The natural world of prairies and forests, rivers and aquifers, winds and clouds, animals and birds competes increasingly with a vivid, useful, and, in some cases, nearly addictive virtual world of electronic sounds and images.
This rivalry has been with us, and accelerating, for a long while. For example, by 1930, over 77% of U.S. households owned one or more radios, exceeding 91% by 1947. These new crystal sets with their big antennas caught voices and music broadcast from miles away, grabbed out of the ether without regard to whether birds were chirping or frogs were croaking locally (U.S. Census 1970).
After the Second World War, televisions brought moving, speaking images of people from around the world right into US homes, reproduced with cathode ray guns. The percentage of American households with televisions rocketed from just 12% in 1950 to 87% in 1960 to over 96% in 1970 (Hodges 1963).
Computers were part of the next wave of this new synthetic experience washing over Americans. The portion of American homes with computers grew rapidly from just 8% in 1984 to 23% in 1993, and then to 79% in 2012. Internet access rose steadily as well, with 18% of US households reporting a web connection in 1997, 26% in 1998, and 75% in 2012 (Newburger 2001; U.S. Census 2014).
To get an idea of the extent of the internet’s wide and deep penetration into our world, please see the accompanying map plotting a sample of IP4 addresses for Texas (static IP, or Internet Protocol, addresses are unique numbers assigned to each device connected to the Internet). This is just a small part of the full set: only 137,000 are shown here, a small sliver of the more than 110 million in Texas, and perhaps 1.6 billion for the country as a whole) (IP2 Location 2016 and 2016b; Maxmind 2016).
Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods) and others have grown concerned about “nature deficit”, the alienation of increasingly digital generations from the outdoors. They charge that this divide between the public and nature can cause depression, obesity, and attention disorders. It is certainly a serious concern, though perhaps there is still a silver lining, since these new digital resources also empower citizen scientists to explore and document the outdoors, with their use of smartphone-based GIS and iBird databases.
Geocodio. 2016. Geocoding. https://geocod.io/ (Accessed 24-30 December 2016).
Hodges, Luther. 1963. 1960 Census of Housing, Vol. 1. States and Small Areas, Part 1, US. Summary, Table 26, pp. XLL, XL, 1-227, and 1-222.
IP2Location. 2016a. Hexasoft Development. Personal communication, 15 December 2016.
IP2Location. 2016b. IP2Location IP Address, IPCountry-Region-City-Latitude-Longitude-ZipCode-Database. http://www.ip2location.com/databases/db9-ip-country-region-city-latitude-longitude-zipcode (Accessed 15 December2016).
Louv, Richard. 2008. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books. Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Maxmind. 2016. GeoLite2 City database. http://dev.maxmind.com/geoip/geoip2/geolite2/ (Accessed 15 December 2016).
Newburger, Eric. 2001. Current Population Reports: Home Computers and Internet Use in the United States: August 2000. Report No. P23-207. U.S. Census. September 2001.
U.S. Census. 1970. Radio and Television Stations, Sets Produced, and Households with Sets: 1921 to 1970. Series R 93-105.
U.S. Census. 2014. Current Population Survey, Select Years: Table 4: Households with a Computer and Internet Use: 1984 to 2012.