Going outside again

In the beginning, there was only outside. Our Stone Age ancestors took shelter in trees and caves. Later, they built their own shelters from sticks and stones, animal hides and bones, and eventually, clay bricks made of dried earth.

Fast forward several thousand years and most of us spend nearly all of our time inside. Watching the first half of the Jane Goodall Hope program last night reminded me that our nature is to be outdoors. The monkeys that were born in cages were fine in cages. That was all they ever knew. It was only once they were moved to an outdoor sanctuary that they realized there was another way to live. It was outside. It was natural. It was better.

Of course, I am not suggesting that humans should return to living in trees and caves. I do, however, believe that we would benefit from spending a whole lot more time outside than we currently do. One benefit that I foresee resulting from this ongoing pandemic is that we will.

The problem is not that we do not want to go outside. Our modern systems are simply not set up for it. Our beds are inside. That is one thing that probably makes sense to keep the same, but we only spend about 8 hours in bed. There are still 16 hours left in every day. Most people spend another 8 hours or so, 5 days out of the week, in schools or offices. Our schools and offices are totally inside, but do they really have to be? Remember the days of late May and early June in school when the wishes of the students won the kindness of the teacher who agreed that they could all have class outside that day? Remember how much better those classes were? What do we need from inside that we do not have outside in order to learn or to work? We have laptops and cell phones. Is one really going to argue that there is no way to build the electrical infrastructure to get a laptop charger to work outside? The extension cord is not a very novel invention. Of course, we will want cover from rain, warmth from cold, shade from sun, and cool air from summer heat, but one hardly ever needs any of those things in a region like Northern California near the likes of Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It is just outside of these major hubs of innovation where I expect the coming movement of going outside will begin. Other regions will be right behind them. Most employees today might be lucky to get 5 or 10 rushed minutes outside just to go pickup some lunch. I believe that will change.

After 8 hours in bed and 8 hours at work or school, there are another 8 hours in everyone’s weekday. Most of these are in the evening. Outside of the weekday evening hours, there are also about 32 non-sleeping hours that most people have on the weekend. These are the hours when some people already spend some time outside, but still, the systems are not very well set up for it.

Major gym brands are in trouble and even once they re-open people will not be racing back to them very soon. People might more quickly sign up for an outdoor Equinox with intended-for-outside excercise machines and weights, outdoor yoga classes, and anything else that people might like. The sky would literally be the limit. Restaurants with outdoor seating will see those tables bounce back much more quickly than their indoor seating. Restaurants without it will want to do everything they can do to figure out how to make it work. Most people already ask to sit outside when the weather is nice and the option is available. The added safety of being less at risk of exposure to the virus is only a bonus. Last weekend, I even ran by a church that was hosting Sunday service outside. The priest was at the top of the stairs just outside of the front door of the church. The people stood and sat in front of their cars across the street. It was special to see.

As humans, we started outside. We will now be going outside again. Perhaps it is possible. Something good will come from all of this bad.