Today, it's not uncommon for both children and adults to spend hours upon hours with their heads buried in sleek, addictive electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets. We've replaced social interaction, and traditional play and entertainment with these little gadgets that constantly beep and ring, keeping us informed about what Jane had for lunch, an appointment we can't miss, an email we must respond to immediately, or even who has the highest score on Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga.
In short, technology has taken over our lives in such a way that many of us - me included - simply can't live without it by our side. According to the media measurement firm Nielsen, Americans spent 34 hours and 21 minutes using mobile devices last December, which was an increase of 8 hours from the same time the year before.
And while there is no doubt technology and the advent of mobile devices has opened the doors to so many great opportunities and different ways to communicate - from increasing work productivity via email to finding lost childhood friends on social media sites to learning new and exciting things you never thought you'd have the chance to learn - we must not forget the value of "unplugging" from time to time.
This revelation of sorts struck me like a ton of bricks this past week while camping with my children. With no cell phone reception for miles, I traded the technological bond for a true social bond with both my sons and nature - and I have to admit, at first, it was hard for me and the children. Not being able to grab my phone to check emails, constituent and staff messages - even Facebook and Twitter - was a daunting task.
Nature became our entertainment and playground, and I was able to take in all the majestic trees, rocks, plants and other native California vegetation that makes our state so unique. And I must admit it's a much better experience to see California's beauty first-hand, as opposed to looking at a picture on Instagram.
That said, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of our California State Park System, there isn't a better time to untether that little device attached to your hip, go exploring and experience California in its most regal and natural state.
And the good news is many of these parks are located not too far from our own backyards.
With more than 280 state parks located across California, a person can experience the awe-inspiring giant redwood tree forests to the never-ending sandy beaches, all while learning about how our state park system came to be. Take, for example, the Buffalo Soldiers who served as stewards for Yosemite Park and Andrew P. Hill, who established the Sempervirens Club in 1899, an organization aimed to protect the majestic redwood trees.
Today, the California State Park system has grown to be the largest state park system in the nation, with almost 70 million visitors annually that come from all over the world - and in a world consumed with technology - this speaks volumes to how many people want to "unplug" and enjoy the social interaction of yesteryear. And I can say by experience, there's no better feeling in the world than hiking under a canopy of trees, and appreciating the beauty and abundance nature offers. There's also something very comforting when you cross paths with a fellow hiker or camper, and instead of seeing a head of hair looking down at a smartphone, being greeted by a smile and "hello."
So, in honor of this sesquicentennial celebration, I urge you to ditch the cell phone, updating social media statuses and playing Angry Birds, and trade them for something much more worthwhile - exploring and appreciating our many diverse parks located across our beautiful state.
For more information on our California Park System, go to www.parks.ca.gov.