'Videophilia' Keeps Americans Indoors

Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser and other national park attractions are frequented less.
Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser and other national park attractions are frequented less. (By Robert Bower -- Post Register Via Associated Press)
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The growing popularity of electronic media could be the death knell for tourism at U.S. national parks, according to a study in this month's edition of the Journal of Environmental Management.

Park visits by Americans grew steadily from the 1930s until 1987, when they peaked at an average of 1.2 visits a person a year. But visitation dropped by 25 percent over the next 16 years, prompting Oliver R.W. Pergams, a biology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Patricia A. Zaradic, a research associate at Stroud Water Research Center, to explore what accounts for the decline.

The two scientists determined that 97.5 percent of the drop could be attributed to increased time Americans spend watching movies at home and in the theater, surfing the Internet and playing video games, as well the cost of gas. In 2003, the average American devoted 327 more hours than in 1987 watching movies, playing video games and using the Internet.

Pergams and Zaradic even coined a term for this increased attachment to staring at the movie, TV or computer screen: "videophilia," which they describe as "the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media."

"If you're spending an hour or more a day on these things, you've got to give something up," Pergams said.

These trends worry the professor and advocacy groups such as the Nature Conservancy, which consider regular park visitation key to building a strong constituency for environmental preservation. Past studies have shown that spending extended time in nature helps foster what the two authors call "environmentally responsible behavior."

"If people are less interested in nature, they're going to become less interested in conservation," Pergams said. "That's my concern and worry."

-- Juliet Eilperin

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