Modern Melting Pot

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Hanging Out in Nature and in Cyberspace

Trying to satisfy two lovers is never easy!

                            Technobiophilia is a benign psychological state

There is a picnic table out under the trees not far from this building. WiFi reaches out there and so on many days a guy who looks like a techie spends time doing some of his work on his laptop. I thought about him when I started reading Technobiophilia: Nature and cyberspace by Sue Thomas, wondering how she would bridge the contradiction between loving technology and loving nature.

I also thought of the Mary Wells rhythm 'n blues classic, “Two Lovers.” One lover treats "me good like a lover should." The other "makes me cry but still I can't deny that I love him."

The book is interesting to me because as those who read this blog know, I make a lot of theoretical arguments about the similarities between an inspirited natural world and technology, about the obvious similarities between cyberspace and divine space, about how things on earth are “downloads” from the invisible Unified Field of fundamental forces and elementary particles out of which everything is generated.

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For someone who makes theoretical arguments it is good to read a story about staying in love with nature despite the addictiveness of the other lover, technology. Certainly megatechnologies are shaping our world, and shaping human consciousness itself in ways that are not as beneficial as is often thought.

I love reading Jerry Mander’s anti-technology activism. I agree with Mander that “we live in a new kind of global environment where everything is mediated by technology.” Thomas, who until recently was a Professor of New Media in the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University, UK,  points out that an environment where everything is mediated by technology is not, in all instances, a bad thing.

Digital technologies can create encounters with the natural world that we could not have without technology. Say, we can sit in a cubicle the UK or U.S and enjoy “...deer wandering through a sunlit forest glade. Birds sing, a stream rushes by...“ in a far away part of the world, writes Thomas.

We can sit in our technology cluttered cubicle and have our day enriched by a great composer’s exploration of nature, say Dvořák's New World Symphony, which certainly brings me into consciousness of mountains, trees, canyons and bird.

Technobiophilia: Nature and cyberspace is not just a story about one woman’s attempt to accomplish what the guy on the picnic table is seeks, although the book is about that too. The book is about a powerful subliminal urge by our entire species to hang onto our connection to the natural world, as we are pulled deeper into the digital age.

Technobiophilia is, according to Thomas, a deep, species-wide psychological urge to see technology as an extension of the natural world. She writes:

“And even today the language of computers and cyberspace is still saturated with images from nature: fields, webs, streams, rivers, trails, paths, torrents and islands; flora, including apples, blackberries, trees, roots and branches; and fauna, such as spiders, viruses, worms, pythons, lynxes, gophers, not to mention the ubiquitous bug and mouse.”

It is good to find someone like Thomas who loves nature but is not an anti-technologist. Her book is the beginning of a line of thinking that needs to be expanded by those who are deeply concerned about the effects of our addiction to technology. The book reinforces the idea that if human problems are exacerbated by technology, as they certainly are, doesn’t it make sense to use technology to ameliorate human problems.

This is not a matter of joining those who worship at the altar of technology, or even of fighting fire with fire. It is a matter of considering technology a powerful force that can be either good or evil, as, paradoxically, everything, absolutely everything, in the manifested universe is.

Thomas book is filled with well-documented, transdisciplinary, theoretical arguments for the many researchers who should begin working in this field;, but it is a good read for general audiences. Stories not theoretical argument can get at the paradoxical nature of reality. I kept reading because I want to see where the personal story leads. What happens to her suggest some things that we ought to make happen for ourselves far more often than we do..

George Davis, as creative director of Quest Digital Worldwide, has assembled a world-wide team of volunteers and Strategic Partners to build an interactive, group-authored, Internet novel-as-a-game-for-good. The game-novel, The Bay is Dying, is about a global struggle to save the environment.

 

George Davis is professor emeritus at Rutgers University. His latest book is Until We Got Here.

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