Biologists have found that in addition to promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, the rising use of video games correlates with a reduction in outdoor nature experiences, and experiencing only "virtual nature" has negative implications for conservation efforts.
Intrepid nature photographers now use high-definition photography to bring unparalleled images of wildlife and a "you-are-there" experience approaching virtual reality to the viewer. It can be at once informative, thrilling and terrifying -- and all from the comfort of your easy-chair or sofa.
While such video gives the public a view of nature never before seen, two biologists warn this technological wonder represents a proverbial double-edge sword.
"Virtual nature, defined as nature experienced vicariously through electronic means, has potential benefits particularly for children dependent on adults for access to many natural areas ... yet virtual nature appears to directly compete with time previously allocated to more beneficial, direct contact with the outdoors," write biologists Oliver Pergams and Patricia Zaradic in the Spring 2007 issue of the Journal of Developmental Processes.
Pergams, visiting research assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Zaradic, instructor in biology at Bryn Mawr College, call this phenomena "videophilia," which they define as "the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media."
Their concern is that such activities not only can contribute to a more isolated, sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle, but also may discourage people, especially children, from visiting parks or nature preserves and experiencing nature first-hand. And that, they argue, could affect environmental consciousness, which may hinder long-term efforts to conserve earth's dwindling tracts of wilderness.
Last year, Pergams and Zaradic presented a correlation between an increase in use of electronic media such as computer games, watching of videos, and surfing the Internet with a corresponding per capita decline since 1987 in visits to national parks.
"It seems likely that people are also visiting other natural areas less, and that this decline is not unique to our national parks," Pergams said. "If further research finds similar longitudinal declines in other nature-related activities, we may be even more certain that people are really turning away from nature in general, rather than just national parks."
Their latest study folds in additional research findings to underscore the association between more time spent with electronic media and the decline in outdoor activity, especially among children.
"Research shows that this upward trend in adult Internet use at home has direct consequences on time spent interacting with children," Pergams said. "Indirectly, there are also implications for parents as role models and gatekeepers of children's recreational choices."
Pergams and Zaradic raise concern about the effects of nature videos showing attacking animals in action and the insecure feelings that this may cause for children who have little or no exposure to nature in the wild, leading many to fear nature.
"It seems likely that sensationalized virtual views of nature make real visits to nature less appealing and so further reduce direct experiences," Zaradic said. "This would, in turn, increase our reliance on vicarious nature experiences."
Pergams and Zaradic suggest large-scale studies to determine the effects of videophilia, tracking participants from childhood to adulthood. The studies would measure changes in development, success, happiness and environmental consciousness.
"Unfortunately, children are already exposed at earlier and earlier developmental stages to an uncontrolled videophilia treatment," Zaradic said. "Even more unfortunate, today's children -- tomorrow's parents -- face the prospect of a culture devoid of contact with the evolutionary driver and life-support system that is our natural world."
Cite This Page: