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Play Again: A Childhood Removed From Nature

| 2/14/2011 3:35:33 PM

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgTake a look around. You see it on television “family plan” cell phone commercials or those for the latest video games. It’s evident at any social gathering of teenagers, their fingers flying on their cell phone keypads in a dizzying flurry of texting. It’s even present in elementary and middle schools. There is certainly no lack of evidence that children seem to be living more in the virtual world than in the natural one. There are studies, books and websites devoted to the topic. I blogged last fall about elementary school children’s growing disconnection with nature in “Willow’s Disappearance, Is Nature Outdated?” after learning of the Oxford Jr. Dictionary’s elimination of nature words. I recently went to a community screening of a film that takes it to the next age level.

The film “Play Again” focuses on the disconnection between teenagers and nature, following a group of teens has they leave their virtual world to spend time in a wilderness camp. This award winning documentary is told through the voices of the children as they participate in, what is for some of them, their first real experience in nature. Commentary by leading environmentalists, educators, and sociologists accompanies the sometimes humorous, sometimes emotional responses of the teens after they become “unplugged.” Visually stunning, as well as at times shocking, it’s one of the most moving documentaries I've seen in a long time.

Play Again poster

The statistics are disturbing: Today’s children spend 90% of their time indoors. The average American child spends five to fifteen hours a day behind a screen, whether it’s a computer, television, or cell phone. One generation from now, most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. “Human history seems grounded in defeating natural challenges”, one teen in the film said, “being connected to nature, feeling tied to it in some way, just doesn’t seem essential.” Some of the children interviewed viewed the virtual world as being more real than the natural one.

Kids are constantly bombarded with images on television and computers. Corporations, it seems, are taking over childhood. Some researchers believe there is a direct link between consumerism and environmental collapse. A scene early in the documentary shows young children shouting out “X-Box,” “Target,” and “Nickelodeon” when shown those logos, but stammering and having a difficult time identifying a dandelion.

Meg Merrill, the film’s producer, said the idea for the film came from a similar study in which children tested could recognize hundreds of corporate logos, but less than 10 plants from their own backyards. It was in an ironic twist that following the screening of a film about the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds, we were able to visit with Ms. Merrill via a live web conference. It was pretty neat. It’s no doubt our lives are enriched by technology. Any information we desire is just a click away. We are able to have social encounters on a daily basis with people from places we’ve never even been. The world is virtually at our fingertips. But there has to be a balance between the time spend on-line and in nature, and right now it seems the scales are tipped in favor of technology.

Cindy Murphy
2/24/2011 9:28:56 AM

You're welcome, Shannon. If you have a chance, "Play Again" is definitely one to see, especially since you're a Mom. If there's not a screening scheduled in your area, you can order the documentary on-line from their website. I wish I would have thought to bring Shelby to the screening; I think kids - especially teenagers - would benefit from watching it. The film's producer mentioned they were working on a shorter "classroom " version to show in schools. Thanks for stopping in, and have a great day.

S.M.R. Saia
2/23/2011 8:24:19 AM

Wow Cindy, I definitely would like to check that out. As the mother of a soon-to-be five-year-old I find this, like your post about the dictionary, very disturbing. I've always tried very hard to get my daughter outside for at least a little while most days. Most of that time we're together, but on the ocassions when she's outside by herself I'm always gratified when I look out the window and see that more often than not she's on her knees, digging in the dirt. Your post makes me want to be even more vigilant! When I get home from work today that kid's going OUTSIDE!!! Thanks! Shannon

Cindy Murphy
2/19/2011 10:43:29 AM

Thanks for your comments, Lori. I get the same feelings from nature - it's a soulful experience. The benefits derived from experiencing nature are many, as are the negative consequences from NOT experiencing it, that I feel, go far beyond knowing the name of a common weed.

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