Where the Wild Things Aren’t: Digital Nature, the Human Condition and Conservation

2017-03-23 16:00 -
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Here the head of Kwantu Private Game Reserve Shakir Jeeva encapsulates what an escape has come to mean in the modern society, digital era - agree, disagree - we'd love to hear from you - email info@Traveller24.com

Today, more than ever before, our experience of nature is changing.

As new media technologies continue to infiltrate and pervade aspects of everyday life, the way we think about and engage with the world around us changes too.

As a result of technological progress, nature has become instant and artificially constructed based on the reconfiguration of our relationship with space and time. 

Has nature become too instant and artificial?

Nature is now television broadcast documentaries and also the video and photo uploads on social media feeds of others.  The latter especially creates false illusions of our own immersion into nature based on the experiences of other.

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This then forces us to unpack and wrestle with two questions. 

Firstly, does ‘access’ to mediated nature provide us with the experiences of fullfilment and well-being?  And secondly, does digital nature and mediated wildlife inspire the same emotional response to environmental issues and conservation problems that direct contact provides?

The simple answer to both of these questions is no.

It is true that new media technologies improve access to information related to environmental, conservation, wildlife and other nature-related issues. But, the increasing use of digital and virtual realities as a substitute for direct experiences with nature is a worrying concern. 

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Because we are genetically engrained to seek out and affiliate with other living systems, the lack of physical closeness and real contact with nature has serious and much deeper implications on the human condition then we may have thought.

'We cannot deny nature’s impact on well-being'

A scan of the latest literature on socio-biology, psychiatry, environmental psychology and deep ecology examining human relationships with the natural world tell us we cannot deny nature’s impact on well-being.  In short, we depend on nature for a variety of psychological, emotional and spiritual reasons as much as we rely on nature for sustaining basic human needs.

One scientific study has shown that seemingly insignificant connections with nature, such as looking at trees through a window, can help to improve the healing rate of patients.  Other studies show that direct exposure to nature and animals is correlated to reduced levels of depression and anxiety.

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It’s not surprising then that wildlife tourism has an important role to play in the realisation of human well-being.

First, wildlife tourism occupies an important space in raising awareness on the value of nature and wildlife, and encouraging the protection and conservation of our environment. Next, first-hand experiences of our natural world can help to create emotional connections with nature.

Direct and real experiences are vastly more rewarding for the human spirit than viewing these events simply on YouTube through a mobile device. Engaging directly with wildlife and the natural environment allow us to develop a sense of wonder and connection with the natural world.

It also remains the responsibility of wildlife tourism industries to create inclusivity bridging the gap between rich and poor especially to allow the less fortunate segment of society and even those living under the shadow of the digital divide to experience nature, especially through educational programmes, CSI and CSR.  Similarly, government has to put more initiatives in place to allow South Africa to fully harness the potential of ecotourism which can create jobs and reduce poverty and unemployment. 

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While digital nature has a role to play in enhancing our understanding of and exposure to the natural world, it cannot be accepted as a viable alternative to the real thing.

Not only are our personal connections with nature and wildlife good for fulfilment and well-being, they are also essential for the sustainability of nature and the environment as a whole.

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