Our growing passion for video games, DVDs, e-mail and the World Wide Web is turning our hearts away from nature.

The biggest threat to our national parks isn’t global warming, polluted water, inconsiderate campers or out-of-control snowmobilers.

It’s the time we spend in front of a screen.

A couple of researchers recently studied tourism in the U.S. national parks, and found that park visits grew steadily over the course of 57 years, from 1930 to 1987. Then, over the next 16 years, visitation dropped by 25 percent — a serious and significant decline.

So, what’s the reason? Biologist Oliver Pergams and research associate Patricia Zaradic determined that 97.5 percent of the drop was due to the ever-increasing time we are spending surfing the Internet, playing video games, and watching movies and television shows. Rising gas prices have had an effect as well, since the cost of a gallon is naturally going to inspire us to stay home with GameCube instead of drive to Yellowstone. In the year 2003, the average American was spending 327 more hours in front of the screen than he was 16 years earlier.

Makes sense. Back in 1987, only Al Gore was on the Internet.

The Washington Post (July 5, 2006) reports that Pergams and Zaradic have even coined a term for this increased time in front of the screen: Videophilia. It’s a good word, one that literally means “love of video.” The Greek word philos means love, giving rise to English words such as philanthropy (love of mankind), philosophy (love of wisdom), and Francophile (a lover of all things French).

Videophilia, according to these researchers, is “the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media.” Video games, television shows, DVDs, e-mail, IMs and the World Wide Web are all screen-based sedentary attractions, and they are sucking up an increasing amount of our time.You don’t have to be completely addicted to video to see that your screen time has soared in the past 20 years.

The problem is, if you’re spending an extra hour a day in front of a computer or television, you’re not spending that time out of doors. And if you’re not out of doors, you’re not in a park. And if you’re not in a park, you’re not deepening your passion for the environment. And if you’re not feeling passionate about nature, you’re not as likely to practice environmentally responsible behavior.

“If people are less interested in nature,” worries biologist Oliver Pergams, “they’re going to become less interested in conservation.” Videophilia may be weakening our bonds with our national parks, and reducing our passion to preserve them.

To summarize: Our love of electronic technology, according to Pergams and Zaradic, causes us to prefer the couch instead of the country.

-From Homiletics Online

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