Exploring Your Own Backyard

(William Gurstelle is Boing Boing's current guest blogger. His new book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously is on sale everywhere. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst)

In Stephen Talbott's interesting book, Devices of the Soul, he makes a case that there's too much technology in our lives. One observation in particular struck me: people spend less time observing and experiencing the natural world directly. So much is intermediated by other, electronic stuff. Says Talbott:

"The Net can only teach a boy about trees, but he won't understand them. The information from the net or a book is fragmented and decontextualized. It will never carry the same force as first hand experiences."

Yup, I agree. So, I decided to spend some time exploring my own back yard. Is there really anything new and exciting back there? You bet.

Recently I was given a new type of handheld digital and optical microscope. The new generation of digital microscopes are wonderful little devices for taking a very, very close look at stuff in the house and garden. I hooked it up to my netbook computer and ran around the neighborhood annoying ants and beetles.

I spent the whole afternoon looking at stuff and taking pictures. Skin cells, fabrics, seeds, and of course, bugs, were just part of the wild menagerie of things I examined. Corny, maybe, I found it way cool, and I'm no little kid.

While I was observing an ant from my garden, I noticed it seemed have an even smaller insect crawling over its thorax. So I zoomed in for a closer look. Yeow – I guess even ants have their problems!

I posted it to YouTube and then used YouTube's simple editing tools to add titles, highlights, and a soundtrack. The whole video probably took less than hour to record, edit, and post.

boing boing ant.jpg

Click here to see the movie I made of the ant, or watch it in the embedded viewer above.

I made the video using a Celestron 44306 Handheld Digital Microscope. Incredibly, the street price is under $100. Better than any toy, this new, cheap world of digital microscopy is an example of bridging Talbott's gap between the old and the new ways of observing the world .

I'm going out to my backyard and now and see what else is going on.