Can technology better our interactions with nature?

In anticipation of her eighth album, Björk, the petite, Icelandic artist infamous for a certain swan dress, recently released an album-integrated app for iOS devices called Biophilia.

The term Biophilia refers to the affinity between humans and other living things.  The narrated introduction to the app explains, “Just as we use music to express parts of us that would otherwise be hidden, so too can we use technology to make visible much of nature’s invisible world.”  In the app, the user zooms around the cosmos, which are comprised of a star or small galaxy for each song on the album. Eventually, individual apps will be released that correlate with these points in the Björk universe and much of the material comprising these applications will relate to the connection between music and natural phenomenon  – the sound of lightening, for example. However, as is sometimes the case in fostering an intellectual understanding of the natural (and is oftentimes the case with smartphone applications), the process of navigating the digital universe presents distractions that make it increasingly difficult for the user to fully appreciate the simplicity of the naturalistic world or the content.

Biophilia’s introduction reminds me of the film-based artwork Edge of a Wood by Canadian artist Rodney Graham.

In a darkened gallery, the projected film contains footage of a portion of the perimeter of a thickly wooded area in the depth of night – the inkiness occasionally and increasingly punctuated by a probing searchlight originating from the loud helicopter overhead. The scanning nature of the light is the only means by which the audience can see the illuminated forest while the sound of the helicopter enhances the atmosphere of the woods and makes the forest feel sinister. In this instance, while technology is the only means by which we can experience the nature that is presented, it also destroys natural aspects of the forest and simultaneously reconstructs a new perspective.

Additionally, according to research done by Dr. Peter Kahn, the observation of technological nature, such as organic images portrayed on television screens, provides greater psychological benefits than no such observation. However, the benefit is not as great as that experienced when viewing real landscapes, and therefore, it is not an appropriate substitute for the benefits provided by observing the natural world firsthand.

On a grand scale, the fact that technology can make the invisible, visible, is true; technology does provide us an insight into the most remote parts of our world. Without the aid of technological innovations, it would be impossible to observe and research microscopic organisms. Technology provides us with the tools that give greater access to both nature and the science involved therein, but this cannot replace the value inherent in unaided encounters with the physical world surrounding us. Biophilia, therefore, can similarly provide a greater understanding of nature and increase our intellectual engagement with the biological world. Yet, even with the aid of technology, or perhaps because of it, this interaction is not as beneficial, nor as enlightening, as the actual experience of being in the physical world.

Hanna Woodburn

Hanna Woodburn is a former CCT student. She found herself in D.C. following the completion of her undergraduate degree from Colorado Christian University in Denver, CO where she studied Human Communication, Marketing, and Business. For three years prior to beginning her graduate studies, she worked for the legislative branch where she specialized in constituent communication and outreach efforts while managing a broad portfolio of legislative issues. In CCT, she is interested in gaining a greater understanding of how communication and technology can impart change on organizations, among other topics. Hanna blogs for gnovis on art, media, and our digital lives. She also can be found on Tumblr where her blog is predominately about her cat.