Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Real versus The Contrived

Stealing away for a few final days of summer at a place with a lot of outdoor activities (swimming, canoeing/kayaking, hiking, etc.) makes clear how far removed we are from the world around us. We go to great lengths to recreate natural experiences artificially, and we add layers to insulate us from the world around us.

This disconnect from the world is a Faustian exchange as it denies us the full experience of life. There is simply no comparison between swimming in a spring-fed lake and taking a chemical bath in a pool. Nor is there between the experience of canoeing and powerboating. Gliding over the water under your own power, a wake the only footprint of your presence, lets you pause to witness first-hand the intricacies of life. By comparison, repeatedly going in circles through the water at full engine-assisted throttle not only ignores nature, it creates an exhaust “leave behind” that scars the waterscape. Even perambulating has surprising upside. A short hike on a footpath is a form of time-travel: taking a trail trodden for over a century gives exposure to all kind of “postcards” left by those who came before, the thoughtful time-capsules that document history and change of a place.

The real world is never that far away, and it’s great fun when we’re fully exposed to it. But breaking free to find it takes concerted effort. We’ve contrived our own world to insulate us from the real one. We’re completely insulated from it in our day-to-day. That contrived world, as sensory-encompassing as it may be with sounds, imagery, priorities, urgency and so forth, is of comically limited depth: no artificial system is as resilient as even the most primitive ecosystem.

As parents, we have an obligation to make the real world accessible to our children. From a young age, they build points of reference that are resilient to an ever-expanding plasticine layer. As they mature, these sustainable connections will enable them to recognize and appreciate the difference between the real and the contrived.