How tech can help us reconnect with Nature

Sarah Gane explores the simple ways in which we can use our smart phones - and that instant access to technology in the palm of our hands - for the good of the environment and our own Wellbeing

It’s safe to say that tech and Nature are normally at odds with each other. While companies such as Fairphone and Closing the Loop are working hard to make positive changes to the manufacturing and recycling of mobile phones, the production (and disposal of) smartphones is  largely regarded as something that’s detrimental to people and the Planet. But does it have to be this way? Can the two live in harmony?

As we know with social media, there’s a potential for good and bad in everything. Thankfully, innovation is the driving force behind the technology industry so, whilst digital detoxes are a good thing, every once in a while, smartphones are also being used as a force for good.  

Project Destress, is one such initiative. Essentially a mapping tool set up to identify quiet and calm urban outdoor places, this collaboration between researchers at the Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is calling upon residents of three UK cities: Brighton and Hove, Edinburgh or Sheffield to share their knowledge of suitably tranquil spots. The goal is to then develop guidelines to protect these areas as well as possibly planning quiet zones into new developments. The initiative is part of an ongoing quest for Biophilia, the theory by naturalist and author Edward O. Wilson (rather than the Bjork album) that we, as humans, benefit greatly by being in regular contact with nature.

Happy thoughts

Getting outdoors is also something that Wellbeing organisation, Action For Happiness, champions through its 10 keys to happier living: encouraging us to live a more mindful life by noticing the little things on our way. And for good reason: there are loads of health benefits including lower blood pressure, improved mood and a better ability to focus. In fact, just 30 minutes of exercise a day can help reduce the risk of heart problems, strokes, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer, while making you happier in the process.

Paying attention to your thoughts, breath or the flora and fauna surrounding you as you walk is a great use of your time and a meditative process in itself. Taking a journal out into the wild with you to sketch on the go, or using resources such as the Woodland Trust’s Tree ID app and the RSPB’s online bird identifier tool offers a chance to learn more about the world around you too.

Curious adventures

If you’re unsure whether you’d like to wander, walk, stroll or saunter, Go Jauntily offers a relaxed approach to getting outdoors. This free, community-based walking app has a whole load of lovely features on offer, including the ability to find walks near you, photo guides, nice places to eat or even where to find the loo. You can create your own guide too, snapping photos and recommendations along the way, to share with others in the community.

For the more outdoorsy explorers among us, MyViewRanger is a bit like having Bear Grylls in your back pocket. This award-winning app is free and provides a massive selection of trail guides and maps, as you’d expect, but what’s even better is the integration of augmented reality. Known as the ‘Skyline’ feature, using it en route enables you to see direction arrows plotted on the actual landscape, as well as the ability to identify points of interest around you. It even works offline without a phone signal – particularly handy if you’re in the middle of nowhere!

All about the stats? Check out the Trails app. This GPS logbook includes everything from altitude and ascent/descent to heat maps and health information. It works offline and with the Apple phone – and you don’t have to upload your personal information to a server either, which will please stealthier explorers.

Feeling peckish

Wandering is hungry work, so foraging along the way is another great way of connecting with your surroundings. Getting hands on with your food, stopping to smell the leaves, taking time to select the best piece of fruit to pick and generally focusing on the task at hand can help you achieve what’s known as the ‘Flow state’. Essentially losing yourself in the process. It’s vital to be aware of exactly what you’re picking, so having the Wild Edibles Forage to hand can help if you’re unsure.

Making waves

If you’d rather get out in the water, wild swimming is a free and easy way of improving your mood, and circulation, whilst at the same time reducing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Being a part of an online community, such as the Outdoor Swimming Society gives you an opportunity to connect with like-minded swimmers sharing tips, advice and the best spots to visit through its worldwide crowd-sourced swim map.

Before you head out, though, be sure to check the weather using the Windy app. This worldwide animated map gives you detailed forecasts for waves, temperature, wind, clouds and more over a 10-day period. Most surfers already know about Magic Seaweed, but Surfline is another helpful tool, offering cams, reports and forecasts for waves wherever you are.

Using tech for good

Our connection with Nature doesn’t have stop when we get home. Making a positive impact is most definitely possible with a phone in our hands. Whether it’s switching search engines to Ecosia or using the Forest productivity app (both can help plant trees in the real world). Tech enables us to measure our environmental impact, find ways to reduce our plastic usage, stay informed of the issues surrounding deforestation and take virtual tours of the Amazon or Arctic, which all have the potential to really inspire change.

Sarah Gane is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based in the UK  

Want to know more about the relationship between technology and the natural world? Catch the Lush Showcase 2018 panel on Our Mobile Tech Addiction: Reconnecting With Nature, or catch up later on the Lush Player.

Having the MyViewRanger app in the palm of your hand when you’re out exploring is a bit like having Bear Grylls in your back pocket