Patricia Zaradic, Conservation Ecologist, Pennsylvania | Science | Smithsonian
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Patricia Zaradic, Conservation Ecologist, Pennsylvania

The trouble with "videophilia"

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Nature just isn't as entertaining as it used to be, according to new research by Patricia Zaradic, an Environmental Leadership Program fellow in Bryn Mawr, and Oliver Pergams of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Their studies of Americans' recreational habits found a nearly 25 percent per capita decline in camping, fishing, hunting and visits to state and national parks since the mid-1980s.

You've coined the term "videophilia." What is it?
It's this increasing love and fascination that the American public has with electronic recreation—the Internet, e-mail, video games, DVDs, PDAs, podcasts.

How is videophilia linked to the decline in outdoor recreation?
What culturally has changed in the United States since the mid-80s? It's the Internet and our use of all these electronic media. Either our increase in sedentary, electronic recreation is directly responsible for our not going out into nature, or whatever is causing us to be so engaged in electronic recreation is also causing the decline.

A person also experiences the world through books—say, "bibliophilia." Perhaps there's A -philia for every generation.
Maybe. But there were 50 years of increasing outdoor recreation prior to 1987. "Bibliophilia," "TVphilia" and the like may have been taking us away from some activities but not from nature.

Is there anything to be said for substituting an electronic outdoors for the real thing?
A Web-cam view of the Grand Canyon isn't equivalent to standing amid all that majesty. If your primary relationship with nature is virtual, you may not realize how much of the experience you are missing and you might mistake the virtual for the real thing.

Some might argue it's not a bad idea to Stay Indoors and give nature a break.
The thing about that argument is that there's no benign neglect of nature. Due to budget cuts, California is considering closing down access to some state parks. So that's the start of what happens when we're not going out into nature: access to public green spaces will be decreased.

How might videophilia affect conservation efforts?
If people don't spend time with nature, they won't develop a relationship with it and be good stewards of it in the future. Going out into nature, particularly as a child, has the strongest impact on developing environmental consciousness as an adult.

Do you walk the talk?
I see huge benefits in my three young kids when we take them out for a couple of weeks on a canoe trip or other outdoor adventure without any electronic entertainment. They come back more well-centered, calm, able to focus on projects and work. My co-author, Oliver Pergams, also has three kids, and they spend July with no electronic anything at home. So we're pretty proactive. Parents might think, How can anything I provide compete with the Discovery Channel or "Meerkat Manor"?

My advice: just get out into nature.

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