By Russell Hitchings and Cecily Maller.
Smartphones are an increasingly ubiquitous feature of modern life. But what do they mean for the likelihood of people benefiting from spending time in nature? Some believe them to be a real problem (people could really benefit if only they were willing to put down their phones!). Others are optimistic about new opportunities (perhaps they could help us to promote the wellbeing that nature experiences can bring?). In this context, this review reflects on how academic studies have explored the connection between smartphone use and nature benefits so far. Rather than taking either of these two contrasting positions, it delves into the detail of what we currently know about this connection and how it has most often been studied to date. How do those who are interested in developing new ‘nature apps’ imagine the lives of those who they hope to enthuse? What do studies of how people use social media in urban parks say about what should be done with their results? After evaluating two approaches that currently predominate, the paper reflections on where this important field of work might go next. It argues that advocates of nature benefits might learn from talking with different groups of people about how they already live with their smartphones. It also points to certain wider worries about ‘smartphone societies’ and what they mean for how everyday lives and nature spaces might connect in the future.