On nature, technology, and culture – and baby sea lions (nods to: @suethomas & @infostorms)

Sue Thomas (@suethomas), from Bournemouth university, writes in The Conversation, that there is “Nothing wrong with a digital detox but wired nature is better”. She questions commonly held beliefs about the necessity of stepping back from technology to restore some kind of natural state – by immersing yourself into nature. It’s worth reading – I’ll wait until you’re back.

This struck a chord with me, as I’ve encountered this idea many times before: digital as opposed to natural, having per se a detrimental effect on our (social) lives, health, souls, etc. I don’t buy this. Sure, enjoying nature is patently good, and missing the advent of spring while being hunched over 450 levels of fruit ninja (I may show my lack of gaming knowledge here) is problematic.

I think our perception of digital as somehow alien to our ‘nature’ is a fallacy. Humans have not been in their ‘natural state’ since they developed means of influencing their surroundings, using tools and knowledge. Humanity is shaped by using them, and technology, including our digital tools, are the natural extension of this. Besides, most of our nature isn’t in its original, ‘pure’, state anymore either. It has been shaped by centuries of culture and technology.

As it happens, also in The Conversation, Vince Hendricks (@infostorms), from the University of Copenhagen, writes about how the humanities’ potential for understanding human nature is being helped by the Internet, as it is a true (and flawed) repository of human culture. I liked his perspective and the bullish stance he takes. I’ll wait again, just read it and come back.

Both pieces combine into my learning experience for the day (and therefore qualify for this blog): the seeming dichotomy of ‘human nature’ versus ‘technology’ is negated by the fact that technology is ultimately a result of culture – which is natural to you, if you’re human. Trying to escape from it for a while may provide some escapist pleasure, before returning safely into warmth of the post-modern world; but it ultimately is just a form of tourism. I would like a more balanced approach that lets you enjoy the benefits of both worlds – ideally combined. So, immersing yourself in nature, while making use of what centuries of human experience have led you to know and possess, is perfectly fine.

PS: Just to make sure I have some (potentially viral) video content in my blog, and because I think it supports my point – and because it has a cute baby sea lion in it, here’s a fascinating video:

March 20th, 2014 by