App-4-that-filter: Nature deficit disorder
June 6, 2011 5:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm sometimes worried about the kids who spend so much time playing video games when its so nice outside. So I got really excited about this metafilter thread about leafsnap, which uses facial recognition technology to identify tree leaf species! What other personal or portable technologies are out there that engage people, especially young adults with nature/the environment rather than distance them from it?

I'm interested in all age classes, but young adults just seem to be so good with technology... and I don't know much about what they're doing with it... or even if they would interact with nature if they could.

Appswise, I'm fascinated by the whole gamut- for example, using a map or trails app to see what view might be around the next bend, or to fact-find along the way (are there any parks systems using square bar codes outdooors?) I thought I recalled Kew Gardens having some nature photo-submission app, but maybe that was my imagination.

And I'm thinking about personal technology broader than just apps- like cool technology help people sense their environment? Like a pollution sensing tshirt?

Or apps that help people keep track of their environmental footprint? or make better choices, like more sustainable seafood? A wild foods app? Do those exist?

The metafilter thread mentioned a study about Shazam-like sound recognition for birdcalls, it makes me so happy to think about! What are some other examples and where else should I look other than just the app store? Any naturebased techie blogs out there? (I know there are many data & science centric- I'm interested in ones that are personal technology oriented...) Thanks!
posted by iiniisfree to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Google has a few apps that work similarly to leafsnap, like Google Skymap and Google Goggles.

Also, you mentioned hiking, and I recently went on a series of trails in Hawaii where they would have signs with local phone numbers to call on your cell to get audio info on what you were looking at. A bit gimmicky, but it shows that people are thinking about these sorts of things.
posted by tau_ceti at 5:59 PM on June 6, 2011

Red Dead Redemption. I had to learn to identify various small woodland creatures by look and by their call. You need to know the difference between squirrels, skunks, and armadillos for some sidequests.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:21 PM on June 6, 2011

My neice got really into geocaching.
posted by RobotHero at 6:30 PM on June 6, 2011

Not a technology in itself, but Geocaching is pretty much the ultimate mix of nature and technology. A great way to get kids outside while still treating it very much like a video game.
posted by bondcliff at 6:31 PM on June 6, 2011

Everytrail is pretty cool--you can record your path and upload geotagged pictures that you took. It's also really interesting to look at other people's trails & pics.
posted by smirkette at 6:53 PM on June 6, 2011

Thirding geocacheing. Kids love it; when I visit caches now I bring along things to add to the cache that I think kids would like; old coins, 'treasure' like cheap bead jewelry, geodes and polished rocks, etc.
posted by The otter lady at 7:25 PM on June 6, 2011

I find that most people are amazed that there is a web site that can help you find man made satellites and when they will fly over (including the space station, space shuttle and space junk). You can see 10+ satellites every night right after sundown. We always print a sheet when we go camping

Related there is the ability to see some satellites reflect so much light they flash during the day (Iridium flares)
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:59 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are mobile apps that do similar to heavens above.
Satellite AR is very similar to Google Sky Map but with added objects.
And another called, er , Heavens Above ( dont know the relationship ) but with no AR overlay.
posted by stuartmm at 12:27 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oxford University recently held a symposium on this: Digital Conservation. Some projects are purely academic, but there's a couple you might be interested in, particularly iSpot and Observado.
posted by cromagnon at 2:04 AM on June 7, 2011

What other personal or portable technologies are out there that engage people, especially young adults with nature/the environment rather than distance them from it?

If you really want to engage with the environment, I think you need to leave the computer at home. I'm not being a Luddite, I'm using appropriate technology. If you want to know about a leaf, you should look at the leaf. Not glance at it and then run to a computer to get the "real" experience of knowing about that leaf. That's the wrong technology for learning about leaves.

Once you've extracted everything you can from the leaf itself and still want to know more, check out the tree, the seeds/pinecones, the roots, the bark, the surroundings, the wildlife in it, etc. That's exactly what engaging with nature is.

The computer is only going to be able to tell you the names of things. That's not engaging with anything. Take a walk in the woods with a child and without any apps and you'll see lots of engaging happening spontaneously.
posted by DU at 5:49 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Orienteering uses older tech (paper map and a regular old magnetic compass, no batteries or microchips required) but is rewarding in a similar way to geocaching. Appeal to kids would vary, I suppose... but if presented in a "treasure map" context it might capture the imagination. See also letterboxing.
posted by usonian at 8:17 AM on June 7, 2011

The computer is only going to be able to tell you the names of things. That's not engaging with anything.

I actually profoundly disagree with this. There's an extraordinary amount of information out there (for the majority of things most people will encounter regularly, anyway) that makes our engagement with nature deeper and stronger and more meaningful. You can stand and wonder at an oak tree, or an osprey, and that's great: but how much more potent a spectacle is it when you know why the osprey is flying up and down the lake like that, or what intricate bugs you might expect to find if you went and rooted in the litter at the base of the oak tree?

All that information is indexed and accessible only by name, since that's what biology does. There's natural history information out there indexed by place as well, but it's a tiny minority at present.

I think if you have a name and the net, you have access to more wonder, not less. Of course, if people choose to focus on the computer at that point, well, that's their choice, and I think the wrong one.
posted by cromagnon at 9:41 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, absolutely true that learning about things helps you engage more deeply. But you must engage at all first. Reading about a tree does not engage you with nature. Being out next to a tree engages you with nature. Then come back in and read about it to deepen that connection. Then go out to deepen it more.

But it has to start with the tree.
posted by DU at 5:55 PM on June 7, 2011

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