Give yourself a No Device Day this summer: Bob McDonald

The sun is blazing and the breeze is soft. Now that summer is officially here it's time to put away those screens and look up.

Now that summer is officially here, it's time to put away those screens and look up

Even parents who love the outdoors say it's difficult get their children to connect with nature — or even just get some fresh air. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

As many of us head off for summer break — perhaps to enjoy far-off places, or spend time relaxing at home or the cottage — here's a challenge: turn off all your devices, for a whole entire day. Try a dose of reality instead.

We spend so much time looking at glowing screens that our experiences of nature, even when we're right in the middle of it, are rapidly fading into the background — sometimes quite literally.

If you visit famous spots such as Niagara Falls or lookouts in the Rocky Mountains, you will quickly encounter people who have turned their backs on the very views they came to see, so they can use them as selfie backdrops. After taking photos from several different angles, they will sit hunched over their devices, posting the images of themselves on Facebook. By the end, they will have spent more time looking at their phones than the scenery.

Stop. Look. Listen. Try experiencing a special place with just your five senses.

Even if you can't break out a canoe, small doses of nature can make a big difference. (Mary Esch/Associated Press)

The biggest hurdle will be finding a place that is genuinely quiet, away from the rest of humanity.

This is not easy. The rumble of traffic, radio pouring out of car windows, the buzz of airplanes overhead — they are all so ubiquitous we hardly notice their sounds any more. But when you are someplace truly quiet, you begin to hear a different kind of music. Wind whispers through pines or rustles leaves, waves splash against shorelines, creeks babble. Birds and insects sing to each other in their own tongues.    

Take time to really listen, and listen long.

While you are stopped, take a close look at what is around you. We tend to be in constant motion, which makes it hard to see.

Look at how that moss clings to the bark of a tree; turn over a rock and look at what is crawling on the underside; get your nose down at ground level and explore the microcosm beneath your feet. You will find miniature forests inhabited by a myriad of alien-looking creatures.

Smell the soil. Bring a local plant book with you — you might find edible leaves, so you can taste the environment. You don't need to go deep into a rainforest to experience this: take a close look in a city park and you will find all kinds of surprises.

When travelling through areas where the road has been cut through rock, fossil hunters often stop to look at the exposed layers, representing millions of years of the Earth's history. A cliff face is a time machine if you look closely — the shells of long-extinct creature are preserved in the stone.

Even that stone has a story. Powerful tectonic forces are constantly changing the face of the Earth, shoving mountains to the sky, tearing open during earthquakes, punching holes through the crust with volcanoes. The Earth is truly alive.

So much time and effort has gone into creating virtual reality simulations, but none  can compare to the totally immersive experience of letting nature truly sink in.

Turn off the electronics for a day. Don't worry: the world will manage to keep turning without you for a while. Get out there and explore your planet in exquisite detail.

Have a great summer, everyone.

About the Author

Bob McDonald

Bob McDonald is the host of CBC Radio's award-winning weekly science program, Quirks & Quarks. He is also a science commentator for CBC News Network and CBC TV's The National. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.