People are eager to extol the benefits of fresh green vegetables, education, marriage, and a walk in the countryside, but are instinctively suspicious of new technologies.
That’s the tagline selected by the editors for the cover story I wrote for Interactions Magazine published this month. Interactions is a bimonthly publication of the ACM, and sees itself as a mirror on the human-computer interaction (HCI) and interaction design communities. It’s edited by Ron Wakkary and Erik Stolterman.
That’s a quote from the pioneering landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. It’s good to get outdoors from time to time and enjoy nature, whether in the garden, a park, the rural countryside, or the wilderness.
Art, literature, design, and common sense attest to this. The Arts and Crafts movement and 20th-century Bauhaus modernism affirmed the place of natural materials and natural forms in good design.
But the claims for nature run even deeper: Nature restores and revives. To encounter natural environments is to be relieved of the stresses of modern living. I go on to explore some of the evidence for the restorative effects of natural environments, and how some people think that digital devices negate the benefits of being in nature. I argue that smartphones and other technologies present to us as “other” than nature, and that’s one of their main benefits.
I make reference to the wealth of cultural affirmations supporting people’s affinity with gardens. The editors highlight the statement: “There must be some occasions when reflecting on our technology dependence prompts an enhanced awareness of life offline.” That’s a theme I’ve developed in several blog posts. The article is now available online.
- Coyne , R. (2014). “Nature versus smarphones.” Interactions Magazine 21(5): pp. 24-31. Online.
- The article acknowledges the contribution of Jenny Roe (Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York), Peter Aspinall (Heriot-Watt University), and Catharine Ward Thompson (The University of Edinburgh) on the restorative benefits of outdoor spaces. The article arose as part of our collaborative project, “Mobility, Mood and Place” (EP/K037404/1), supported through the EPSRC/AHRC/SRC/MRC scheme “Design for well-being: Aging and mobility in the built environment.”
List of references in the article
4. Wood, B., Rea, M.S., Plitnick, B. and Figueiro, M.G. Light level and duration of exposure determine the impact of self-luminous tablets on melatonin suppression. Applied Ergonomics 44, 2 (2013), 237–240.
9. Ward Thompson, C., Roe, J., Aspinall, P. Mitchell, R., Clow, A. and Miller, D. More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: Evidence from salivary cortisol patterns. Landscape and Urban Planning 10 (2012), 221–229.
16. Aspinall, P.A., Mavros, P., Coyne, R., and Roe, J.J. The urban brain: Analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2013; doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091877