William Powers, a research scientist at the M.I.T., coined the term the Walden Zone in his book Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.
The Walden Zone is a room that contains no electronic technology or access to the internet.
Powers compared unplugging from technology to Henry David Thoreau’s famous retreat at Walden Pond: “Thoreau could be the model. Our situation is different from his, in that the crowd is no longer just nearby — it’s right in the home, wherever there’s a screen. So our zoning has to be interior. Every home could have at least one Walden Zone, a room where no screens of any kind are allowed.”
Powers based this idea on research he conducted in 2006 — before the popularization of smartphones. Remember when our screens lived across the room? Not any more.
Our screens have moved much closer to us. Our smartphones are now always in hand or easily within reach. For many of us, they are the first thing we touch in the morning and the last we touch at night.
These days disconnecting takes a greater degree of self-control and self-mastery.
Nature Observation as a Digital Fast
I have been thinking about how a daily practice of nature observation requires us and challenges us to disconnect from the human world, if only momentarily.
To truly notice nature, we have to let go of our smartphones.
Only then will we, just like Thoreau, find our Walden Zone when we go outside.
Trade Screen Time for Green Time
If you are seeking a better tech-life balance, consider a daily nature walk where you purposefully disconnect from your device.
Here are a few ways to go offline when you go outside:
- Consciously plan how many minutes this week you will trade screen time for green time. A 30 minute walk on the weekend? 10 minutes per day? Make a commitment and track your progress.
- Decide how you will disconnect before you go on your walk. Will you leave the phone at home? Or do you plan to put the phone in Airplane Mode?
- When you go for your nature walk, play with ways to focus your attention. You can use one walk to just look for wildlife and the next walk to just focus on trees or clouds.
- If you often take pictures with your phone (like me), you can take this opportunity to train yourself to observe without digital documentation
- Revel in your ignorance
Places in NYC to Digitally Detox
There are a myriad of places in the five boroughs to practice your skills at nature observation. Some of my personal favorites are tiny slivers of green space like these pocket parks and community gardens:
- Annie’s Garden (Union St. between 4th and 5th Aves, Brooklyn)
- Septuagesimo Uno (71 St. between West End Ave. and Amsterdam Ave, Manhattan)
- Jardin Los Amigos (3rd St. between Ave B and Ave C, Manhattan)
Do you use nature to help you slow down and disconnect? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.