Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Being versus Doing

The latest Ken Burns documentary on our National Parks, coming out this month, got me thinking about the whole concept of being versus doing. Burns makes a good point when describing why our National Parks and other natural places are in trouble. Basically it boils down to this; it is way too easy these days to live a virtual life, but not even perceive that you're missing out.

You know what I mean. We tend to live online, or somehow plugged in. It takes less effort to view pretty pictures on a screen than to go out and experience them live. And there are advantages. Can't fly to Thailand? Visit there virtually by web cam. Can't visit a friend? Text or chat with him online. By the way, I'm all for most of that, because it connects us and informs us about the world that is out there...and let's face it, we can't all travel everywhere we want.

No, the danger of being, and not doing is different. It is when we come to believe that by simply being, we're getting all the benefits of doing. Burns argues, and rightfully I think, that we loose our commitment to protect precious things when we don't experience them in the real sense. A virtual experience of Yosemite may make us happy, but will it drive us to actively oppose the interests that would like to reduce natural places to open pit mines, or amusement parks?

The fear is that without enough of us getting active in the out of doors, we lose the constituency needed to watch over, and protect our wild places. Without use, spectacular trails and vistas become less important to us as a whole, and more likely to be bulldozed and widened for timber access.

One thing is clear. There is no going back in our devotion to and fascination with technology and entertainment. We will only get more wired and more plugged in in the future. The marketing giants that give us weekends of football and beer, of vicarious experiences of all sorts, are not going away.

The question is, will emerging factors like the global climate crisis create a tipping point...a point at which we choose to put away our virtual experience of the world for just long enough to rediscover the real world in its actual, and not virtual, splendor.

Granted, doing so takes a bit of effort, and sometimes a drive or a hike, but it is worth it. Whenever I see a 20 something with a kayak or bike on her roof heading somewhere...I become optimistic. Change may be in the air. And that change is so necessary to create and maintain the "constituency" Burns describes; the army of those who appreciate and use natural places, and who through collective action, will keep the world's great places not just flickering on our web cams, but in our actual experience.

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Anonymous Lori said...

This is precisely why I elected to send my son on an Earth Explore expedition, and to travel with him as a group leader several years ago! I couldn't have said it any better. Still hoping to do the same for my daughter, but it's not looking likely. I'll have to find another way to impart this message to her. Earth Explore offers an incredible opportunity to share the wonderful diversities of our planet with the next generation. Keep up the fantastic work!

September 29, 2009 2:17 PM  

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