Final word: Outdoors not so great anymore

By James Griffin

Is it worth braving the outdoors? Photo / Thinkstock
Is it worth braving the outdoors? Photo / Thinkstock

Once upon a time I knew where I stood in terms of the whole "outdoors" concept. When I was inside I was inside, which was okay for some of the time but the underlying rule was always that it was always better to be outdoors. And then when I was outdoors I was outdoors and that was a great thing, because to be outdoors was the healthy and Kiwi thing to do. But these days I am simply a ball of confusion over the whole indoors/outdoors thing and which one of those is the right thing.

When I was a kid parents everywhere were urging us to get outdoors all the time. Back then the outdoors was a wonderful place full of fun and adventure, with hardly any dangers at all. The world used to be our oyster, as long as it was outside. We could do whatever we wanted, as kids, involving all manner of physical dangers, as long as we did them "outside", sometimes until well after dark.

Yet somehow we survived.

But that has all changed. I can't put my finger on when this change actually took place, but as of circa 2013 the outside world has definitely become a much more dangerous place, full of lurking menace.

The sun, for starters, which used to be our little glowing friend who tanned us until we were crispy and golden, so we could spend the happy evenings peeling off the skin we didn't need any more, is now, apparently, our mortal enemy.

And as if the sun, the giver of life, turning against us isn't bad enough there are now heaps of other things out there, in the wild outdoors, waiting to pick us off at will should we venture too far from the safety of indoors: sharks at the beaches, wasps in the forests, fire, tornadoes, bad people lurking in the dark. Sometimes, reading the paper or watching the TV news, it is a wonder we ever go outside at all, let alone let our children roam freely through this theme-park of terror.

Yet we still do it; we still encourage the next generation to get out there and enjoy all the outdoors has to offer - except the bits of the outdoors that will kill or maim, of course. We slather them with chemicals to keep the sun at bay at the beach; we dress them in high-visibility armour to ride their bicycles; we fit them with high-tech tracking devices known as cellphones to ensure rescue is a text message away. We really do go to a heck of a lot of trouble to keep the dream of the great outdoors alive.

But is the outdoors really worth it?

When we did up our house recently, there was a lot of talk with architects and so forth about something called "indoor/outdoor flow". At the time I thought we were talking about maximising the ability to move seamlessly from one environment to the other. Now I understand that what we were really facilitating was the ability to safely remain indoors, while optimising the view of the outdoors through huge double-glazed sliding-doors which also minimise the ability of bad outdoors stuff, like bugs and the neighbour's crap music, to penetrate the sanctity of indoors by simply closing said sliding-doors.

Is this the harbinger of things to come? The outdoors behind glass, like the sharks at Kelly Tarlton's, with everyone indoors admiring its pristine beauty, unspoilt by idiots foolish enough to brave the gamma radiation, biting buzzing things and random natural disasters. In terms of shelter, general comfort levels and ease of access to the fridge, there is something to be said for this future. Sure, we'd all miss the feel of the sun on our face and the wind in our hair, but maybe not so much the melanomas and the dust storms.

Are we evolving, therefore, towards a world where the adventurers of the future are not Ranulph Fiennes and his ilk who trek across the Arctic Circle in winter to test the limits of human endurance, but the Jones family of Ellerslie who trekked to the beach in jandals in January, and actually went swimming. Crazy people those Joneses; dreamers harking back to an age before being outdoors was to court death.

Or will things go even further, to the point where the internet is the new outdoors? We will trek virtual mountains and surf virtual waves; virtually run barefoot across the virtual burning sands of virtual Piha; before reclining in virtual hammocks under virtual trees drinking virtual G&Ts while being annoyed by virtual mosquitos.

Four simple words: go outside and play. Never has something once so simple turned into something so potentially complex. It is as if the world, one might say, has been turned inside out. Or outside in. Or something.

- NZ Herald

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