As we near the end of summer and September begins to loom, you might be wondering how to change your regular routine and develop new habits which reduce stress and increase energy. Perhaps you’re already worrying about being trapped in an office / school room / factory once more. What will you do to stay healthy and calm when ‘normality’ returns with a bang?
This excerpt from Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age might help put things into perspective:
How we spend our days
Work/life balance used to be about how you divide your time. Should you focus on earning money and developing a career, or on family, health, spirituality and pleasure? Today, however, the ways we make a living are changing. These days, work and life intersect more than they did fifty years ago.
Rather than be tied to the office, factory or shop, many of us are able to work more flexibly. Some companies have adopted agile forms of organisation, where employees choose where, when and how to work. This way, our daily schedules can fit better with personal and family demands, operate across time zones, or suit a nomadic lifestyle. For an increasing number of us, regular working hours have become a distant memory and, while this is problematic for some, it has brought new kinds of freedom to others. More and more, work and life are becoming intertwined, just as they were before the Industrial Revolution.
In Europe before about 1800, there was little differentiation between work and life. Work was life in an agrarian handicraft economy where people grew and made most of what they needed, and time was shaped by seasonal and cultural calendars. But as soon as steam-powered machines were invented, and the spinning-wheel was superseded by the power loom, automated production could run 24/7. Workers had to keep up, and soon the factory day became the norm.
Now, the Information Revolution has triggered another change. In the twenty-first century, we’re learning to adjust as the ecosystem of labour evolves yet again. A hundred years ago, workers feared being treated as if they were robots; today they fear being replaced by robots. In fact the future of employment is not all about robots – it’s much more complicated than that – but the nature of work is certainly changing rapidly. The ‘traditional’ workday is becoming shorter, sometimes more fragmented, and definitely more entwined with the rest of our waking hours. And even the very nature of our labour, of what we actually do all day, is being transformed too. Perhaps some of us will even make a healthy income from going back in time and returning to the spinning wheel. After all, handmade goods are the new luxury products.
There are many possibilities. But one thing we’re coming to understand, better than ever before, is the importance of wellbeing in whichever lifestyle we choose. We’re beginning to realise that, to paraphrase the poet Annie Dillard, the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.
How can we maintain a healthy balance between our lives in technology and our lives in nature? This issue reflects some of the challenges as the work/life balance, so I’ve called it the tech/nature balance.
The problem goes like this: many of us are connected to the internet pretty much all the time. It’s where we work, where we play, where we meet up with people and stay in touch with distant friends and family, and that’s fine. But there’s something else we could be connecting to that has rather fallen by the wayside: Planet Earth. The soil beneath our feet. The air we breathe. The forests, beaches, fields, mountains, lakes and gardens of the natural world.
Today, most of us live in cities which are not exactly rich in greenery. In the 1800s, millions of rural workers migrated to the cities and became urbanites. They got used to buying their food instead of growing it, and there was no longer any opportunity to keep their own livestock for eggs and meat. They could still make their own clothes, but before long it was cheaper to buy them off-the-peg. That kind of lifestyle became just a sentimental memory, although of course the reality of rural life is tough and not at all romantic.
Have we lost touch with nature? Many feel we have. At first we blamed it on the factories, then the car, then the TV, and now we blame it on the internet. But that’s incorrect.
It’s we who are responsible.
We came to believe that we could concrete over the fields and design a better life for ourselves, free of nature’s wildness and uncertainties. But it’s very obvious now that this was the wrong way to go.
We need to develop a different kind of balance, a tech/nature balance. One which helps us live more healthily in cities and more naturally with our technology.
Many people are already doing this. They are finding ways to integrate their online lives with the physical world of nature and the outdoors. Others are getting their daily dose of nearby nature online or using social media to organise and support their outdoor lives. There are all kinds of ways to bring nature and technology together to improve health and wellbeing. Some are obvious, others less so.
This revolution affects us all. It’s important for everyone, but particular groups like children, seniors, and people with medical issues or disabilities will gain particular benefit from its influence. And the concept of tech/nature balance is important in conversations about health, sustainability and the environment, biomimicry and design, architecture and planning.
There are many ways to work towards a better tech/nature balance. In Part 3 of Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age you will find 50 tips, tricks and experiments to try for yourself. Let me know how you get on.