HomeTechnologyInternetIs the internet is as good for my son as the outdoors?

Is the internet is as good for my son as the outdoors?

On autumn afternoons in the late 1980s, my mother knew better than to keep me inside. When the school day was over, I was free to bungee my tape deck to the handlebars of my BMX bike, fire up some Pink Floyd, and ride the suburban streets of Cleveland, intervening with the usual horde of neighborhood kids . We would throw up piles of leaves to destroy with our bicycles; we dug trenches in the mud, poked dead squirrels with sticks, and jumped from trees; and we sprained fingers and bled on our knees. Neither of our parents knew where we were.

Well, on some level they did. We were outside: our eternal refuge when our elders literally kicked us out the door. It hardly mattered where we went from there. Wherever it was and whatever we did, it would be formative and exhausting enough to make us edible. Now that I’m a father, I’ve gained the insight to guess that my unleashing was both parental wisdom and surrender, but the rewards have never been less than salubrious. My self-reliance grew in the outdoors.

I had no idea my outdoor life was anything but universal. Growing up in a financially secure white family, in an insular neighborhood where “crime” meant a badly mowed lawn, I had the privilege of a wonderful outdoor life, unencumbered by other possibilities. A few miles away in Cleveland, my fellow 9- and 10-year-olds may have dreaded time outdoors, in a city that was average at the time about 180 murders a yearand where ‘outdoor life’ for too many people went hand in hand with hunger and poverty.

Must Read
Allison Janney Is The Latest Actress To Wear A See-Through Dress After Florence Pugh Broke The Internet And Freed The Nipple

In particular, the word “outdoors” has always meant inequality. Codified in the early 17th century, “outside relief” promised food and clothing to unhoused or struggling British beyond the confines of institutions such as orphanages and workhouses. Our romantic notion of “the great outdoors” didn’t emerge until the 18th century during industrial expansion, as coal-burdening cities sprang up and railroads swallowed up forests.

Decades later, in the era of William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau, when nostalgia for vanishing nature became trendy, the word took on its modern connotation as a haven for wild imaginings. But even then it never lost its ties to economic and social fragility.

So, in the full accounting, ‘outside’ conveys something more than ‘outside’: something bigger, even ‘grand’, but also something scarier and more exposed. It’s where you find or lose yourself; a place of opportunity and reward, but also of predation and risk.

“Indoors” itself seems like a restrictive term, almost always functioning as an adjective (an “indoor cat”), while “outdoors” has the mass of a noun.

My son is the same age as me in those days of scrapes, and while I’d love to have him meet up with neighborhood kids on the soccer field, his after-school destination of choice is online, where his friends are waiting for him in “Minecraft” – country. I try not to push back too hard for fear of tainting the outdoors with my uncool father energy.

And so I try to convince myself that the internet is a suitable alternative to the outdoors, one with similar benefits.

Must Read
Hina Khan takes Internet by storm with stellar look in a saree gown that is a must-have for your wardrobe: See pics | Fashion Trends

I’m skeptical of the metaverse, but for my overplanned son, the internet offers an escape: a sublime world where memes and YouTube videos sprout like blades of grass. There are risks, even predators online, and I moderate and guide appropriately, but he also learns to handle that responsibility himself.

The internet, like the outdoors, gets caught up in inequality as it is a privilege of access and leisure. And while my son is unlikely to break a bone battling the Ender Dragon, he’s certainly endured his fair share of psychic wounds in botched collaborations with his friends. In the era of cyberbullying, in “Minecraft” contempts enter the practical world.

But who am I kidding? I give in to point and click parenting because it’s easy. The internet can’t demand the kind of physical improvisation you develop away from home for now. And even if creating a digital world, like the one in “Minecraft,” has blurred the line between nature and culture, there’s still no virtualization of nature’s sensations—red cheeks and the smell of autumn leaves—or its demands. for risk negotiation that can’t be interrupted for a snack break.

There are trade-offs, I know, like downloadable apps kids can use to mediate the nature experience: apps that can identify birdsong or pinpoint a constellation. There’s been admirable work done in this area, but in my experience, screen time outdoors only diminishes the joys of the outdoors and screen time. Compromise is not the answer here.

My son is past the point of early intervention, but I know what to do. If he’s not attracted to falling leaves for its own sake, then I’ll have to work hard to make it fun for him. As bizarre as it sounds, I may need to learn more about the outdoor “Minecraft” imitation in order to imitate it outdoors, without screens, amid real stones and rocks.

Must Read
Palak Mucchal's bridal glow became a hot topic on the internet; 5 ways brides can start prepping their skin before D-day

No doubt he will roll his eyes at this conceit, at least at first, but I will prevail. Worst case scenario, I’m not above unplugging the wifi.

Noah Comet is a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, a Maryland-certified master naturalist, and a writer on natural history and wildlife.

Send a letter of no more than 400 words to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments