Balancing technology and our natural world is a topic author Richard Louv has become well-known for. And this month, Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods is coming to Elk Rapids and Traverse City. Lou Blouin touched base with him prior to his Northern Michigan book appearances on May 4 at Elk Rapids High School and May 5 at the Hagerty Center.

In 2005, Richard Louv grabbed national attention for his provocative bestseller Last Child in the Woods, in which he debuted the concept of “nature deficit disorder.” Louv’s argument: Our kids are no longer spending enough of their childhoods outdoors, and they’re suffering for it. Now, Louv is back with his third book on the subject, Vitamin N, full of activities, tips and advice for bringing nature into your family’s life. We caught up with him ahead of appearances in Elk Rapids and Traverse City on May 4 and 5.

Technology has changed a lot since you published Last Child in the Woods. Is our tech now isolating us even more from nature?

In many ways, I think electronics are too easy a target because they’re in our face all the time. But one thing I am especially concerned about is the coming dominance of electronics in our schools. And I don’t think we should get computers out of the schools; they serve their purpose. But the people in charge of the future of schools are essentially the technology companies. And my basic idea is that the more high-tech our lives or schools become the more nature we need. And if we continue to let it get out of balance, and our kids’ lives are dominated more by the virtual world, they will not be okay. And right now there is no lobby for balance.

But kids are so drawn to technology. How do we get them to actually choose nature over their phones?

It’s not easy. And it can take a while. It’s important to remember that not everyone comes to nature the same way. As a kid, I came to nature through the woods behind my house. But a friend of mine, Juan Martinez, grew up in South Central L.A. And he came to nature by growing a chile plant for his mother. Recently, I went with some gang members who were making trails as part of a program in San Diego. And they were terrified at first. And so I went up to the toughest guy and I asked him why. And he told me it was because there were four or five noises in his neighborhood—including gunfire—but he knew what they all were. Here, there were hundreds of noises. But by the end of the day, these tough gang members were out there jumping over creeks like 8-year-olds. So for most people, that instinct for nature is down there and it comes out.

And as you stress in the new book, it can be difficult to get that kind of experience as more and more of us choose to live in cities.

That’s true. And so either our species will continue to lose whatever connection to the natural world it still has, or it means the beginning of a new kind of city. And as strange as it sounds, that means a city where we actually create nature. You know, you ask most Americans to conjure up images of what the far future will look like, and almost always it looks like a post-apocalyptic world. We carry that around as a culture all the time in the back of our minds. And what happens to a culture that doesn’t have another set of images of a beautiful, better future? So we need a new way of looking at the future. And for me, that’s nature-rich cities and a nature-rich civilization. That’s the shift in how we approach the future that I think has to happen.

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This Q&A with author Richard Louv was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
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Photo(s) by Robert Burroughs