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Written By

Katherine Kokkonen


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

25 June 2019

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Losing our connection to nature

How do you see nature? Are you part of nature or is it something better viewed from afar? The increasing amount of time spent looking at screens could be affecting how connected you feel to your environment. Get ready to unplug and reconnect to nature.

Chances are you are reading this on some kind of device. You could even be looking at one device, while browsing another. Without even knowing it, your actions could be having a negative impact on an important relationship. JCU PhD student Melusine Martin is exploring how digital technology is affecting people’s feelings of connectedness to their environment.

“One of the hypotheses of the research is that when you spend all day facing a screen, whether that’s a computer or a tablet, you will have some trouble connecting to nature,” she says. “If I asked you to describe yourself as a human being, I don’t think you would consider that nature and you are the same thing. There is this term called the nature deficit disorder. This is really a disease for western societies because we spend too much time inside, we spend too much time not in the sun or not breathing fresh air, which is not natural and not normal.”

Melusine’s thesis, Nature perceptions in the digital age and millennials’ feeling of connectedness to their environment in Australia and in the United States in the 21st century, will explore how people see nature and how modern technology affects people’s relationship to nature. Her fascination with environmental humanities began while she was completing her Master’s degree in France.

“I interviewed people living in eco-villages in the United States,” she says. “I was interested in how they relate to nature. Eco-villages are like living lost in the wild, but they’re still very modern. They have the internet and everything else but they’re in nature, which I think is a paradoxical situation.”

The great Australian outback

Melusine is a French PhD student under a Cotutelle agreement between James Cook University and the Paris-Sorbonne University. She started her PhD in April 2015 while living in the south of France and will finish her thesis while in Far North Queensland.

“I think there is a specific situation in Australia,” she says. “I see it with my European eyes. In France, because it’s so small and already so developed, there are no longer huge wide places of wilderness like what you’ve got in Australia.”

Melusine says the French do not see a strict separation between city and nature. This differs from Australia, where nature is distinct from heavily developed cities. In Australia, the city limits usually symbolise the border where modernity and humanness ends and nature begins.

“You get very strong flavours in Australia between nature and city or nature and modernity and humanness,” she says.

Melusine says reconnecting to nature can be as simple as stepping away from the screen and going outside. Spending time in your backyard, going to the beach or hiking in the mountains are all activities that can reconnect you to nature.

“The starting point would be for people to recognise that they don’t spend enough time connecting with nature,” she says. “Close your computer, forget your phone at home and take time to reconnect.”

“I feel that here the separation between the two is even stronger. We are human beings living in cities and nature is the environment, the landscape, the background of our lives and our experiences — but it’s not us.”
JCU PhD student Melusine Marti

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Melusine Martin

PhD Student

Melusine Martin is a PhD student under a Cotutelle agreement between James Cook University and Sorbonne University (Paris, France). Her research centres on environmental sociology, digital humanities, and ecofeminism. Melusine’s research investigates human relationships with nature in a digital context. The objective of her research is to contribute to a new understanding of Western cultural representations of nature and wilderness, and to provide a new definition of nature as human-inclusive.

Melusine’s research draws on anthropological and cultural theory literature to examine how the human/nature dualism exists in the digital age and how environmental identity (i.e. the extension of human self to nature) plays an important role in shaping environmental discourse and legislation.