Humanity’s Edge Over AI: The Power of Relationships & Nature

Avoiding Koyaanisqatsi Through Connection to the Natural World & Each Other

By: Katherine Dayton, VISIONS Executive Director

Katherine & Coralie, BVI

VISIONS Director, Katherine Dayton, with long-time program partner Coralie George, in the BVI

“Life out of balance” is the definition of the Hopi word, koyaanisqatsi, which was also the title of a Francis Ford Coppola film that spotlighted nature, humanity, and the relationship between them. As Artificial Intelligence takes us by storm, our shift in perspective, as beings, goes even further from an orientation to the natural world to orientation of a technology-based world. 

What does this mean for young people, who are digital natives and will now grow up with AI as part of their formative years? AI is a high magnitude paradigm shifter, but a connection to the natural world and to each other can provide the healthy antidote that we all know we need.

Taking Tech-Free a Step Further

VISIONS is a tech-free program and has taken our previous tech-free formula a step further. Up through last summer, we carved out time once a week for participants to connect with home. In the old days, this meant going to a pay phone or other landline at homebase or in town. Then it meant giving kids their cell phones for 30 minutes each week, when they’d call home.

Quickly, these 30-minute blocks turned into a time when kids would get on social media and then often come back often shaken up, emotional, or regretting that they’d dipped into their parallel life in that way. (In recent years, I’ve been happy to hear from a number of alumni participants that they chose to delete their social accounts after a VISIONS program.)

Connecting with Nature in Peru

Connecting with Nature on VISIONS Peru

Starting this season, VISIONS no longer is making time for the weekly 30 minutes with a phone. We don’t think that participants will miss this time. Their leaders, many of whom provided the feedback that this change should be made on programs, are thrilled with the change! We continue to post short updates and photos for parents on our blog and—yes—social media pages. (Parents, if you’ve also decided to take the step of being social media-free, then just tune it to our blog’s Summer Updates during the programs!)

I loved that the program fostered independence, a disconnection from the phone, a connection with the land and people, and an opportunity to experience something outside of her comfort zone. I was fearful that Aly may regret going away for part of the summer, but I kind of think she never wanted to come home! She is already planning on going again next year!

— Maya R.

Abiding by a Worthy Mission & Core Values

Less time with tech also means less interruption to our core mission, which is, “To live in harmony with ourselves, each other and the natural world.” This mission is achieved in practical ways by way of cross-cultural community service programs in locations around the world. We view service as our way of thanking the local community for sharing their lives with us, and we include plenty of adventurous exploration and time to connect with the natural world into each program, as well. 

Complementing a mission that embodies the importance of these connections, you may be interested to know that VISIONS Core Values include three key ingredients: 

  • Connection. Forge connections with the self, others and the natural world in ways that build empathy and make us whole.
  • Communication. Foster clear and honest communication that becomes the bedrock for meaningful relationships.
  • Engagement. Actively and fearlessly strive to make a positive difference for other people, living creatures and the earth.
Connecting with Each Other

Connecting with Each Other on Every VISIONS Program

Connecting to Each Other

VISIONS serves up meaningful connections in a myriad of ways. Whether through our emphasis on inclusive and healthy group dynamics with peers, the deliberate time we set aside for Circle meetings in order to speak honestly and openly with each other, the authentic cultural immersion in our host communities, or the positive mentorship from adult leaders, these human connections are abundant on any VISIONS experience.

Our alum families say it best:

She told stories, had fits of laughter recalling funny events, talked with heart about the connections she made with local friends…  She had so many new perspectives and was excited about the new things she experienced. She talked about how caring Rose was and obviously felt connected to all of the leaders. It was a fun, challenging and fulfilling experience for her.

—Alexandra D.

Connecting to Nature

Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life.” —Rachel Carson

Connecting with each other is only part of the equation. Without a grounding in the natural world, we are still missing something. It’s been inspiring to hear from so many teenagers in recent years who want some of their service work to include environmental projects and working with animals, which VISIONS does. 

We also carve out time for adventurous exploration and taking in our natural surroundings. Whether it be the Rocky Mountains of Montana or Sacred Valley of Peru, Caribbean beaches of the British Virgin Islands or the Caribbean’s largest freshwater lake in the Dominican Republic, VISIONS teen volunteers laugh, play, hike, swim and simply absorb these wonders.

Dominica has not only taught me about a sense of community, but it has also taught me to appreciate nature. The rivers, beaches, and rain forests will forever be embedded in my mind. Material objects have less meaning and instead I have a desire to give. Dominica has given me what money cannot buy, and that is a sense of happiness. 

—Emily J. (from one of VISIONS retired program sites, but with sentiments reflected across all programs…)

Montana Hike

Connecting with Nature in Montana

VISIONS Offers a Life in Balance

Whether you are an alumni of 35 years ago or one year ago, a VISIONS leader or local partner, we hope you’ve felt these values as part of your experience, and that they continue to have a ripple effect in your life. 

Certainly through my many years with VISIONS, I’ve witnessed with kids & leaders (and with myself!) that a fulfilling life and a life in balance—as opposed to koyaanisqatsi—is best achieved by connecting in meaningful ways with each other and with the natural world. 

And as technology & AI continue to become part of the fibers of our being, I believe that these connections are the essential pieces to being whole and living a life in harmony. 


VISIONS Spotlighted in The Outdoor Journal

VISIONS recently had a featured article in The Outdoor Journal entitled, “AI is Here. Nature Will Remedy its Effect on the Next Generation.” You might want to check it out!

VISIONS in The New York Times