My hands are perpetually traced with glitter. Cornstarch and contact solution are standard materials in my art budget. Kinetic sand is the anchor point in my office. The slime craze has gone viral, not just in my office, but in art stores, schools, blogs, and at home. People are simply NEEDING slime like a baby needs food.
And I think it has something to tell us.
Perhaps, we humans are seeking out what is sensory that we can touch, squeeze, poke, and hold that will RESPOND texturally to us, such as slime, sand, or nature. It is pleasing to feel something warm up under our hands, to create a ball when we squeeze, make it morph and stretch when we pull.
Now, we touch more and more cold smooth surfaces that make lights shine and colors flash, and sounds hum; but our touch doesn’t change the experience under our fingers. Through technology, we are becoming constant consumers of the visual and auditory senses and experiencing little variation of taste, sound, and touch. Also, culture influences us to conquer nature and to rely on sight, reasoning and language instead of all of our natural senses (Cohen, 1993).
There is good to this. Because of our push for reasoning and language, we’ve had technological advances that have developed cures or treatments for deadly illnesses. We’ve made advancements that allow us to communicate to loved ones in other countries. We’ve been able to notify and receive help with improved speeds.
But what does the unbalance between the over-emphasis of reason and our sensory deprivation do to our mental abilities, our emotional health, and our entire sense of being alive?
Kaplan (1995) has proposed that the mental effort required for “directed attention” tasks that require sustained focus results in “mental fatigue.” This leads to failing problem-solving abilities, hindered perception, thoughts, and actions (Kaplan, 1995).
Louv (2011) questions if mental health is being negatively affected; when compared with animals that are separated from their native habitats, humans that live in nature-deprived areas exhibit similar behaviors including increased aggression, disrupted parenting patterns, and disrupted social hierarchies. Kaplan (1995) found in his literature review that feelings are affected by exhaustion due to mental fatigue, usually displayed as irritability and isolation.
Sense of being alive
Louv (2008) uses the term nature-deficit disorder to name what has inflicted our culture.
Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses (p. 36; emphasis mine).
These costs all sound like a diminished sense of being alive to me.
SO...what do we do?
The impact of the over-emphasis of reason and sensory deprivation from technology use seems to have far-reaching impact. It’s not all hopeless, though. The answer may be literally at the tips of our fingers, at the edge of our senses.
Use as many senses as you can! (make that slime) Cohen (1993) urges the importance of exploring the world through “non-verbal, non-sighted, non-reasoning, and non-judgmental” ways (p. 285). Louv (2008, 2011) and Cohen (1993), among many other researchers, believe that engagement with nature can enhance the senses and our overall feeling of being alive! Cohen (1993) founded the Department of integrated Ecology that helps connect and restore the relationship between people and nature. He reports his findings from his experience and research, that “there are over 53 distinct natural senses and feelings” (p. 286, emphasis mine). These senses include hunger, thirst, nurturing, motion, gravity, and direction.
Get outdoors in nature! Louv (2011) cited a study that reports three outcomes of exercising outdoors: improvements of psychological well-being and reducing negative feelings, increased health benefits, and building social networks.
Find something that fascinates you! Kaplan (1995) found research supporting the concept of “fascination” and nature as being restorative and resistant to mental fatigue.
Get to know your place! Louv (2011) suggested that by paying attention to one’s place and getting to know the history, geography, plants, animals, and people, a person will develop an attachment to, and likewise protect their place. “…We cannot protect something we do no love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense” (p. 104).
Cohen, M. (1993). Integrated Ecology: The process of counseling with nature. The Humanistic Psychologist, 21, 277-295.
Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books.
Louv, R. (2012). The nature principle: Reconnecting with life in a virtual age. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books.
Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. doi: 10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2