This is going to sound weird coming from a technology advocate and writer. I think we might have gotten carried away with our iPhones and iPads. Sure, they make life easier, since we can use them to quickly plan out our days and even learn new skills and hobbies. Smartphone technology has even found its way into some of the oldest hobbies and vocations, like hunting for food and just enjoying the great outdoors. But where I think we should draw the line is our kids, teaching them when to disconnect from technology and just enjoy nature for what it is. The truth is, you don’t really need an app to play outside, and we teaching kids the opposite.
The predicted rise of AR and outside play
In 2015, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, predicted that augmented reality (AR) would help rejuvenate “exer-gaming,” the marriage of exercise and gaming. Freedhoff was very enthusiastic about this, and claimed that we needed it to make the outdoors more lucrative and attractive to children.
Now picture the marriage of this technology, kids, and parkland. Whether it’s running around within a first-person shooter, or playing baseball in your local diamond Magic’ed up to look like Fenway Park, or trying to score a goal on a virtual Martin Brodeur, or playing the world’s coolest game of laser tag – I can’t wait to see what’s in store.- Weighty Matters
In another article, Freedhoff was even more direct, saying, “Kids will play outside again, but not unless we can make outside better.”
Technologically tricking kids to play outside
True to Dr. Freedhoff’s prediction, we set off to “trick” kids into playing outside using AR. There are lots of ways we trick our kids into playing outside, of course. AR is probably the most famous, though, especially since Pokémon Go hit the App Store. Arguably the biggest mobile game in history, Pokémon Go has driven families out in droves to catch the little monsters. This has been a somewhat controversial game, though, with many people throwing caution to the wind and ignoring their surroundings while they tried to collect items and capture Pokémon. Our own Christine Chan would probably disagree with me that this revolution is a bad thing, given her own perspective on the crowds joining in friendly banter when searching for Pokémons. Read on, though, because we’re not done yet.
There are definitely other ways we try to use smartphones to encourage outside play, though. Apparently, “smart playgrounds” have become a thing. These outdoor locations feature QR codes on various rides and activity centers. When scanned, the QR codes send parents or kids to web pages and apps that encourage more interactivity. I still struggle to understand why kids would need a QR code to teach them how to enjoy a playground, but maybe that’s where we’ve gone.
The case for disconnecting from technology once in a while
Reliance on smartphones for every aspect of our lives, even our play time, isn’t healthy. We’ve all seen the reports of how people are actually less connected now, even though we’re more connected than ever. This contradiction, what The Independent calls “the loneliness epidemic,” may actually have as serious an impact on our mortality risk as smoking or obesity. A review of recent research showed the increased likelihood of premature death was 26 percent for reported loneliness, 29 percent for social isolation, and 32 percent for living alone.
Encouraging these disconnects from technology
If our children are going to be saved from those statistics, it has to start with us. We have to encourage healthy disconnects from technology once in a while. I’m not suggesting some draconian measure like banning them from using AR or playing Pokémon Go, but there have to be limits. I’ve watched my own children spend far too much time on their devices, and have begun to put safeguards in place.
Set aside times for play and fellowship without the distraction of technology. Read an old-fashioned book together, or take a walk in the park with your iPhone left behind in the car. Nature, and life in general, has plenty to enjoy, so savor it. Learn how to play disc golf, for example. There are even still miniature golf courses out there, too, so take advantage of them before they all dry up and float away.
Don’t ignore technological advances altogether, mind you. I still use my smartphone for long hikes, as my primary GPS unit. I even enjoy AR once in a while. The key is to make sure you take time to connect in person, without a technological crutch. Life becomes much more fulfilling and enriching, and I hope that I’m helping to prevent me and my children from being part of the “loneliness epidemic.” No, kids, you really don’t need an app to play outside.