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Technology and smartphones

Have you ever wondered about the impact technology has on our relationship with nature? In this article the University of Derby explains this.

In this step, we will consider the link between technology and the decline in nature connection.

As you saw earlier, Kesebir and Kesebir (2017) identified a cultural shift away from nature with a sharp decline in nature references from the 1950s through to 2000. Noticeable dips in nature references occurred alongside the dawns of new technology (television in the 1950s and video games in the 1980s).

More recently the smartphone has become more widespread – around 70% of adults in the UK own a smartphone. Technology and smartphones are often cited as causes of the growing human disconnection with nature. Surprisingly, there is little direct research evidence. So, what is the relationship between smartphone use and nature connection? In this step, we will briefly summarise Miles’ research into nature connection and smartphone use. If you would like to read about this in more detail, it was published in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions (Richardson, Hussain and Griffiths, 2018).

Figure 1.12: Gorilla with selfie stick Image shows a gorilla with a selfie stick. Image source: Public Domain Pictures (Accessed on 28.06.2021)

The results showed that higher smartphone use was linked to higher anxiety, more time spent on a phone, and higher number of selfies taken. On the other hand, nature connectedness was linked to age and nature pictures taken per week, and negatively related to selfie-taking and smartphone usage times. Problematic smartphone use related to less nature connectedness, and selfie-taking and phone use emerged as predictors of decreased connection with nature. We will now dive a little deeper into the statistics of the study before we briefly conclude the findings.

The study showed 68 people with higher scores (top 25%) for a connection with nature, compared with 66 scoring lowest (bottom 25%).

The findings show that people who were more connected with nature had the following characteristics:

  • significantly lower problem phone-use scores (19.9 v 23.6), using their phones half as much each day (2hr 9min v 3hr 40min)
  • 90% fewer selfies – 1 a week compared to 10
  • 300% more pictures of nature – 8 a week compared to 2.6
  • significantly more agreeable, conscientious and open to experience.

What we learn from this study

The results from this study provided some of the first data on the relationship between the use of smartphone technology and people’s connectedness with nature. It shows that people with higher smartphone use had a significantly lower nature connectedness score. They were also more anxious and took a lot more selfies. Selfie-taking is a good example of how technology shapes and defines human behaviours. Selfies are seen as a self-presentation tool and reflect people’s personalities and ideal self-concept. Perhaps the reason why people who take less selfies are more connected with nature is because selfies demonstrate an increased self-interest and self-admiration. However, taking less selfies seems to show traits of openness and conscious self-reflection. We can conclude that people who take less selfies are more likely to provide an understanding of a shared place in the natural world and increased connectedness to nature (Richardson and Sheffield, 2015).

The need for future research

However, the research does not tell us why there is a link between smartphone use and nature connection. We don’t know whether smartphones disconnect people from nature or if a connection to nature reduces smartphone dependence. In future research we would like to see an examination of the impact of changes in smartphone use on nature connectedness over time.

Embracing technology

Although we have demonstrated that there is a correlation between smartphone use and nature disconnection, we need to acknowledge that connecting people with nature cannot be about demonising technology, or going back to (non-existent) golden days. A connectedness with nature must be part of a modern, increasingly urban lifestyle and, therefore, new technology must be embraced in order to engage people with nature. An example includes trees given email addresses have been bombarded with love letters! So, as we’ll see in later weeks, technology can be used to increase nature connectedness.

Reference list

Kesebir, S., & Kesebir, P. (2017) A growing disconnection from nature is evident in cultural products, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(2), 258–269.

Richardson, M., Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2018) Problematic smartphone use, nature connectedness, and anxiety, Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1-8.

Richardson, M., & Sheffield, D. (2015) Reflective self-attention: A more stable predictor of connection to nature than mindful attention, Ecopsychology, 7(3), 166-175.

© University of Derby
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