The Great Outdoors

From Laura Vanderkam:

Anyone who studies how Americans spend their time eventually comes to a stark conclusion: Impressions and reality differ a great deal. A fascinating book published this summer, which came to a similar discovery, was Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, the result of an anthropological study of middle-class Los Angeles families. Researchers from UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families recorded hours of footage, documented possessions, and clocked how people spent their days to the minute.

Few of those minutes turn out to be spent outside.

Children averaged fewer than 40 minutes per week in their yards. Adults spent less than 15 minutes of time per week in their yards. These families had sunny Southern California weather. They had nice porch furniture, trampolines, even pools. They just didn’t use them. Many families told researchers that they used their backyards all the time, but then were rarely observed out there in this multiyear study….

Jeanne Arnold, one of the lead researchers, pinpoints two main culprits: first, general busy schedules (work, school, activities); but second, the prevalence of media options, which “seem like magnets, whether it’s television or computers or video game consoles.” Rather than use their outdoor retreats, people would retreat by turning on a screen. People don’t like this image of their lives. So they don’t acknowledge it — to researchers, or with their budgets.

“They’re willing to spend to sort of perpetuate that illusion,” says Arnold. By having nice yards, pools and decks, they could “attempt to project something that’s not necessarily going on, but is clearly ideal” — a family that spends time together outside.

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  • Mike M

    Laura: the paucity of minutes doesn’t surprise me. The lack of insight does. I may have a library of the best books ever written and the best intentions to read those books, but if I don’t, I’m still functionally illiterate. So you’ve posed a problem. What is your solution?

  • Gloria

    We love to garden (both flowers and vegetables), and thoroughly enjoy the beauty of the backyard colors. While we might not be sitting in the yard itself, it gives us much pleasure.

  • E.G.

    Many North American Christians seem to have completely forgotten Psalm 111.

    Many other passages to support “natural theology” from a variety of perspectives and contexts.

    Our neglect is reflected in some of our poor understanding of Scripture. God’s words AND God’s works are both important. See, also, Psalm 19. And read John Stott.