Rapid and unpredictable, fun and confusing. It gives us something new to look at, read, play, among a plethora of other things, on a minute by minute basis. So, how much have our brains become wired to crave that same level of newness and unpredictability in the world around us, the landscape that we call home?
After being so far away from anything resembling New York or New Jersey for quite some time now, I've realized that, at least for me, I'm pretty damn wired to need a fast paced, traffic filled landscape to feel something along the lines of normal. Oddly enough, I find it easier to find relaxation in the midst of busyness than I do in the middle of the mountains. From a mental standpoint, my brain is always craving something novel, whether it's people watching or filling a day with numerous and wildly varied activities, because they so abundantly present themselves (in the Jersey context).
It's more fun to do something relaxing when there is so much going on all around. I fall into the category of park and wilderness as refuge more than urban as refuge in the sea of wilderness. There is a sort of over compensation, both consciously and subconsciously, in regards to finding things to do that are constantly changing and unpredictably varying while I'm living in the mountains.
Now, while this may seem like a blatant criticism of extremely rural living, it isn't. It's an analysis of how the brain (in this example, only mine - until I can find a bigger pool of willing participants) has evolved based on the reliance of technology and the general pace of life I've grown used to. I'm used to parks providing a bit of respite from the hectic pace of daily life - a duration that I can choose and, for the most part, the selection of parks is diverse enough that I can find an activity I wish to participate in quite easily. Ultimately, as soon as I've had enough of that activity, I can plug right back into the system I just left and quickly do this, that or the other thing.
It's pretty amazing to think about the power that the landscape can have on the evolution of the individual. So, that makes me wonder, how important parks really are in highly urban environments? At the end of the day, the park or sliver of green space, is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of every day life or it is an escape from the computer screen or any form of technology. It can be a piece of solitude or any arena for reflection or a medium for achieving a desired mental and physical peace.
What happens to kids who have no exposure to parks, to nature, to the understanding of the world outside of concrete and asphalt?
It's rather undeniable that people who have evolved in the context of dense urban or suburban living are losing the understanding of or the ability to exist purely in nature. Many of us need to be occupied with technology minute by minute, or with friends, or just on the move. Nature is a bit different, it requires that you look inside yourself more, that you rely on your own self to keep you occupied.
Not everyone will exist purely in nature in the middle of the mountains or will ever want to. But, the ability to have that sense of refuge or escape from the busyness that surrounds most of us in an urban or suburban environment, is undeniably important.
This ramble was inspired by a talk I saw at the 'Aspen Ideas Fest' by William Powers, author of "Hamlet's Blackberry," which addresses the question of solitude in the digital age.