Human Flower Project
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Down on the Digital-Dirt Divide
For plantsman Allen Bush, it all began by getting shooed out of the house. After digging holes to an imaginary China, he’s actually gone there, collecting rare species and befriending rarer horticulturalists from across the world.
A youth spent in the woods leads to self-esteem, and in some cases, to a career and schanpps, also
Photo: Jonathan Prescott
By Allen Bush
I wish children could experience the same simple pleasures I enjoyed over fifty years ago. They should try to dig a hole to China. My big adventure was slowed by summer heat and hard clay, but I finally busted through, on a plant hunting trip in 2001. Memories of abandoned, shallow craters from childhood expeditions in Louisville are nearly as good as Sichuan itself turned out to be.
Back in those early years, I imagined I could poke through by noon and be home by dark. But the only way kids are going to dig to China now is if they hack into Chinese cyberspace. American youngsters can’t be bothered with a spade. And they’re certainly not spending much time outside, unless you count a precious few minutes misspent with older brothers and sisters who stand shivering at the back door catching a smoke.
The digital-dirt divide worries me. Edward O. Wilson understands outdoor lessons: “The Secret Places of childhood, whether a product of instinct or not, at the very least predispose us to acquire certain preferences and undertake practices of later value in survival. The hideaways bond us with place and they nourish our individuality and self-esteem,” Wilson writes in The Future of Life. ”If played out in the natural environment, they also bring us close to the earth and nature in ways than can engender a lifelong love of both.”
Generation Z may learn again how to dirty their mitts and swing on a wild grape vine across a skinny creek, but it doesn’t look promising.
Among American children, ages eight to eighteen, more than seven and half hours are spent each day wired to smartphones, music/video devices, computers and televisions – sometimes multitasking several digital gizmos at once—according to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And there’s no “Thank God It’s Friday” for this demographic. Bleary eyes are focused 24/7 all week long—which amounts to a whopping fifty-three hours —barely seeing the light of day. Stop and smell the roses? Doubtful.