When did you last catch a real (or virtual) sunrise or sunset?

IMG_0712I have always loved Michael Leunig’s cartoon ‘TV Sunrise’ – where a father and son sit inside watching a sunset on their television while a real sunset is clearly visible through the window.

Oslo Davis did a more recent cartoon along similar lines – where a young boy looks through an aeroplane window and says ‘Wow – look, mum! It’s just like Google Earth!’ (See this post by David Brewster to view both cartoons).

Alarmingly, the news this week reports that sunrises are actually being broadcast on huge digital screens in Beijing because the smog is so bad. (See this video)

‘The smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city’s natural light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.

The futuristic screens installed in the Chinese capital usually advertize tourist destinations, but as the season’s first wave of extremely dangerous smog hit – residents donned air masks and left their homes to watch the only place where the sun would hail over the horizon that morning.

Commuters across Beijing found themselves cloaked in a thick, gray haze on Thursday as air pollution monitors issued a severe air warning and ordered the elderly and school children to stay indoors until the quality improved.

The city’s air quality is often poor, especially in winter when stagnant weather patterns combine with an increase in coal-burning to exacerbate other forms of pollution and create periods of heavy smog for days at a time.’*

This is yet another example of us becoming increasingly detached from the real world as we pollute the environment and allow technology to take over our lives. (How many of us have sunsets or landscapes on our computer screen savers but could just as easily look out of the office window?)

Technology supposedly helps us to connect with others but in many ways we are becoming more isolated and viewing the world indirectly via a screen. (See my post ‘Google glasses and beer goggles) This can be detrimental to our health and well-being but can be easily avoided by making an effort to spend more time outside: (See this video interview with Richard Louv)

‘Contemporary children spend more time indoors, in front of a screen, than previous generations and they have less time to roam independently. Richard Louv says that this is producing an epidemic of what he calls nature-deficit disorder. He argues that connecting with nature and unstructured play is vital for our mental and emotional health.’ **

Reconnecting with nature can also help adults to be more creative and perhaps even overcome writers’ block. (See this post by Chas Spain)

I choose to be optimistic like Steve Denham (in this post):

‘Now I see Leunig’s cartoon differently. The guy watching the sunset on TV stands up … and goes to the window. He looks out and sees the sunrise for real. And he feels alive!’

We need to stop taking simple pleasures such as sunrises and sunsets for granted and catch a few more before it’s too late and/or we develop ‘nature deficit disorder’. As Richard Louv says: ***

‘The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.’



* ‘China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog‘ by James Nye (Published Daily Mail UK on 17 Jan 2014) 

** ‘Nature deficit disorder‘ ABC Radio National Program presented by Natasha Mitchell. (Broadcast on 21 May 2013 based on an interview by Richard Aedy with Richard Louv in June 2010).

In the next interview, ‘Child-friendly cities‘ (Broadcast on 21 May 2013), Professor Karen Malone says that technology (e.g. mobile phones) can also be part of the solution and may help parents feel more confident about children playing unsupervised away from home:

‘The design of cities can encourage children to play and travel independently. Parental attitudes also need to change to reduce the fear of stranger danger so children have greater freedom to explore and experience the world.’

*** ‘The Nature Principle‘ Richard Louv website (Accessed 18 Jan 2014)

Photos copyright: Pip Marks (view from balcony) & Gary Phillips (sunset silhouette)

Categories: Technology

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8 replies

  1. That is simply sad beyond words about China. Remember in the movie The Lorax, the villain sold fresh air? Not too far off for old Beijing.

  2. Loved those 2 cartoons. So simple yet they say so much. Another one that gets me is kids playing playstation games where they are riding a bike or a skateboard. For goodness sakes parents make ’em turn it off & get out in the fresh air on a real bike or skateboard. I was just thinking next there will be lawn mowing & gardening computer simulators so can have a totallly concreted back yard & we’ll never have to go outside

  3. Scary. And not only do we not go out as much, the places to GO out are being swallowed up by our growing population and sprawl. Coming home from an errand last week, I drove by a favorite piece of woods — well it WAS woods — now being blasted and bull-dozed, making way for a new sports stadium. How old is the old stadium, which will be left, an eyesore, standing empty in another part of town? — 16 years.

    • What a shame. They have put signs up on some of the undeveloped blocks within Canberra so that locals know they are earmarked for development and don’t expect it to stay as open space. However, we are very spoilt here with the amount of open space.

  4. There’s nothing that can replace the reality of the outdoors. And the mountains and bush around Canberra are hard to beat. So people, get out and enjoy!

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