Why a Garden is Better than a Phone

Pick up your spade, put down your device

Paul Greenberg


“Garden of Surprises” by It’s No Game is marked with CC BY 2.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse

“We must cultivate our garden.” When Voltaire wrote that famous concluding line to Candide, he could never have foreseen the degree to which humans two-and-a-half centuries later would fail to heed his advice. Instead of consistently re-tilling our belief system, planting questions about the nature of truth, and field-testing gambles on what does and does not succeed in the real world, we have turned to a set of algorithms that pretends to do the hard work of inquiry for us. In all, Americans spend more than four hours a day on their devices — the equivalent of a full waking year out of every dozen we stand upon the Earth.

How to break this spell?

Might I suggest taking Voltaire at his word and cultivating an actual garden? Every November, when my Ground Zero Garden goes into its winter slumber, I suffer. Every spring when that garden comes back to life, I flower. This dynamic, I’ve come to see, is directly related to whether or not I’ve been in my garden or on a device. Now as the Northeastern chill finally starts to come off the grape and raspberry vines and the peas push up toward the light, I feel that good part of me coming back to life. So at this transitional moment between screen and green it’s worth jotting down why my life is better in the garden:

A phone interrupts.

A garden connects.

A garden poses real questions.

A phone gives fake answers.

You can’t eat your phone.

A garden surprises you.

A phone confirms what you already know.

A phone fiddles with your fingers.

A garden demands your hands.

A phone makes the world flat.

A garden adds dimensions.

A garden brings you in daily contact with life and death, blooming and rotting, success and failure.

A phone dupes you into thinking you’re great and that you will live forever.

A garden makes you share your harvest.

A phone hoards your mind.

When a garden goes wrong it requires your close attention to go right again.

A phone breaks when you drop it and you have no idea how to fix it.

Gardens make you to look at the light.

Phones keep you sitting in the dark.



Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org