Heliconius erato


The butterfly above is Heliconius erato. The picture was taken (by me) in the research space of Larry Gilbert at the Breckinridge Field Station, a part of the University of Texas at Austin.

I like this picture and am using it in this post for much the same reason: Focus. Without the narrow depth of field that I’ve used in this picture, this would be a very busy scene. There are plants and flowers in the background that you can’t really see here due to the level of blur. Some are far away, others are close, but the butterfly and the leaf that its on are really all you can see.

I’ve been struggling with focus for the past week. I’m really enjoying the NMFS reading this week: Computer Lib/Dream Machines by Ted Nelson (1974). I have not been reading with a highlighter in hand (it’s just not something I’ve ever had the habit of doing), but for once, I wish I had — there’s a lot here that I need to go back and re-read, savor, consider, and contemplate. The idea of a computer as a tool for education — and one that could be used to improve education — is still under discussion today. I was struck by his metaphor of dog food kibble as bits of information we feed to kids in schools. I was particularly struck by this line (page 317): “I think that when the real media of the future arrive, the smallest child will know it right away (and perhaps first). That, indeed, should and will be the criterion. When you can’t tear a teeny kid away from the computer screen, we’ll have gotten there.” By that definition, the iOS devices are it. My three year old twins are growing up with this technology (with occasional access to an iPad and iPod Touches), and they intuitively know how to use it, and are very upset when it is taken away (which is part of why the access is very occasional, indeed).

I’ve spent time this week thinking, for other reasons, of the benefits of getting out in, and paying attention to, nature. This means stepping away from the computer, even the laptop. I think that carrying a camera (even a digital one) is allowed, though — hence the opportunity to take a picture like the one above. There’s growing evidence that many of our mental ills of the modern world (ADHD and perhaps also such as anxiety, depression, and even schizophrenia) may be exacerbated by the way we’ve filled our lives with indoor and manicured outdoor activities. We don’t often — as kids or as adults — simply go out into the forest or prairie to play, look, observe, attend… And we may be paying a price for that.

I know that I feel better, and can often get more done afterwards, if I take a break and get outdoors. Not just to walk around the campus, but get out to a natural area (on campus or elsewhere) and lose myself in the nature around me. But I don’t do it as often as I should.

So, can we use technology to get back into nature? I have iOS field guides. Some are wonderful. Others leave something to be desired. So yes, I’ve pulled out a device other than a camera in the field. But sometimes it feels like the technology requires more effort, and more time. I was feeling a lot of irony earlier this week, while trying to put together a presentation on the concept of why we need nature, trying to grade an ecology exam — both skipping around the idea of nature, but keeping me from getting out to enjoy it.

And so, the struggle to focus continues…


One Response to “Focus”

  1. Chris Fletcher Says:

    I treating post. I agree with you about our need to be connected with nature. We have a choice about that, I think of our ancestors who looked at the weather and knew a poor harvest meant a winter of starvation.
    When one of our (now grown) children was in first grade, the homework assignment was to log the stages of the moon for a month. It came as a shock to me to realize I hadn’t looked at the night sky for ages, and needed this assignment to reconnect.

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