This is a guest post from Aaron over at Free Range Hiking.
For the first time in the history of our species we live and spend most of our time in a synthetic environment. Everything is climate controlled, the lighting is dictated by the blinds and electricity. We listen to the wind and rain on the façade of our gaudy abodes instead of feeling it and experiencing it on our skin. People today would rather sit in front of a television, stare at a computer or a phone screen for a dozen hours a day than actually hold a conversation with another person. We find ourselves living in a time where we are more connected than ever before, but we communicate less. Meaningful relationships are failing to exist. Marriages end, families alienate each other and EVERYONE is depressed.
My personal opinion is that this happened because we started putting more importance on THINGS than we did relationships. The worst part of this entire problem, this disease; is that we don’t realize we have it. If you’re reading this right now you’re probably plugged in enough to realize that sometime in the recent past, probably within the last 12-24 hours, you’ve sat next to someone that you care a great deal about, in complete silence while you stared at a phone, tablet or computer screen. I do it too, frequently, and it’s wrong.
Human beings weren’t designed to live on our own, we aren’t autonomous. We need friends, we need family and we need community. Whether we like it or not we’re rapidly approaching the coming of age of a generation of human being that will be the first to go through their entire childhood caring more about technology, their phone, tablet and computer; than they do about their friends and family. If that thought doesn’t scare you, I honestly don’t know what will. We’re set up to fail, because we focus more on what we want now, than what we need.
I’ve been a party to several conversations in the last few years when my peers or other people in my specific age group try to explain to me that we have it so much harder than our parents and grandparents did, “we can’t afford to live” they tell me. “When our parents or grandparents were getting married and raising their kids they could afford to feed a family on one income and still afford a vacation every year. I can barely afford to support myself”.
This answer always baffles me, because we don’t even register the fact that we’re completely wrong. 50 years ago, the biggest expenses in a family’s budget would have been their house, THE car and food. Outside of that you had insurance, utilities and basics like food and hygiene. That was all that families paid for, that was all they needed. They got their entertainment for free, right outside their homes. Families might have 1 TV with a few channels if they were lucky, and a radio with local stations. There weren’t two car payments, they didn’t have to have a TV in every room, no internet, no $400 cell phones for every member of the family on top of a data plan that costs $200+ a month. Meals were cooked in the home almost every night from products that mostly came from close by. No smart watches, no tablets, no need for 5 or 6 pairs of $60 designer jeans to be “cool”.
The truth is, we’re just as capable of living today as our parents and grandparents were. We just don’t understand the difference between needing something and wanting it. We can live without a cell phone, we can live without a computer, or internet. We don’t need a 60” flat screen TV with a DirecTV HD bundle and a Netflix, HULU and Amazon Prime account. All of these wants that we look at as needs are the reason that people feel like they can’t get by on what they make.
This is where getting back to nature helps us come back to what is really important. When you start backpacking or camping, you find yourself distracted from modern distractions, distracted by what is really important to us. Natural life and human interaction. When you go on an overnight hiking trip with your significant other or with friends you take a step away from the modern world and everything that distracts us. You breathe the fresh air that we’re biologically designed to run off of, the sun on your skin produces vitamin D that gives you energy and the exercise and feeling of adventure produces dopamine in your brain that makes you happy, naturally.
You also get to see how you and your friends / significant other deal with hardship and critical thinking. If you’re a novice backpacker or camper. You’ll forget to pack things that will seem essential once you realize that you don’t have them. Even if you’re not a novice you’ll still run across situations like this. It’s inevitable, but it shows us how we work together to solve problems. Or maybe it shows us that we don’t work well together, that in itself can be a blessing. I went on a camping trip with my wife about a year ago. We’ve been out camping dozens of times over the course of our relationship and we know what we’re doing. But about a week before this particular camping trip I reorganized all of our camping gear and decided to consolidate our tent poles in a slightly larger bag than the one that the tent came in, to cut down on the time it takes to break down camp. For whatever reason, I didn’t communicate this well when we were packing up for the trip. So when we drive 90 miles north to our private camp site, as the sun is setting on the day, we realize we have no tent poles… and we were expecting rain.
I’ll admit I didn’t handle that news well at first, I over reacted, got angry. More at myself for not double checking our gear than at anything else. But in my moment of self-loathing and lamentation for the ruined trip, my wife asked “why don’t we just set up the rain fly over the bed of the truck”. It took that voice of reason from someone else, to point out that the trip wasn’t ruined at all, it was just a little different from what we usually did. As I look back on all the trips we’ve taken over the years, this trip is the one that I remember the most vividly. It took me out of my comfort zone, but it was fun and original and memorable. But if I’d been by myself on that trip I probably would have packed up all of my gear and gone back home cursing myself. Sometimes problem solving works better when there are two people, and it really teaches you that it’s okay to be a little codependent on your friends and loved ones. Especially if you’re the one prone to getting hot headed and not thinking logically.
The first step in breaking free from this modern disease, getting back to what’s really important, and forming and testing those meaningful relationships, is getting out and making yourself a little uncomfortable for a change. Break away from the climate control, learn to dress appropriately and start a camp fire when you’re cold, sit by that fire and watch the sun set instead of closing the blinds because it’s casting shadows on the TV screen. Get out and enjoy the free adventures that Mother Nature put here for you. You won’t regret it.