People prefer videogames to the outdoors

7:48 p.m. on February 5, 2008 (EST)
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I'm not sure whether this belongs in Off-Topic or here in Backcountry, but a study by the National Academy of Sciences reports that participation in backcountry activities is on the wane. In some sense, HOORAY! Less people crowding the outdoors. In another sense, that is a real tragedy, since people will have less appreciation of Nature, the wilderness, and the environment in general.

Since the story is from AP and CNN, with strong statements about re-distributing it, I will just provide a link -
http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/science/02/05/nature.interest.ap/index.html

Important points were that camping, fishing, and park visits are declining in a shift away from nature-oriented activities. To quote one thing from the study

Quote:

"The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children," Pergams said in a statement. "Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance."

Somehow "videophilia" sounds pretty bad.

10:28 p.m. on February 5, 2008 (EST)
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What does this suggest about natural adaption/selection?

11:36 p.m. on February 5, 2008 (EST)
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You're probably on the computer as much as some people watch TV or play video games. The WWW is the real problem here. Go ahead and take away my TV and video game consoles, but take away my internet and I simply cannot function.

6:39 a.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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Read Richard Louv's book: "Last Child In The Woods - Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder". It'll open your eyes about where we're headed as an adaptive species, both physically and emotionally. Great camp read!

8:22 a.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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Interesting, isn't it, that we're creating targeted virtual communities consisting of people who, in most cases we've never met (much like this one) while abandoning interpersonal relationships with our neighbors. I'd say it's a rather sad state of affairs (although I guess I need to smack myself, since I participate in a number of discussion groups). Perhaps I've done something right, my three kids (now one young adult and two teenagers) still get out and enjoy the outdoors, still go hiking (even without my dragging them along). Hopefully their children will do the same.
Think about it, though. How many people spend hours on a treadmill in good weather, rather than running or hiking outside? I even know a couple of "climbers" who have never (to my knowledge) set foot or finger on a real cliff - they're just gym rats. The physical health benefits may be the same, indoors or out, but I have to believe that the mental health benefits of actually being out there must be greater (in my case it may be possible to counter that assertion, however ...)
Our over-adaptation to modern life is revealed every time there's a natural disaster that interrupts the flow of power to the grid .... most people have no clue what to do.

Sorry for the rambling rant -

Fred

10:40 a.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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This is an article I wrote for our newsletter: www.carboneec.org
I thought it had some pertinence here.

Boys will be boys – or will they?

This year one of our summer workers gave me a gift. A book entitled “The Dangerous Book for Boys” by Conn and Hal Iggulden, a couple of brothers from Great Britain. The book brought me back to my childhood, back to the days of climbing trees, making slingshots, climbing “Mountains”, building huts, and playing OUTSIDE.

Not until after I heard an interview with Conn on public radio, did I realize that the inspiration for the book was not reminiscence, but rather the observation that boys as we know them today are not the boys of yesterday. Nor will they grow up to be men, as we know them today.

The book talks of great adventures, both real life ones in our own “Kingdoms” and fictitious ones read about only in books. There are suggestions that we, the men of today, are the way we are because we were allowed by our parents to participate in certain medium to high risk rights-of-passage that all boys should have the opportunity to take part in.

One such right of passage is the simplest of things, tree climbing. Today, in the overprotective world we live in, tree climbing is taboo. For crying out loud, playgrounds are now made with protective rubber matting –just in case. “He could get hurt!” and, “Who’ll pay the bill?” are some of the cries one might hear. To this I respond, who paid our bills?

A boy can learn a lot of things from climbing a tree: What its texture is like, what animals live in it, what is smells like, and why tree species are shaped differently. Some other things a boy can learn from tree climbing are fear and accomplishment. Fear is a big one. Fear is necessary. In order to overcome fear, one must experience it first hand. Accomplishment is big on a boy’s list too. For a boy to look up at that big Oak and wonder if it can be climbed is one thing. The feeling of accomplishment a boy gets when he is reunited with terra firma, knowing that oak CAN be climbed and HE did it is quite another, and it’s huge.

If the boy fails, this too is a valuable lesson. “Suppose he falls and breaks an arm?” To this I say “So what!” Then the list of lessons gets longer. He learns that it sometimes hurts to fail, and that eventually, the pain goes away. Then it’s time to try again. But this time, do it better. Do it right. Fear breeds success.

Technology is another hurdle that boys have to clear. I am not opposed to technology. It has merit. I say this as I type on my personal computer. I am opposed, however, to technology taking away childhood, making the boys of today soft. When I was a boy, Mom would often be heard to say “Turn off the television and go out and play!” In those days TV was the only technological enemy. Today, the enemy alliance has grown, TV, X-Box, Playstation, Mp3/video players, the internet, and numerous other things that keep boys from active play. Are the boys smarter today? Of that I’m not so sure. They can do a lot of things that I couldn’t do at that age, but now they can’t do a lot of the things that I could.

At the risk of sounding old, allow me to share these observations with you:
When I was a boy, we played games like manhunt, war (with actual sticks for guns), kick the can, and tag, IN THE WOODS! We got hurt (often) and it was OK. We lived through it. We played kid-organized (Read: No adults to get involved in fist fights) sports for the championship of the world. We got dirty; really dirty (and bloody sometimes too) conquering the coal banks that were our “Mountains”. We pioneered “green” gravity sports like skateboarding (now a crime in many towns, Mountain biking (not allowed on many state owned lands), and snowboarding (Now you need a lift ticket).

There is a movement now to reintroduce the outdoors to children. “No child left inside” is a program designed to get kids outdoors to experience the wonders of the natural world. Not the Costa Rican rain forests, but their own back yards. Studies have shown that time spent outdoors reduces loneliness, depression, and attention disorders. Apparently, boys today need the outdoors more than ever since 82 percent of the worlds juvenile behavior medication is prescribed in the United States.

Here at CCEEC we have seen many examples of “Nature deficit disorder” as Richard Louv puts it in his book, Last Child In The Woods. One such instance involves a young boy that, while hiking here with his school, discovered a pile of Black Bear scat on the ground. As I discussed the find with the boy and his buddies I became aware that one of the girls in the group was in tears and near panic, because there were bears around. I tried to explain that the scat was old and the bear could be 50 miles away, but she had to be taken (nearly carried) back to the center, by one of the outdoor savvy boys, to be consoled by her teacher. Can you imagine? Bears in the woods! Who would have thought? When I was a boy, bears lived in the woods, not just on the Animal Planet channel.

So the next time you see a boy doing a dangerous activity like climbing a tree or skipping a stone across a pond, remind yourself that they are outside, learning life’s most valuable lessons. Lessons that cannot be taught except by the student themselves.

Boys will be boys, if we let them.

10:49 a.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks for the book suggestion, it will be on my next BN order. We don't buy our girls video games and we don't have cable tv. I do need to make a point of kicking them outside more often.

12:28 p.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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MTB said, in response to my post

Quote:

You're probably on the computer as much as some people watch TV or play video games.

Hmmmm, more than I want to be, but nowhere near the US average. There have been several recent surveys that show (or are purported to show) that the average American has the TV on for 8 hours a day. This seems a bit astounding and unbelievable, except that I know lots of people who turn the TV on to catch the morning news shows and then again as soon as they arrive home, watching (or having it on) all through supper and until midnight or the 11 o'clock news is over.

Usually I have the computer on for 1 to 2 hours a day (not continuously), and am often in the hills for 2 or 3 days or sometimes 3 weeks, where there is no computer available (such as Africa in December for 3 weeks - 2 of which were on the Serengeti or on the mountain, and their Internet cafe rates in town are exorbitant, or in Antarctica Dec 2006 for almost a month, again no internet, except for those people willing to pay Iridium for the satellite connection). Most days, I spend more time reading than on computer (or watching the idiot box) combined.

I do use it for several hours a day when developing or updating some of the courses I teach (or presenting the indoor sessions), or recently, when working through the 2600 images we shot in Africa (PhotoShop takes as much time to get an image right as working in the chemical darkroom used to). And we are in the middle of designing a replacement house, which means a lot of interaction with the architect, going over his designs to suggest a larger closet, shifting a wall slightly, changing the size of windows. In other words, not entertainment, but as a tool. Visiting Trailspace for a couple of 10 or 15 minute sessions 3 or 4 times a day adds up to maybe an hour, but the daily hill runs or bike rides take 2 to 3 hours (typically 8 to 12 miles, 2000 to 2500 foot ascents, depending on whether it is the short Mission Peak, long Black Mountain, or somewhere else).

Last Sept-Oct, my son was on the computer for a few hours a day during his professional conference in Amsterdam, but we watched no TV and were not on computer at all during our 2 weeks climbing in the Dolomites. He continues to get into the woods on a regular basis, despite Wisconsin's winter.

"Dangerous Book for Boys" is a great book. B&N and Borders have been selling it at a fair discount and have it on the best seller racks. Unfortunately, the book billed as the equivalent for girls ("Daring Book for Girls") is nowhere near as good. There are hardly even any "tom-boy" types of "daring" activities in it. I suggest the "Dangerous" boys' book for girls as well.

1:28 p.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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Yep - adventure - I recall setting up a rappel from the upper branch of a Maple tree in the back yard when I was 11 or 12 (7/16" goldline, home-made rope harness and a couple steel carabiners - anybody else remember steel 'biners?) - probably 30' up - lept off the branch, went to slow myself down and the branch broke off.
Then there was the time my mother looked on in horror as I deployed a home-made bed-sheet parachute while BASE jumping from the peak of the roof (2 story colonial home - I should note - it did NOT slow me to any appreciable degree, my landing was far from elegant, but I did walk away).
I think the main thing is to just let kids be kids - bones and skin do heal - and the scars, aches and pains give you something interesting and entertaining to talk about later in life!
My son does play video games, but to be fair, he writes them as well, he also trail runs and backpacks - it's a matter of balance. My eldest daughter (currently in college) informed me that she was taking rock climbing classes with a school-based outdoors club - to say I'm thrilled would be a gross understatement! The youngest isn't quite as "outdoorsy" but with luck, she'll come around!

6:36 p.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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I also heartily endorse "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv.

An updated edition is scheduled to come out in late April. So if you haven't read it yet (or want to reread it), you might want to wait and see all the new info in this version.

Even though I was already on board for Louv's message, I learned a lot from reading the first edition. I constantly recommend it to others, especially parents. Since the book came out a few years ago there have been more efforts to get kids outside, but ultimately parents and other adults have to take it upon themselves to give kids those opportunities regularly.

I haven't actually read "The Dangerous Book for Boys," but I agree with Bill that the same attention should be given to getting girls outdoors. Maybe they could call it "The Dangerous Book for Kids." It sounds like an interesting book though, and I've been meaning to check it out.

This subject is one of my personal issues. Kids miss out on a lot of physical and personal benefits when they don't get a chance for unstructured outdoor play.

And unfortunately, if kids (and subsequently adults) have no personal experience with the outdoors they'll have no connection to it and they're not going to have a personal investment in protecting and valuing it. And ultimately that affects all of us.

Thanks also to f_klock for sharing his essay on the subject.

8:38 p.m. on February 6, 2008 (EST)
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I think Fred hit it right on mentioning his eldest son: balance is key. I'm twenty years old and while I probably play way too many video games and spend more precious hours on the computer then I should yet I'd say striking that balance isn't too hard. Right now I've got a canoe trip, an extended hike and a couple local destinations on the go in preparation for the warmer months (don't let anyone tell you different, Canada IS cold, haha). The everyday routine of walking to school and back is good too. I suppose proiritizing and valuing that outdoor time is what kids need to be made aware of. Turning of the TV (get rid of satillite/cable it really helps!) and getting parents to just take kids to the park (rubber mats and all!) or walk a nature trail can only do good for them.

As for video games I don't think kids should be given high end systems and a big screen and just left to their own devices, kick em out of the house! :D But at the same time I don't think demonizing and blaming a great form of entertainment is correct (I'm not saying anyone here is doing so...but in the past I've heard various people cite video games as a precurser to a coming apocolypse, hahah).

Oh and Alicia I believe there is such a book, "The Daring Book For Girls" written along similar lines as "Dangerous" with plenty of outdoorsy stuff thrown in.

12:00 p.m. on February 7, 2008 (EST)
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Jimbo,
"The Daring Book for Girls" is very different from "Dangerous Book for Boys". I picked up a copy for Barb when it came out, and she almost threw it out the first day (or actually, threatened to throw it at me). It has such "daring" articles as "How to tie a Sari", "Jacks" (the game that girls use to play when the boys were playing marbles", and "Japanese T-shirt Folding". The "Climbing" article is on climbing trees and ropes, not rock climbing or ice climbing. The "Hiking" article starts with such daring advice as "head for a trail head", "look at the trees", "avoid poison ivy", and a three and a half line description of how to make a walking stick. It describes topo lines as "the mysterious squiggly lines on the map". It does have an article on "Changing a Tire", which, given the traffic on the roads these days, I will agree is pretty daring. Then again, that's why we have cell phones and the auto club. The "Daring Girls Guide to Danger" lists riding a roller coaster, have a scary movie festival in your living room, wearing high heels, dying your hair purple, and trying sushi (ok, it does also include white water rafting with a guide service and riding a zip line in a rain forest).

It is probably "daring" for the way most middle-class girls are raised in our present society (East Oakland and Richmond, CA, are a different story). But the girls are getting shortchanged, I'm sorry to say, even at the super discount that Borders and Barnes&Noble are sellin the book.

1:07 p.m. on February 7, 2008 (EST)
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One solution is to buy a Nintendo Wii. Of course you are still inside and not outdoors, but at least you are getting some slight exercise and not just sitting down on the couch. The Wii has even been incorporated into some rehab programs.

6:20 p.m. on February 7, 2008 (EST)
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Why not just buy a bat and a ball, or a tennis racquet. Rehab? Yes. Those people can't get outside - kids CAN. No Wii for me.

6:49 p.m. on February 7, 2008 (EST)
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I agree. I was at my brother's for Thanksgiving and was cajoled into playing Wii tennis. As an actual tennis player I thought, what's the point of this? I already know how to play tennis, and not with faulty video game skills.

Like most things, there's probably a (very small) place, in moderation, for stuff like this. But not at the expense of actually doing stuff.

I guess I'd rather have someone play Wii sport and dancing games than violent video games, but ultimately doing real things (preferably including lots of things outside) is best.

By the way, I saw "The Dangerous Book for Girls" at the library today, complete with the sections Bill mentioned above, though there certainly were a number of active sections (like softball and snowball fights), beyond how to tie a sari. I haven't seen the boys version yet though, which sounds way more exciting. I did notice that the girls book included some female role models though, which is a positive aspect.

My potential problem with the books is labeling certain activities as ones for boys or girls. I think it's good to expose all kids to a range of activities, especially outdoor ones.

8:43 p.m. on February 7, 2008 (EST)
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I would like to point out that, as stated in my article, it was a GIRL ("Mom would often be heard to say “Turn off the television and go out and play!”) that got me outdoors. Dad was great, but he was a business man. Yeah, he tried to get me to play little league, but mom was the shotgunner, the dog runner, the camper and the Cubscout Den Mother that REALLY got me to appreciate nature and the outdoors. Let's hear it for the girl!

9:00 a.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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Go, Mom!

2:32 p.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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"(like softball and snowball fights)" - Alicia - wow - a softball fight would be a dangerous game!

My son has a Wii - tried to explain the virtues of saving money playing it instead of going to the bowling alley - I suspect he could roll a LOT of frames for the cost of that thing (but hey, he's an adult, he's working, so .....) - as for the tennis - I tend to run a heck of a lot more on a tennis court than I did playing on the Wii.

He also has "guitar hero" - well - I've been a guitar player for almost 40 years and that game in no way, shape or form is anything close to playing the guitar!

I can see it now - a virtual "climbing simulator" where you'll wear a set of VR goggles and attempt to free solo El Cap ..... boy .... that'd be an adventure! Personally I'd rather hike in to Chickies Rock by Wrightsville PA or hit the boulders down by Devils Den in Gettysburg ....

I think the real issue is that we, as a people, are so accustomed to being entertained 24/7 - I enjoy movies, but I'd much rather read "the world according to Garp" than see the movie (although it was very well done as a film) - and I'd much rather try to figure out the opening riff to SRV's "tin pan alley" than pretend to play on guitar hero - just my prejudice I suppose.

Get outside - freak people out - drive with the windows down when it's cold - hit the trails when it's raining - go swimming when it's overcast - embrace this big beautiful world and find some adventure out there - wherever "out there" happens to lead ya.

and ... teach your children well ....

3:04 p.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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Ha ha, Fred! Not exactly what I meant.

Actually in my very brief review of the book I noticed that the snowball section's opener mentioned that this might not be allowed at some schools. It's kind of sad to have disclaimers on "dangerous" stuff like that and tree climbing and so on.

I think/hope there will be backlash against trying to overprotect kids by insulating them from everything. You might protect them from a few bumps and bruises, but it's not good preparation for the real world, which is way more interesting anyway.

11:42 p.m. on February 8, 2008 (EST)
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hahaha fair enough Bill S,

To tell you the truth I had only heard of the book (and read a small review) so I'm really not in a position to recommend it, just point out that it exists. Its too bad that "they" - really ourselves - segreate the sexes so much (blue and pink...ONLY!) kids should certainly be exposed to some of the same activies (who knows...maybe tying a sari could be useful?!) But one thing I can recommend is that you should definatly duck should your wife ever decide to throw that book :)

9:17 a.m. on February 9, 2008 (EST)
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I think it's only fair that we understand that the book for boys, and my article were written by, well, men. If we were to have written about women, somewhere, someone would find fault in that as well.

The fact is, we write what we know about. It wouldn't make sense for a rock climber to write about whitewater kayaking if that climber was never in a boat...

I have received phone calls and emails about my publication. Some offered praise and some chastised me for not including girls. I try to be as PC (politely correct is term I prefer to use) as possible, but I chose to write from experience rather than to try to make everyone happy. You can NEVER make EVERYONE happy ; ) Right Mrs. Bill_S? ROCK!...I MEAN, BOOK!!!!!

12:32 p.m. on February 9, 2008 (EST)
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what are the outdoors? I go virtual camping in second life. Its great.

1:49 p.m. on February 9, 2008 (EST)
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My work hosted a meeting to discuss the pros and cons of creating a place in second life. (I work for the California State Library).

They were talking about having a virtual library (VL) in the game. The VL would pretty much be a huge data base of scanned books with many resources for research and everything else. It was during that time, that I feel out of favor with the librarians that work around when I mentioned that google books already has that. :)

1:19 p.m. on February 10, 2008 (EST)
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Hi, f_klock, I hope you didn't feel chastised by my posts. I enjoyed your article you shared and its message, with which I agree (substituting kids for boys though).

4:25 p.m. on February 10, 2008 (EST)
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No problem, kid! ;)

11:29 p.m. on February 10, 2008 (EST)
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is anyone old enough to remember when you used to box in gym class? Well I am not either, and actually I never went to 'gym' class, it is called physical education now. My dad told me a story about when he was in 6th grade and they were boxing in gym class, i thought it was the coolest thing ever. Now we have to play soccer with fluff balls on a field made of shredded tires with blow up goals just in case someone takes a fall the school can not be held reliable. What a load of crap!! I actually did play kick the can, a lot, growing up and it is a lot of fun. there is a time for everyting, I play a ton of video games nowadays, however I work 30 hours a week and am in college, full time. So when the day is over and I am tired playing an absolutely mindless video game is a great way to unwind. Dont get me wrong I would love to get out on a trail or go climb a wall but sometimes the mileage i cover between class and waiting tables is to much and i just want to sit down. When the weekend comes though I will be outside.

11:17 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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I love this!

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED …

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.

Riding in the back of a pick-up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank Kool-aid made with sugar, but we weren't overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendos, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVDs, no surround-sound or CDs, no cell phones, no personal computers! No Inter net or chat rooms.......
WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

If YOU were one of these children, CONGRATULATIONS!

10:03 a.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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The old days don't seem as cool as some people would like to think.

12:05 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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MTB416 said

Quote:

The old days don't seem as cool as some people would like to think.

Then again, the "new days" (as in, the current fashion/fad) isn't as cool as some people think, either. And besides which, what is "cool" today will be old hat and decidedly uncool within a week or so.

f_klock's post makes an excellent point. The do-gooders who are trying so hard to protect us from ourselves and from every imagined hazard may also be missing something that has to do with self-reliance, and even the body's own way of protecting itself. There is a lot of medical evidence that children "protected" from a lot of things in the environment have less resistance to diseases and more problems with allergies than "unprotected" kids. As f_klock's post also points out (where did this come from, by the way?), you used to have to pay the consequences of your actions, and you often learned by observing what happened to your peers.

If all the playgrounds are padded, how will a kid learn that falling on the ground is gonna hurt? If a kid is not allowed to fail, how is s/he going to learn to deal with failure (or even as the line in the old song goes "when you fall down, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, try it all over again")? If every breaking of the law is forgiven as "it was just the neighborhood he lived in" or "the kid was abused", and even a slap on the wrist is considered cruel and unusual punishment, then what is learned may well be "do what you feel like, there is no penalty."

Here in Palo Alto, in the K-5 level in the schools, competitive activities are frowned on. Reason? If you have a competition, there is only one winner, which makes all the other kids feel bad. If you have more than one competition, eventually everyone loses sooner or later, which means that every kid will run into situations where they feel bad, lose self-confidence, etc. (no, I am not making this up).

We hear a lot of complaints in this area about the youth having "nothing to do" if you don't let them play video games, text, watch TV, watch YouTube, make YouTube videos. I work with youth groups, and often get the complaint when out on a hike or when invited to look at the stars at night that it is "boring" or "nothing to do". They want to retreat to their IPods or pocket Gameboys, or complain when there is no cell coverage (I have seen them texting or talking on the cell to a friend standing within 20 or 30 feet - hey, ever hear of talking face to face?)

Mostly, I feel it isn't so much that the "old days" or current fashion is more or less cool than the other - they are just different from each other (yeah, here in Palo Alto, we are told that if a kid feels s/he is "different", then s/he will feel bad about him/herself, and runs a high risk of committing suicide). But I agree with the point of the article in f_klock's post - the big thing lost from the "old days" (even as recently as 2 or 3 decades ago) is the sense of responsibility for oneself and one's actions and the sense of self-reliance, and even a sense of caring and responsibility for others, both those close to us and more generally the rest of our species.

12:44 p.m. on February 12, 2008 (EST)
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"(where did this come from, by the way?)"

I wish I could take credit for my last post. It was actually one of those super-annoying fwd.fwd.fwd emails that we all love so much. Someone sent it to me after reading my Boys Will Be Boys article. It really rings true though, don't you think? I'm sure we all could add our own comments on the topic.

3:10 p.m. on March 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Amen to this discussion. I enjoyed playing outdoors, riding my bike and hanging out with the neighborhood kids. We built tree forts, played war in the woods, etc. In grad school I got into a heated discussion with another student who tried to tell me that playing video games was as good for a child's hand eye coordination as playing baseball. I just about flipped. Not to mention all the added bonuses that go along with participating in youth sports. My wife and I just had twin boys and I plan on doing my best to raise them in an environmentally conscious, outdoorsy atmosphere.

3:07 p.m. on March 15, 2008 (EDT)
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I am a "gamer" type, have been playing video games since childhood. Started on Atari and now am on the PS3. The level of hand-eye coordination that some new games require is truly amazing. This is not going to keep you from becoming fat, but there is an argument for the hand-eye coordination is requires you to develop. Conversely, I love hiking and mountain biking, so I believe I do a good job of balancing these hobbies.

Video games are currently at their peak, showing no signs of slowing. These video game consoles allow for incredible flexibility. Once the video game industry matures I believe game makers will start developing games that are meant to teach, rather than solely entertain. There are already games such as these, but when video game consoles become as common as say the TV, these devices will be seen as more than just an entertainment device.

People hear the word "video game" and they immediately think of a sedentary overweight child, stuffing himself with Cheetos. While this is certainly correct in many cases, it is not the video games fault, it's the parents. What I'm trying to say is, video games can be a powerful tool in a child's development. Just as the computer has become a tool for research, work, and entertainment, the video game console will become a multi-use device.

Don't be suprised if in 10 years you start seeing PlayStations in schools as teaching tools.

4:14 p.m. on March 15, 2008 (EDT)
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Quote:

People hear the word "video game" and they immediately think of a sedentary overweight child, stuffing himself with Cheetos. While this is certainly correct in many cases, it is not the video games fault, it's the parents.

Do you have kids, MTB416? If so, see above quote.

I think you're preaching to the wrong crowd here. Ask any environmental educator, like myself, and they will tell you that today's youth (and adults) need more reasons to sit inside an play video games, like they need more malls, bombs, and drugs.

Quote:

Once the video game industry matures I believe game makers will start developing games that are meant to teach, rather than solely entertain. There are already games such as these, but when video game consoles become as common as say the TV, these devices will be seen as more than just an entertainment device.

Once the industry matures? MATURES?! Didn't Atari come out in like '74 or something? How long do think it's going to take this modern miracle of technology to mature? Are you aware that they said the EXACT same thing about television. Look how well that turned out - real quality educational programming there!

Quote:

Don't be suprised if in 10 years you start seeing PlayStations in schools as teaching tools.

In 10 years there will be no such thing as Playstations. By then there will have been 10 NEW electronic games for consumers to spend hundreds and hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars on. There WILL, however, still be baseballs, hiking boots, skateboards, bicycles, tents, and any number of current outdoor activity products available. Now, tell me more about industries that have matured...

9:12 p.m. on March 15, 2008 (EDT)
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Mountain biking started well over two decades ago, but advanced suspension designs and highly tuneable bikes are just now becoming standard. From kindergarten on into college films have been used to teach, so calling the TV a useless item for teaching is just ridiculous. Another thing, obviously there will be something bigger and better in ten years, I was using the PlayStation just as a generic term. It is quite clear that you have a personal bias against video games and/or the industry, however I grew up with games all my life, so to say that the industry is fully matured is just wrong. I throughly enjoy playing video games and will continue to do so perhaps for the rest of my life.

1:36 a.m. on March 16, 2008 (EDT)
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I agree with the people who want kids to be less sheltered and in the wild more. Wild can be a relative term but one thing is for sure, we ARE getting softer. I am 20 and have grown up in the technology age. Well, most people my age are pathetically soft. For instance, I went camping (in Indiana) in February and my friends said I was crazy and thought it was a serious risk. Wow, that is sad how scared and soft people are.

Personally, I am going to college for outdoor education and plan on either being a guide out west or working with the bureau of land management. I plan on not even having video games or a tv in my house. I cannot stand being inside, I feel so couped up and sheltered when inside. I can feel the presence of god (sorry for the religious thought); I also feel closer with myself, this constantly changing world and I also feel like I can see the bigger picture when I am outdoors.

I am an Eagle Scout, and Scout Leader with the Boy Scouts of America and from the time when i was a young kid to now (about 8 years) I can definately agree with the thought kids are more sheltered. In my troop in NY, we camped near copperheads and there was a porcupine at one of our latrines. We saw it as an opportunity to be in and closer to nature. Nowadays with my current troop, the boys are afraid of spiders, I mean thats a bit ridiculuous. (some may genuinely have arachnaphobia, but not all of them). We even have had some boys lose interest and drop out because they didnt get to stay home and play video games enough and they couldnt concentrate long enough to complete boy scout rank requirements.

Sorry for the long post but i am fed up with seeing kids get softer and softer

8:12 a.m. on March 16, 2008 (EDT)
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At the moment, I'm getting my gear ready to take a group of people on a Wilderness Survival Skills hike.

It should be interesting, as I have quite a diverse group of people signed up. I have kids 8 years old and up, tourists, senior citizens, men, women, and just about every demographic In between.

The weather here is perfect – 30-35 degrees, windy, and raining with a few bouts of horizontal snow! I’ll report back this evening to let you all know how “soft” some of my hikers were. I intend to ask them, at the begining of the hike, what they think of video games etc. and afterward, compare the answers to their individual performance. Should be very interesting.

1:07 p.m. on March 16, 2008 (EDT)
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MTB said

Quote:

Mountain biking started well over two decades ago, but advanced suspension designs and highly tuneable bikes are just now becoming standard.
As it happens, Gary Fisher, who is credited with the invention of mountain biking, was in the same university outdoor club as Barb and I were, and was starting to modify what are now called "cruisers" in the mid 1960s. On your point that "advanced suspensions ... are just now becoming standard", to quote some of my historical re-enactment buddies, what's your point? Bicycles have been around for a couple hundred years, and their spinoffs include automobiles and airplanes (remember a couple of brothers named Orville and Wilbur? - bikemakers!). If you look at road racing bikes, or touring bikes, or other bicycles, they are still evolving, with some pretty major new innovations becoming standard - improved aerodynamics, carbon fiber frames, ultralight wheels, transmission systems, etc etc. Just about everything produced is evolving rapidly (not necessarily improving, though IMHO).

And then he said

Quote:

From kindergarten on into college films have been used to teach, so calling the TV a useless item for teaching is just ridiculous.

Multimedia teaching tools (we used to call them "audiovisual aids" and "demonstrations") have been around for literally thousands of years, from the dissection of cadavers in medieval medical schools to current computer-driven visuals and modeling simulations. When my son was growing up, we had Speak and Spell, and the math equivalent (he also had a personal computer when he was 3 or 4, mainly to keep him away from Mom and Dad's remote access terminal at the house - this was in the early 1980s). Films and lantern slides (the 3x5 size, which preceded 35mm slides by a century) were used in teaching classes (and delivering professional research papers) for many decades. Now we use Powerpoint to electronically deliver slides and video (Barb and I were university professors for some 20 years before going into industry). The original video games were experiments with computer graphics, used for development and experimentation. The original internet (called Arpanet) was a communication and data sharing service (the real inventor of the internet, Vint Cerf, was doing his original work on the same campus where I was in grad school, in the next building over, and Barb was becoming a computer scientist before the term was invented - you were an applied mathematician or an electrical engineer in those days).

But the fundamental difference is not the device, but how it is used. The devices on which video games run and the software techniques which produce the graphics can be used for education, scientific research, and the bettering of mankind and the environment, or they can be used for mindless timewasting "recreation" and "entertainment". Hand-eye coordination can be developed by activities like baseball and other outdoor activities that develop the whole person and develop an appreciation for the environment and the tiny place of humans in the universe, or a specialized, highly restricted set of hand-eye coordination can be developed by videogames presently existing and likely to be developed.

The problem is only partially the physical limitations (the obesity of the kids). It also extends to the lack of interaction with the surrounding real world (not the limited one that exists on the screen or the coming holograms and "touch" simulators). Social interaction is extremely limited (look how many "gamers" circle of "friends" is limited to only cybercontacts), and there is no development of an awareness of the world's environment on our own planet, much less the greater universe.

Yes, multimedia and films (TV, videos, ...) can and have been for centuries used for education. But that was bringing a small piece of the real world into the classroom (which goes far beyond the traditional classroom with 4 walls and a roof, to places like f_klock teaches), with the purpose of developing the rudimentary skills that the students and learners needed and would be eager to use to get out there to see, feel, smell, and experience for themselves. Your beloved videogames are, for the majority of "gamers" a limited electronic universe that has lost touch with reality ("reality TV" is NOT!)

4:36 p.m. on March 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Although I agree with you on almost everything you said Bill, it is clear that people of the older generation have a severe misunderstanding and bias toward video games. It's the modern day equivalent of parents thinking KISS stood for "Knights in Satan's Service".

You also asked what my point about developments in mountain biking. I was giving an example to f_klock about an industry that has been around for many years, but was not able to fully mature until faster computing speeds and CADs came about. You comment on how you believe these advances in materials/designs have not necessarily improved (biking?) I'm more a MTBer than roadie, so I'll just speak for MTB, but recent mountain bikes make a decade ago look a hundred years ago. I partake in many different sports, and mountain biking is probably one of the quickest evolving.

You cannot allow you personal bias of the "false reality" machines you call them to interfere with your judgment. A professor, of all people, should know that.

Bill said: "Your beloved video games are, for the majority of "gamers" a limited electronic universe that has lost touch with reality ("reality TV" is NOT!)". Now thats just a bit condescending.

6:02 p.m. on March 16, 2008 (EDT)
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Well, I'm back from my survival skills hike. No one died or got injured!

I had about 25 people attend. The attendees filled out an accurate and complete hike itinerary, marked and recorded trails(removed rock cairns and flagging on our way out), found and purified water. Water was boiled over survival fires without matches(in established fire rings), waterproof debris hut shelters were built, and the group was successfully found by an air scent dog team from my SAR team. A good day in the woods indeed!

Much hot cocoa and cookies were consumed after returning to the visitor center.

11:03 a.m. on March 17, 2008 (EDT)
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Relevant to the preference and addictiveness of the videogames and the internet over real life, Joseph Weizenbaum, in many ways the father of artificial intelligence and expert systems, died a few days ago. Here is the obit the Wall Street Journal published over the weekend, with many of his thoughts on what he came to consider the Pandora's box he opened.


Joseph Weizenbaum (1923- 2008)
MIT Professor's Work Led Him
To Preach the Evils of Computers
By STEPHEN MILLER
March 15, 2008; Page A6

As author of a computer program called Eliza that was designed to simulate a psychiatrist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Joseph Weizenbaum created a beguiling artifact of early computing. But after test subjects told him the program really empathized with their problems, Mr. Weizenbaum became a digital Jeremiah, and spent decades preaching the computer apocalypse.

The program was in effect a form of a Turing test, named for the computer scientist Alan Turing. In 1950, Turing predicted computers would soon be invented that would appear to think, and said a test of that development would be whether a person could distinguish a computer's dialogue from a human's.

Mr. Weizenbaum, who died March 5 at age 85, modeled Eliza's conversational style on a form of psychology developed by Carl Rogers. It includes open-ended questions that often use the analysand's words:

Young woman: Men are all alike.

Eliza: In what way?

YW: They're always bugging us about something or other.

E: Can you think of a specific example?

YW: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.

E: Your boyfriend made you come here?

YW: He says I'm depressed.

E: I am sorry to hear you are depressed.

YW: It's true, I am unhappy.

Introduced in 1966, the program was so successful that when Mr. Weizenbaum's secretary tested it, she made him leave the room so she could have some privacy.

He named Eliza for Shaw's ingénue in "Pygmalion." But Mr. Weizenbaum soon became convinced that computers were more sinister. In his 1976 book "Computer Power and Human Reason," he argued for a more humanistic computing. "How long will it before what counts as fact is determined by the system, before all other knowledge, all memory, is simply declared illegitimate?" he wrote. His vision was more that of the homicidal computer of "2001" than the genial C-3PO of "Star Wars."

His feelings seemed to stem in part from his experiences growing up in Nazi Germany. After he was expelled from high school for being a Jew, his family immigrated to Detroit in 1936. During World War II, he was an Army meteorologist. He would have been a cryptographer, he said, but "enemy aliens" weren't permitted to do that job.

He later was part of the General Electric Co. team that developed ERMA, the computerized banking system that, among other things, put the blocky numerals on the bottom of checks. An MIT faculty member from 1963, he developed an early programming language called SLIP. If MIT was his "paradise of technology," as he told an interviewer, Eliza would become the serpent in the garden.

He soon soured on computers and condemned automated decision making as antihuman. In a lighter moment, he called them, "a solution looking for a problem." At other times he compared them with National Socialism, Karl Marx and Stalin. Mr. Weizenbaum gave up working on artificial intelligence.

"He was deeply troubled by the fact that it was easy for people to mistake such simple pattern matching for true understanding," says Bruce Buchanan, a University of Pittsburgh computer-science professor who debated artificial intelligence with Mr. Weizenbaum in the 1970s. "He raised questions that are as relevant today as they were when he first raised them."

Even the rise of the Internet, with its seemingly boundless possibilities for communication, failed to impress Mr. Weizenbaum.

"The Internet is like one of those garbage dumps outside of Bombay," he told the New York Times in 1999, three years after he retired to Berlin. "There are people, most unfortunately, crawling all over it, and maybe they find a bit of aluminum, or perhaps something they call sell. But mainly it's garbage."

11:40 a.m. on March 17, 2008 (EDT)
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MTB,
You missed my point. You claimed that mountain bike design has "fully matured". My point there was that bike design has NOT matured, much less fully matured, despite the bike being around for a couple of centuries. It has evolved, continues to evolve, and will continue to evolve for many decades (hopefully for many centuries) to come. If it ever becomes "fully mature", that means mountain bike design (your example), and bike design in general will have stagnated. My reference to "not necessarily improving" means that in many cases, the changes are not necessarily better, just different. And yes, it referred to technology in general. Powerpoint is not "better" than the old lantern slides (which were almost extinct by the time I started teaching), except in a limited number of ways, just a different way of getting images before a large audience. Video is just a different way of getting moving images before a large audience. All of us have sat through incredibly boring, though flashy, Powerpoint presentations and incredibly dull videos and movies that featured the latest in special effects.

The point here is one I heard from one of the pioneers in using computers in scientific research - "Don't confuse the tool with the trade - having a hammer does not make you a carpenter, having a telescope does not make you an astronomer." In this case, having the latest greatest mountain bike does not make you a great mountain biker. And certainly, having the latest greatest video game (say, a NASCAR racing game) and being able to score maximum points with it does not qualify you to drive at Daytona or Talledega, much less Indy or in F1. The primary thing that makes the difference in a bike race is the racer, not the bike. I'm sure you know that Lance Armstrong raced mountain bikes in the off season. I suspect that if you were on your latest greatest high tech MTB and Lance were on a 5 or 10 year old bike, he would ride rings around you. Same with any of the latest technology in anything - it is the operator, not the device.

By the way, I would remind you that, as mentioned in this site several times before, one of my nieces is ranked in the top 10 professional women mountain bikers, according to Velo News, so I do have a bit of knowledge about mountain bikes, along with my and Barb's personal involvement some years back in road, TT, and criterium.

I did not use the term "false reality". I referred to the "limited electronic universe" of the gamer world, and I referred to how many people have come to believe that "reality TV" is actually the real world (some people believe that professional wrestling is real wrestling, too). It is easy to see the addictiveness of the gaming world - anyone can become a superhero, with magic and/or superpowers, and if you get "killed", you can come back to start all over. The real universe is not like that. You have to work with real limitations and suffer real consequences. You can't click on "start over" and get resurrected or replace the arm that got chopped off. There is no "cheat book" in the real world.

It isn't the games themselves, or the hardware, or the mountain bike tech - it is the use to which these things are put. You can use tools and technology for good, or you can use them for evil and destruction. The tools and technology are neither inherently good nor evil.

Although this discussion is very relevant to my original post, I believe it has wandered far enough afield that it should get moved to Off-Topic, as my very first sentence in opening the topic said.

1:09 p.m. on March 17, 2008 (EDT)
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MTB wrote "it is clear that people of the older generation have a severe misunderstanding and bias toward video games."

That, my friend, is a very broad generalization. I'll have a half century under my (once expanding, now shrinking) belt next year, so I figure I'm included in the "older generation". Many of us from that generation have very clear understandings about video games, some of us even play them from time to time, but a salient point is that we play them, we do not allow ourselves to believe that we are actually in them (I'll again date myself by referencing the movie "Tron").

My bias as regards video games, if I have one, is one of moderation. It's easy to get wrapped up in a game (I recall spending hours playing Doom and Castle Wolfenstein some years ago), but it's important, no, it's vital, to encourage younger people to get outside into the real, rather than virtual world and do something physical, experience something real, feel pain, cold, excessive heat, understand true failure and true victory, and as Bill noted, appreciate that there is no "reset" button in life.

Rogers would have asked "and how does that make you feel?"

12:52 a.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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We're in agreement. Too many kids these days do not get enough time outside. As a child I played many video games, but most of the time you could probably find me playing in some polluted ditch near my house. My parents never got onto me to get outside, they simply did not have to.

In reference to me generalizing, I apologize. I was just trying to emphasize my point. It just bothers me the way video games have become the scapegoat for so many issues. It's ALWAYS been parenting that determines a child's behavior.

4:41 a.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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Quick point Bill. I know you did not say "false reality", I was not quoting you. Also, nothing EVER fully matures. I was not being so literal.

6:54 a.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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Quote:

...nothing EVER fully matures...

Especially the kid who sits and plays video games all day.

Ever go to a lecture and see, what I call, the Power Point huddle? - anywhere from 2-6 people huddled around a laptop or projector discussing which input, the remote, try this, try that and any number of other problems getting the darn thing to work. I've seen 7 year olds run a slide projector.

A picture of a tree, whether it be on Powerpoint, an old fashioned slide, or even in a book (They DO still make those, don't they?) - There is no substitute for the real thing. You can't climb it, feel the texture of the bark, smell the moss, bend your neck back or stretch your arms out to appreciate it's height and girth, hear the wind in the leaves, or experience the birds, mammals, and insects who call it home. Multimedia never has been, is not now, and will never (no matter how mature the technology) be the same as experiencing nature first hand. Sight and sound PLUS taste, smell and touch. THAT'S multimedia.

4:56 p.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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To reiterate my point, I feel as though video games are very misunderstood by the older generations. We will never see eye-to-eye on this subject, which is perfectly fine. I have one final question, or senario. Replace video games with reading. A child sits on his couch, downing fast food, not moving for hours, but he is reading, not playing video games. Now what is your opinion of that. I will venture a guess on your reaction. "Well at least he is reading instead of playing video games, but he should still get out more". In other words, as I've said before, people just have a bias towards video games. I see it, I just don't know if you do. Case closed, for me anyhow. Good discussion.

10:58 p.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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I am only 20 and am completely on Bill's side. As far as the "older" generation being biased against video games...I am 20 and ONLY play video games when cannot possibly find anything else to do...as a last resort.

I do not think that you can put people into groups and generalize because that is messing with fire. There are alot of various personalities and viewpoints in this world, that is what makes it so great...No one fits just one category.

11:11 p.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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No. I feel completely correct in saying that older generations have a bias. Don't get me wrong, not all do, but many. Just look at the news, our politicians, the people on this forum. All are looking to blame video games.

11:12 p.m. on March 19, 2008 (EDT)
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If you guys really (really?!?) want to debate the finer points of Powerpoint, let's do it in the Off-Topic forum. Thanks.

4:01 p.m. on March 20, 2008 (EDT)
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Well, Dave removed the PPT examples, so I have to look for another, more woodsy way of making the point. Still wish you had moved the whole thread to Off-Topic, Dave.

MTB is adamant in stating (having repeated something close to this several times)

Quote:

I feel completely correct in saying that older generations have a bias.

While it is true that some older people feel that the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket (with statements like this written as far back as the ancient Greeks) and younger people feel that the older generation "just doesn't get it", it is probably more accurate to say, as the French do "plus ca change, plus ca meme chose."

But I have to quote a young man I encountered yesterday on my hike up Mission Peak (one of the shorter hikes I take several times a week for training, at 6.7 mi round trip, 2345 ft cumulative elevation change, 19.7 knot winds recorded on the summit yesterday). He and his young lady companion started about 15 minutes ahead of me (I was talking to another white-bearded Old Geezer about the use of hiking poles). I caught them about 2/3 of the way up to the summit (both altitude and distance), sitting on a bench, observing the beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay (well, I thought they were enjoying the view - turned out they were debating whether to continue this arduous hike on to the summit). I suggested that youngsters like them should have been at the top by then. The young man's reply was that according to some book, this hike is for "experienced hikers". He wanted to know how much farther to the top and whether it got steeper further along. And he said, "I'm a college student and I don't like having to walk from the dorm to my classes." Now, he and his lady friend looked to be in good shape, with no health problems or handicaps. Well, at least they were getting out. I continued on to the top, stayed for a while (measuring the wind speed and watching the hang glider/parapente crowd - Mission is a designated launch area), then headed down. I met the couple a couple hundred meters from the top, debating whether to continue farther, and got this question - "Is it really rocky up there? I don't want to take a chance on twisting an ankle or something."

Yes, indeed, the outdoors can be dangerous, even on a maintained trail that is used by the Open Space District's and hang glider association's members' cars, and regularly ridden by mountain bikers, as well as being used by runners on regular training runs. This Old Geezer typically takes 50-60 minutes going up and 35-45 minutes down, unless I am carrying the camera and shooting lots of photos. I frequently see both bald and golden eagles here, along with a variety of larks, hawks, falcons, and kestrels (who all seem to feed on the abundant fat ground squirrels - the eagles feed at Calaveras Reservoir, on the backside of Mission Peak). And I have seen (but not photographed) one mountain lion, along with photographing coyote and an abundance of wild turkeys in this Open Space Reserve. One side of the OSR borders Ohlone College. Yet these two college kids found this a challenging adventure.

MTB, the news and politicians are NOT representative of older generations, or anybody else for that matter. The media are looking for attention-grabbing, sensational stories that sell papers and get viewers/listeners. The regular every night listing of the latest half-dozen murders on the 10 o'clock news gets far more viewers than any story about the wonderful open spaces and parks we have here in the SFBay area. Politicians are looking for votes, and what better way to get them than creating controversy. As I look over the posts above, I don't see anyone "blaming" video games per se. I see comments about excesses and spending too much time on TV and video games, as well as other passive entertainment. And I see a large number of comments advocating that young people should somehow be enticed to get out into the hills and woods, getting familiar with the real world and not locked into the virtual world.

Anything can be practiced to excess. As Fred said above, moderation is the key. I would say that the emphasis on youth sports in this area is excessive, even beyond obsession (kids around here are in soccer leagues and Little League and Pop Warner, all at the same time and overlapping seasons, and the high schoolers have their swim teams and water polo and football, each of which has a before-school practice of a couple hours, followed by an after school practice of 3-4 hours, with the training season starting in early August and extending a couple weeks after the nominal end of the school year).

1:40 p.m. on April 9, 2008 (EDT)
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Here's another interesting paper on the subject:

http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=21053&folder_id=175

6:26 p.m. on April 14, 2008 (EDT)
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Maybe there is hope for the future yet. The following is from today's Wall Street Journal, page 1 (the so-called "A" column. I really like the comments about learning to use a saw and about one little girl using a hunting knife to whittle. -

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120813155330311577.html?mod=todays_us_page_one

German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature
By MIKE ESTERL
April 14, 2008; Page A1

IDSTEIN, Germany -- Each weekday, come rain or shine, a group of children, ages 3 to 6, walk into a forest outside Frankfurt to sing songs, build fires and roll in the mud. To relax, they kick back in a giant "sofa" made of tree stumps and twigs.

The birthplace of kindergarten is returning to its roots. While schools and parents elsewhere push young children to read, write and surf the Internet earlier in order to prepare for an increasingly cutthroat global economy, some little Germans are taking a less traveled path -- deep into the woods.

Germany has about 700 Waldkindergärten, or "forest kindergartens," in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. Blackboards surrender to the Black Forest. Erasers give way to pine cones. Hall passes aren't required, but bug repellent is a good idea.

Trees are a temptation -- and sometimes worse. Recently, "I had to rescue a girl" who had climbed too high, says Margit Kluge, a teacher at Idstein's forest kindergarten. Last year, a big tree "fell right before our noses."

The schools are a throwback to Friedrich Fröbel, the German educator who opened the world's first kindergarten, or "children's garden," more than 150 years ago. Mr. Fröbel counseled that young children should play in nature, cordoned off from too many numbers and letters.

They are also a modern-day snapshot of environmentally conscious and consumption-wary Germany, where the Green Party polls more than 10% and stores are closed on Sundays.

Only a fraction of German children attend Waldkindergärten, but their numbers have been rising since local parent groups began setting up these programs in the mid-1990s, following the lead of a Danish community. Similar schools exist in smaller numbers in Scandinavia, Switzerland and Austria. The concept is sparking interest far afield -- even in the U.S., whose first Waldkindergarten opened in Portland, Ore., last fall.

"The computer arrives early enough," adds Norbert Huppertz, a specialist in child development at the Freiburg University of Education and a Waldkindergärten booster in Germany.

Academic studies of such schools are in their infancy. Some European researchers believe Waldkindergärten kids exercise their imaginations more than their brick-and-mortar peers do and are better at concentrating and communicating. Despite dangers, from insects particularly, the children appear to get sick less often in these fresh-air settings. Studies also suggest their writing skills are less developed, though, and that they are less adept than other children at distinguishing colors, forms and sizes.

In the rolling countryside of Idstein on a recent rainy morning, parents dropped off their children at a muddy parking lot a bit after 8 as the temperature hovered around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Inspecting a Worm

Some of the children, wrapped in thick winter clothing, stooped over to inspect a worm. Then the five girls and four boys trudged into the neighboring woods with their two teachers before pausing to hold hands in a circle. "Good morning, sun, even though we can't see you today," said the 51-year-old Ms. Kluge, as the children joined in song and then acted out a play involving rabbits.

They hiked a few hundred feet into the forest before settling down to jump in puddles, examine a hibernating lizard and paint Easter eggs. A girl named Maxi went off to whittle a branch with a hunting knife. Another made "chocolate-vanilla-strawberry-herbal pudding" by stirring mud with a twig.

At snack time, the children sat on logs and munched on carrots and nuts while Ms. Kluge told them about the life cycle of toads. A boy named Ben wanted to know whether a North American visitor accompanying them was "a cowboy or an Indian." A bit before 1 p.m., after jumping in more puddles, playing around a makeshift tepee and singing another song involving the Easter bunny, the children emerged from the woods grinning and caked in mud to be picked up by their waiting parents.

"It's peaceful here, not like inside a room," said Ms. Kluge, who has headed the Waldkindergarten since it opened five years ago.

The children rarely venture into a trailer in the forest that's used as a shelter in extreme weather. Ms. Kluge says no child has ever asked for a toy. The children improvise instead with what the woods have to offer. And there haven't been any bad accidents beyond the occasional scrapes and bruises.

Not everyone has a feel-good experience. Frankfurt resident Donna Parssinen sent her son to a Waldkindergarten last year but says he got Lyme disease from ticks. It resulted in meningitis that temporarily paralyzed half his face. "I still like the idea" of Waldkindergärten, says Ms. Parssinen, "but once is enough." Her son now attends a four-walled kindergarten.

Still, many German indoor kindergartens take children to nearby forests once a week to tramp around. A spokesman for Germany's Ministry for Family Affairs said it welcomes the arrival of Waldkindergärten, which typically receive local government subsidies similar to those of state-run kindergartens.

Iwao Uehara, a professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture, says he has been trying to set up such a school in Japan, but the project is struggling. Until there's evidence that Waldkindergärten graduates end up attending "famous universities," it's going to be a tough sell, he says.

In Portland, though, Marsha Johnson launched Mother Earth kindergarten last fall to combat what she calls "early academic fatigue syndrome....We have 5-year-olds who are tired of going to school." The 14 children spend four hours a day at the privately run school playing in a state park forest.

How to Handle a Saw

Among the nature-based activities, children learn how to handle a real saw. "A plastic saw is no good," says Ms. Johnson. "You might as well give them a plastic life." The worst that has happened thus far to the children is the occasional bee sting, she says.

Mimi Howard, a director at the Education Commission of the States, which advises states on policy from Denver, says some U.S. teachers feel pressure "to push academics earlier and earlier." The federal No Child Left Behind law introduced standardized testing for reading and writing by third grade, but some studies recommend more "open-ended learning experiences" for young children. "We're in the debate phase," she says.

In Fife, Scotland, Cathy Bache recently took matters into her own hands and founded a private nursery school. About 20 children explore the local forests, "saw logs, make fires when cold and look at fungi," she explains. Ms. Bache admits the children fall out of trees "quite often" -- but that she doesn't let them climb higher than 6 feet, the cutoff point for her insurance policy.

10:01 p.m. on April 14, 2008 (EDT)
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LOVE IT!

9:37 a.m. on April 15, 2008 (EDT)
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That's a great story--lucky kids!

I find it ironic that most kindergartens here in the U.S. bear little to no resemblance to the original concept. I'd like to see more schools incorporating daily nature-based activities and learning.

2:02 p.m. on April 15, 2008 (EDT)
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I have read stories about how kids no longer use their imagination as much while they are little because every toy already has a story attached to it-they are characters from movies or tv or are video games where everything is already created for you. There is nothing left for the kid to make up since it is already done for them.

6:25 p.m. on April 27, 2008 (EDT)
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After finding, reading and reflecting on the various posts here, I would like to throw my 2 cents in. Sorry for the length.

This looks a lot like new versus old with two biased thoughts. The young seeing no problem with electronics, and the elder wistfully reminiscing about their youth and how come no one is doing things the same?

Yes when I was a child I did spend time outdoors. We would range far and wide for hours without immediate adult supervision. Most of us were afraid to cause/get into trouble as the penalty at home would be unpleasant.

I grew up during the 60’s/70’s in the Victoria area, of BC, Canada. The city was a city, with some very strange environmental, geographic features. In the heart of downtown, a working harbour, an 8 mile long tidal water way with a two way waterfall, as one moves out away from the city center, several creeks and lakes to explore, farm land surrounded by urban development. Many small lots were undeveloped so they appeared to be wild. Numerous hills to view the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, as well as the coast mountains behind Vancouver, BC. Never mind the mountains on Vancouver Island itself. All in all lots to keep a youth occupied if they wanted to.

At the same time I can remember that most of us youth wanted to live/mimic the life of Urban dwellers as seen in Movies and on TV. In one area I can remember asking the youth what they would be doing on the upcoming weekend. They said they would smoke cigars, and play poker. I then asked what they would do the next weekend. They replied the same. We were all of 11 or 12 years old at the time. Most of us adopted the jeans, t-shirt and long hair of the times.

I think that the youth always see what they see to be relevant in their lives, it may only be today’s vision but it is a vision just the same. Look at North America. Almost 400 million people on the continent. Of these how many regularly venture out away from the Urban centers? How many seldom venture out and away. So for a lot of people the outdoor lifestyle and the skills required are almost completely irrelevant. The youth can see themselves using electronics in their lives and on the job in their future so they play with or use in preparation for their future.

The outdoor life style in North America has evolved just as North America has evolved in society. Look at the first Europeans who came to the continent. Almost all had to be trained in outdoor lifestyle skills as this was a foreign thing to them. They came from Cities and Towns, or Farms that were well developed. No one moved very far from these places or for very long before coming to North America. During its settlement most Europeans knew the things that were relevant to them for life support as they saw it. The skills used today for outdoor enjoyment and survival were used by our forefathers as a means to spread out and develop, expand the community.

As for today we have a shrinking population which by itself will reduce the number of outdoors enthusiasts. We have a demand society, I want it and I want it now. I don’t want to work for or wait for what I want. Also remember we have instant global communication. Remember 911? All day glued to TV, Radio, Computer for Any information. When my children were small a boy was stolen from his parents without a trace. It shocked the community. Sadly the youth has never been found 15 years later. Parents were afraid to let their children play in the front yard without supervision. It did not help that we could and did learn about youth being stolen in Florida, California, and anywhere else it occurred that night on the local news. The mentality was close the gate, lock the doors and don’t talk to anyone, they must be bad.

I talked with one of my children’s school mates mother one day. She told me that her grade ten girl was not aloud to ride the public bus system alone as mother was afraid for the child’s safety. Mother worked in a law office and was not impressed with the clientele. The mother did not like me as I then asked what would happen if both mother and father died and daughter had to take a public bus by herself to get around. I thought that the girl’s life skills were being impaired by not doing things on her own.

Look at the legal system of today. Any time an incident occurs organizations have to read and recognize the inherent dangers associated with that type of incident. If an event occurs after the group ought to have known and removed the risk. Events do not occur because the sponsor may be afraid of liability should an incident occur, or because an incident occurred somewhere else.

So I guess that in this shrinking society we are becoming demanding, and very fearful of harm. This does not encourage openness, outdoor activities, self-reliance, or enjoyment of nature which appears to be very random to most people. This is everyone’s loss. I for one will still go out into the wilderness, such as it is, and enjoy what I see, feel, smell, and hear. Happy Trails.

One last thing. It hurt when I fell out of trees, the cool-aid was gross, but Dam I had a good time.

12:25 p.m. on April 28, 2008 (EDT)
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I've been absent (likely to the relief of many) for a few weeks, but this thread has drawn me back. If you don't learn an appreciation for the woods you won't lament it being replaced by housing developments and business parks, you won't be concerned about drilling for oil in the wilderness, about blowing the tops off of mountains to extract the coal. If you never experience a mountain top sunrise or the stars at night under a clear sky, why will you care about air pollution?
Sure, you can keep fit in a gym, you can climb on artificial holds bolted to a board, you can read books on line, you can play games or live a second life or something in a virtual reality situation on line, but none of that will inspire you to protect nature, to love the outdoors, none of the on-line "friendships" will ever be as strong or lasting as those forged in the crucible of bad weather and harsh conditions on a mountain.
I've raised three children in my lifetime, all have a love of the outdoors. They play video games as well, but they understand the need for balance in life (especially my eldest daughter who's starting to rock climb - she REALLY understands the need for balance!). I'm also in the process of saying goodbye to my father, who after a very active 80 year life has been struck down by an agressive lymphoma. He's still with us, but when I saw him Saturday his only lament was that he wasn't able to go outside, that he was "stuck in the *&*^!@#!! hospice". Over the two months of his sickness I've found great comfort while in the woods, greater than I could ever find indoors. I guess it all comes down to inspiring your children to love what you love most. Most comforting of all is the friendship that he and I forged while facing really lousy weather on some trips we made together when I was young.

12:57 p.m. on April 28, 2008 (EDT)
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Fred -
Your absence meant that your continuing valuable contributions over the past few years were missed.

I am sorry to hear about your father. Lymphoma is brutal, and I hope he can be made comfortable in the last days. Barb and I have lost our parents, her father to an aggressive metastasizing of melanoma in his 80s, her mother to the side effects of a broken hip at 90, my mother to a progressive deterioration at 92, and my father very early at 63 to a heart attack while we were hiking in the Sierra. All of them were into the outdoors and brought us up in the woods and hills. Hang in there.

You are right. As much fun as people seem to have with the online virtual worlds, videogames, TV shows on the big-screen sets, and so on, it just doesn't come close to the real-life experience of the wilderness. Interesting thing I have noted when going to the neighborhood Best Buys and Fry's (Calif electronics superstore chain) is that of the demo videos they show on the big screen TVs, the ones that seem to hold the most fascination for people standing around are Blue Planet and other nature shows (except when the major sporting events are on). Yeah, they show Star Wars and other popular movies, but there is some primal fascination with nature.

I agree with your observation that the friendships and ties forged in the wilderness, especially during the challenges of harsh conditions, are the longest and deepest. Not many people are familiar with Charles Houston's book, the Fellowship of the Rope, even people who are very familiar with his book on high altitude climbing Going Higher. Many of my fondest memories of my father are of times we spent sleeping out under the stars in the desert, in the ponderosa forest in northern Arizona, in the Sierra, and hiking up various mountains.

My thoughts are with you.

2:29 p.m. on April 28, 2008 (EDT)
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Bill,

Perhaps one reason my marriage has survived over 20 years is that for our honeymoon we went backpacking on the AT - well - a hurricane came up the Chesapeak Bay - second night out we had torrential rain and 50+ MPH winds - we abandoned the tent for one of the trail lean-to shelters (nylon doesn't really do much to stop a falling tree!) - toughed it out a couple more (wet, cold, rather miserable) days - I guess that was the "for worse" part! Of course I have been asked on more than one occasion "when are we going to have a REAL honeymoon???" .......

Fred

1:28 p.m. on May 9, 2008 (EDT)
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I grew up enjoying video games and still do to this day. I might go rent one just as another person might go rent a movie for the night. I'm also into the outdoors and couldn't imagine not enjoying activities such as backpacking,rafting, snowboarding, etc.... However, it is pretty sad at the amount of young people who know all about video games and nothing about the oudoors. I recently posted a question on a video game message board asking how many nights under the stars people had camped this year. (I've done 7 so far myself with many more to go) I was shocked when most responded back with not only 0 this year but 0 their whole lives. That tells me there's something wrong.

December 28, 2014
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