Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting Back to Nature

I wrote a post a few weeks ago that talked about the technology-free vacation. I believed then that it was a great idea. Now, after reading an article in the New York Times Technology section, I find it even more appealing. The article chronicles a trip taken by five neuroscientists to a remote area of Southern Utah, completely detached from cell phone reception or wi-fi. For a week, these scholars hiked, rafted and camped in the wilderness, the whole time discussing how heavy technology use effects our brains and how nature may reverse it.

Some of the scientists were skeptical about it, while others embraced the idea. Since this trip is a rarity in our world today, where people can communicate even from the farthest reaches of the globe, it was difficult for these men to give up their laptops and blackberries. But they did it, and you know what, I think it was the best thing for them. They even reported, after a few days of physical activity and fresh air, they were more relaxed, focused and reflective. The constant nagging of a cell phone seemed to dissipate, and it almost seemed silly to want to check email. Even with important happenings going on back at home, the scientists were able to push it aside and enjoy a trip that took them away from it all--literally.

Not only did the trip effect their personal gadget-checking tendencies, but it also changed how they looked at their scientific research. According to  David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, what happens to us when we step away from our devices is important to study, it's essential to science. What these scientists found was that taking time away from technology and spending it outside participating in physical activities increased their focus and attention. Their minds were able to relax, producing clearer thoughts and more cognitive reasoning. Perhaps nature is the cure. Of course, the scientists all need more proof of this before jumping to that conclusion. Mr. Braver, a brain imaging expert and one of the skeptics, wants to use imaging to study what happens to the brain when it rests. Mr. Kramer, a professor at the University of Illinois, wants to investigate the benefits to the brain that occurred, whether they were due to being in nature or by participating in physical activities. Mr Atchley, a professor at the University of Kansas, says he wants to study the addictive nature of people and how it can result in bad decisions and destructive behavior.

While the trip didn't cure them of their technology dependence, it did make them realize that a little downtime is important, a way to unclutter thoughts and focus attention. Isn't that why they call it a vacation? It restores you, in a way. I've felt strongly about the need to take a break, because working too much, multi-tasking, checking phones and emails 24/7 can fry your brain; it's mentally exhausting. If you don't take some personal time, you'll go crazy.

I don't know if I would be able to completely give up technology for a week--or even a weekend--but it is something I am willing to try. If nothing else, it will be a freeing experience. Now, I just have to convince my boyfriend, who has a computer permanently attached to him at all times, to come along for the trip.

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