellion, obviously there are many exceptions to this. But it is a trend. Before I retired, my job was teaching outdoor activities such as climbing or navigating, and I worked with many children and young adults. The environment in which I worked, of course, was the natural world. And although many of the youngsters who came along lived in towns or cities, there were also many who lived nearby, in a more rural environment. And what shocked me, was that so many of them had no better understanding of that environment than those that lived in inner cities.

034a

I met country children that couldn’t recognise an oak tree or knew what an acorn was. Country children who couldn’t recognise a kestrel. Country children who had no idea what wild garlic was.

As a kid, I lived on the edge of London. I don’t think I was in any way exceptional, but I would spend as much time as I could playing with friends in the woods and fields I could walk to or get to on my bike. We splashed around in streams and climbed trees, learned what different butterflies looked like, 037bfound stag beetles and slow-worms, caught minnows and sticklebacks, and absorbed a lot of knowledge about trees and birds and insects and mammals from books and TV programs and just being out in the country.

I assumed it was what all kids did.

But this seems to be no longer the case. I have already written about The Lost Words (here), the book written by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris as a response to learning that supposedly common words such as conkerlost words and kingfisher and acorn are words that the majority of children today are unfamiliar with – something that would once have been unthinkable. And this disconnect seems to me the saddest thing. So much of our very rich heritage has a rural background, be it music or literature, architecture, leisure activities, or traditional crafts. And the same is naturally true for most countries and societies.

But to return to the reasons for this, I feel the rise of social media and on-demand electronic entertainment has been the largest single influence on the younger generation, especially, to the point where to the majority of them, pretty well all their leisure time is taken up with these things and there is no desire to explore the natural world at all.

Sometimes I think the electronic world is more real to many of them than the real world is, anyway.

057

Sigh. I’m off to check the vegetable garden.

48 thoughts on “The Great Disconnect

  1. You have written such an in depth and knowledgeable post. I feel your care for the poor Africa and how badly affected many lives have become. Nature itself
    is suffering from the lack of care and understanding.

    As to the rise of social media it is to a great extent true although I know many young who prefer the outdoors and choose their holidays with this in mind.
    Interestingly there are many mature people getting caught up as well.

    I do not personally belong no to any of these medias, except WordPress. Changes are difficult and I dearly hope all will see the beauty around.

    miriam

    Liked by 2 people

        1. maryplumbago

          Excellent post…
          I actually grew up citified somewhat but I always had a liking of nature. But, I even feel distanced from it, not so much from electronics and such, but from finding people who want to share the experience. And even a simple thing like hiking alone in the woods, no longer feels safe in our world. I do enjoy my garden and birds, butterflies and clouds.
          I’ve been painting and I seem to always do nature scenes…

          Liked by 1 person

  2. It shocks me that people do not know what a conker or acorn is, Mick. I remember collecting acorns and conkers with my grandfather in the woods not far from his home. I know that teachers are under pressure, however I can’t help thinking that part of a rounded education should include visits to woodlands, country places etc with those possessed of knowledge (of the natural world) explaining about the trees, wildlife etc. Some parents must also shoulder their share of responsibility for plonking their children in front of screens instead of interacting with them, taking them to country places etc. Of course this becomes more difficult as childreen enter their teenage years, however if one starts early when can have a posative impact on children’s understanding and love of nature. Kevin

    Liked by 3 people

    1. All that is very true, Kevin. Whether it is financial cuts or a change in attitude, there seems to be little encouragement in schools for children to do this, if the experience of my grandchildren is anything to go by.

      Like

    1. My mum and her partner live on a quiet road in the suburbs of Liverpool, and when I visit them I often come across children playing ball or on their bikes on the road. Fortunately its a quiet road! I take your point as regards children not playing out as much as was previously the case. However it still does happen and although the growth of screens does, perhaps mitigate against outdoor activities, the fact that roads are, on the whole much busier than when you or I where youngsters, also has a part to play. My parents crescent is a quiet place, but many roads are not. Best wishes, Kevin

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I know that an increasing number of schools are banning the use of mobiles in schools, a trend which is, I believe to be welcomed. Through such small steps we can, perhaps move towards a better balance between technology and nature. There is, of course nothing wrong with tech (when man first used fire he was utilising technology), its when tech becomes the master, rather than the servant that we have a problem. You make a lot of very valid points, Mick. However (as someone who turned 50 on 6 January this year), I am aware of the danger of romanticising the past. There where, in the past many poor urban children who rarely (if ever) saw a green place 9(other than a grass verge), and the increasing affluence of society (although it brings problems), has meant that its easier for most young people to experience the countryside. So its a complex picture.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Banning mobiles in schools must be a good move. Pupils are there to learn, after all.

            I’m certainly not romanticising the past though, Kevin. I’m just sad at the disconnect I see even with country children today. And while I agree it is easier (generally) for those from the towns to access the countryside now, the urban poor (of whom there are still a ridiculous amount) can rarely afford it, and the real issue is that the kids that could, would still generally rather access computers and phones instead.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. A number of years have gone by now, where the electronic version of life and artificial intelligence has governed what we see and do (especially the kids). It is no coincidence that the destruction of the natural world has gone up exponentially while our gaze is directed elsewhere? I do not think that this is coincidental. After all, you cannot miss stuff if you were never aware of it in the first place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. But those carrying out that destruction tend to be the older ones. It’s down to vested interests in big business and lazy / corrupt government amongst other things, and that means the older generations. There have always been plenty of people quite happy to destroy anything and everything if it means they make more money, regardless of consequences. What’s different is that they now have the means to do it so much more effectively.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember hyperventilating when I learned that the Oxford Junior Dictionary was excising words from the natural world. Today, re-reading the article, it enrages me. How can upcoming generations learn to care for the natural world if we take away the language that allows them to talk about it?

    The phrase increasingly used in this country is ‘plant blindness,’ but of course the blindness applies to much more than plants.

    You probably didn’t notice when you stopped by my collection of summer bouquets today, but one of the tags I added to that post is “Look up from your danged phone.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t notice that, no. If only! Yesterday I watched a mother push her child in a buggy across a fairly busy road, while staring down at her phone. It beggars belief, sometimes.

      But it is awful. That such common words should be dropping out of use with younger folk is terrible. I felt I could excuse it when I worked with kids from inner cities who couldn’t recognise anything around them in the country, but there is no excuse at all for country kids.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It is our terrible reality, and the great denial, Mick. Perhaps the final great denial.

    Over here, Pacific Islanders are frightened of the loss of their land and entire nations, while our politicians (we are Big Brother out here, after all) offer that they’ll be ok, as we let them pick fruit in our country.

    Not bad, hey?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s ridiculous, really. Over here the government did pass a motion in parliament declaring a climate emergency a few months ago, and then next day refused to stop the expansion of Heathrow airport. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so serious. When it comes to politics, you just know that the right will refuse to do anything that might mean business interests risk losing some profit, and the left will refuse to do anything that might jeopardise jobs.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I am in complete agreement with you. There IS a disconnect, and if we don’t soon wake up and realize that some things are more important than material things, more important than wealth, then we shall cease to exist. Here in the U.S., the Endangered Species Act was just gutted to make way for more logging (de-forestation), mining and drilling for oil, even when it will destroy the only habitat of certain species. In Brazil, the Amazon rainforest is burning out of control … the same rainforest that provides a full 20% of the worlds oxygen. And yet, people go on about their business of making more money than they know what to do with, turning a blind eye to the fate of life on earth. Sigh.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As has been noted already, Jill, it is indeed heads buried in the sand. Perhaps it’s human nature to say ‘nothing has happened yet, so it probably won’t!’ but surely the evidence has become so strong now, that it requires a wilful ignorance to deny them? Unfortunately, there is also a sentiment popular on the political right that says we have had enough of experts. We know better than them – Michael Gove said this, for example, during the canvassing for the Brexit referendum.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, ‘willful ignorance’ sums it up well, I think. Michael Gove is joined by Donald Trump who says that he trusts his “gut” (and a mighty large gut it is, after all) more than his advisors. So … why are we paying the advisors, then? Sigh. Both our nations are in the hands of delusional egomaniacs, I fear.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree, the disconnect between humans and nature is getting deeper and it’s alarming. Climate change is scary in and of itself, but it’s also frightening how little time most people spend in nature these days. I even worry about kids: they don’t play outside nearly as much as previous generations, since they’re inside on their gadgets. I don’t know what the long-term effect of all this will be, but I can’t imagine it’s good.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Guess they need to turn learning about nature into a video game. Something like that Pokemon thing that was all the rage a couple years ago, only with scoring points for finding and IDing acorns, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s not such a bad idea, Dave. When I worked with adults with learning disabilities, we found that many of them would have trouble taking in information from actual people, but they were so absorbed in TV programs that if you could make a video of something, they would pay close attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a “natural” progression, Mick. We are cutting jungles and creating “artificial” cocoon around us bypassing nature. What can we expect? There are no activities in schools that connect children with outdoor these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for your long answer, Jason, I’ll do my best to answer all your points.

    There is certainly a divorce from nature in so many ways. I’m sure that as we evolve our technology and surround ourselves with its products, that becomes inevitable, unless we make the effort to maintain our connections with the natural world. Some will choose to do so, some will choose not to. What is important, I think, is that enough choose to maintain those links, and that of those who do, there are enough with influence to try to maintain some sort of balance in our lives – all of our lives.

    Your example of the fifty year old chap being kept alive and active by technology is an example of science being used for our benefit; obviously, it has brought many benefits and is in itself neither good nor bad, but only the use we make of it makes it so. Equally, there are many examples of science being used to the detriment of us all. Generally, I ignore conspiracy theories, as the majority of them do tend to be rather crazy, but I’m equally certain that most governments do have many programs that they certainly don’t want us to hear about.

    Naturally, I’ll delete this thread if you really want me to…shall I?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The disconnect is more than from nature but from each other as well. A significant part of this disconnect is due to our dependence on our electronic devices which are supposed to “connect” us but in fact put us one moved from other human beings. I cannot get a direct line to a person for business or health reasons without going through a phone tee. This is particularly distasteful when try9ing to solve a problem with a vendor of an electronic device which is supposed to make my life easier and fuller. End of rant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you on this. As you say, all these devices that are meant to allow us to communicate more easily often have the opposite effect. If they were simply phones, that might be the case, but they’re not, of course. Many people use them for almost non-stop gaming and watching moronic videos, so they end up isolated in their little bubbles. It is quite depressing to see groups of people all glued wordlessly to their phones, heads down, pretty well unaware of those surrounding them.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.