Virtual talks and meetings are the new normal. Statistically speaking, it is likely most of us have done one since the onset of the pandemic. What remains unclear is what the propensity of this screen time and e-meetings look like, as these options establish themselves as a permanent or preferred venue to communicate.
As many of us have made the adjustment and leap of internet faith over the past year, I have made some observations on how this could be influencing a variety of factors in our natural world, which, of course, is my ultimate professional and recreational focus in life.
I wanted to touch on the concept of doing virtual hikes. Recently, I led such a hike for the Niagara West Green Party. I have another one coming up for the Niagara Falls Green Party, which includes NOTL in its riding area.
How does one participate in a virtual hike from their desk or living room? I’ll explain, but first off and for the record, I’m not going to dive into party ideologies. Rather, my role as an information vector is what matters most to me. I’ll talk to Liberals, Conservatives, or any legislative body who seeks useful information about Niagara Region’s natural heritage. Nowadays, I give kudos to any political level giving any serious amount of attention to the health of the natural environment.
Fortunately, I have thousands of photos from my Niagara Region explorations, tours, and camp-outs over the years. I use these images of our local waterfalls, butterflies, wetlands, and frogs to inspire people about the local ecosystem. I slap them together on a powerpoint slideshow, hit the now famous “screen share” button, and I simply speak and click through. It’s almost like a form of storytelling, forged by a wild visual journey with education.
To be totally transparent, I never really got stage fright or tingling nerves when I used to present in front of ten or a hundred people. To me, that was a much more physically and psychologically comfortable experience. You can read your audience. You can sense the energy and mood in the room, and your eyes or body language are free to travel from table to table.
In contrast, nowadays, sometimes I talk for 45 minutes straight, and I am essentially looking at my computer screen the entire time. There’s something profoundly different about talking to my waterfall and toad pictures without seeing another soul until the presentation is done. You know everyone is listening and watching though, as dozens and dozens of eyeballs are coming through the tiny camera on top of my computer.
Our human species, being as adaptable as we are, are figuring it out in good stride though. I am grateful to continue running actual hikes while also having the avenue to run them virtually as an option. To me, there is one unifying factor between the real and virtual hikes in Niagara — they still deliver the same message, and I would like to think that the message of conservation and enthusiasm for our natural world remains at the forefront.
Within the past few months alone, I have done virtual nature talks and walks for political parties, the NOTL Newcomers Club, the Welland Library, and a free one I organized specifically for children at home. The last one was particularly special, as I felt a universal pull to keep the youth engaged in the wonders of our natural world. It’s one of the things I am most concerned about in my spare time and on a spare thought — while kids are at home more often with increased screen time and less quality education, would their interest for nature be slipping through the cracks?
Those who understand turn into those who care, and those who care turn into voting citizens who can influence the outcome of how our natural heritage is treated. When we treat our natural surroundings with dignity and calculated respect, we benefit both biodiversity and our human civilization alike.