Landscapes in the digital age

Our Sense of Place in the Digital Age

I woke up this morning and stared at a beautiful mountain range. The warm sunlight was spilling over the jagged peaks and splashing onto the valley below. It is one of my favorite desktop backgrounds for my laptop.

It got me thinking about how the landscapes or cityscapes we are accustomed to can influence our view of the world, of ourselves, and even our sense of security. I’ve heard, for instance, that people who grew up in the plains of the Dakotas sometimes feel claustrophobic in the mountains of Colorado, and vise-versa.

Human beings have always had a strong connection to place. Stories that move us not only have sharply drawn characters, but fully realized worlds and landscapes as well. Dagobah. Vulcan. The Shire. Gotham. What would our great stories be without their memorable settings?

For many of us these days, our dominant interaction with our world is an LCD screen. I wonder what becomes of our own story when the connection with our physical surroundings is diminished due to our constant interaction with technology. What happens to us when the landscape we’re most accustomed to is a two-dimensional array of pixels?

In many ways technology has expanded our horizons, but I think it often does so at the cost of our sense of place, and possibly our sense of wonder. We do more, but we experience less. Sometimes I stop and think about how long it’s been since I watched a sunset, or looked up at the night sky for more than a few seconds. For a kid like me who spent endless hours in the forests of Minnesota, this seems unfathomable, and possibly immoral.

In the novel Ready Player One, author Earnest Cline paints a picture of a future society that has given up on their physical surroundings. Using immersive goggles and haptic gloves, people seek to escape into a massive online virtual reality called Oasis. Battles are fought, fortunes are won and lost, and friends and enemies are made, while the world around them crumbles. I hate to think this is where we are headed, but sometimes I wonder.

I’m not a Luddite. I do believe that technology is, on the whole, a good thing, but I also think our collective mothers were right. We need to get outside more. We need to be more intentional about connecting with our landscapes, our vistas, and our cities that we have been moving through unconsciously every day. They still have something to say to us. Let’s stop and listen more often.

One thought to “Our Sense of Place in the Digital Age”

  1. Oh my gosh! This is brilliant! I was first struck by the breathtaking beauty of the graphic on your page and then fell in love with what you wrote! Oh my! Yes, yes our environment supports/inspires us or makes everything more difficult. The least worst effect is boredom and the most worst is depression.
    I sort of grew up in Minnesota (born in Odessa, near Ortomville) and in Aberdeen (a few years) and then Idaho (5th grade to High school senior), so I have a physical and spiritual connection to the eart and to the sky In fact after 50 plus years in Miami im not hemmed in by mountains vs the plains; (I also graduated high school in Denver and adored the Rockies), I felt oppressed by the urban environment. I only felt free when I went to the ocean or was flying. So I get it. Beautiful piece, josh. Should be published in Dakotafire!
    Great visceral language! Both poetic and heroic. More, more!

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