Tech:Nature Literacy & Technobiophilia


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This lecture uncovers a hidden literacy in the way we think about nature in cyberspace. Why are there so many nature metaphors – clouds, rivers, streams, viruses, and bugs – in the language of the internet? Why do we adorn our screens with exotic images of forests, waterfalls, animals and beaches? In her new book ‘Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace’, Sue Thomas interrogates the prevalence online of nature-derived metaphors and imagery and come to a surprising conclusion. The root of this trend, she believes, lies in biophilia, defined by biologist E.O. Wilson as ‘the innate attraction to life and lifelike processes’. In this lecture, which marks the US launch of the book, she explores the strong thread of biophilia which runs through our online lives, a phenomenon she calls ‘technobiophilia’, or, the ‘innate attraction to life and lifelike processes as they appear in technology’. The restorative qualities of biophilia can alleviate mental fatigue and enhance our capacity for directed attention, soothing our connected minds and easing our relationship with computers. More information at

This lecture was part of a series of Fall guest lectures exploring the intriguing new concept of metaliteracy developed by Tom Mackey and Trudi Jacobson, and it was presented live in the new Metaliteracy MOOC. The MOOC is open to students at the University at Albany and Empire State College for credit as well as to all global participants as a free and open learning experience.

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  • Thomas, S. Joseph, C. Laccetti, J. Mason, B. Mills, S. Perril, S. and Pullinger, K. "Transliteracy: Crossing divides" First Monday [Online], Volume 12 Number 12 (12 December 2007)
  • Tech:Nature Literacy & Technobiophilia

    1. 1. Tech:nature Literacy Sue Thomas @suethomas #technobiophilia 18 November 2013 Metaliteracy MOOC University of Albany / SUNY Empire State College
    2. 2. Do you use nature images as screensavers or wallpapers?
    3. 3. Map your relationship with technology and nature
    4. 4. Twitter roof garden
    5. 5. Apple Campus 2
    6. 6. Images (c) Carolyn Black 2013
    7. 7. Biophilia The innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes E.O. Wilson 1984
    8. 8. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) R&S Kaplan, The Experience of Nature, 1989 Nearby Nature Restorative Settings • Being away - setting is physically or conceptually different from one’s usual environment • Extent - a setting sufficiently rich and coherent that it engages the mind and promotes exploration • Fascination (soft & hard) content or mental processes that engage attention effortlessly & allow you to rest your mind. • Compatibility - good fit between your inclinations and the kinds of activities supported by the setting.
    9. 9. Nearby Nature: Room With a View, Dorset County Hospital, UK
    10. 10. How ART works in our connected lives Being Away Extent
    11. 11. How ART works in our connected lives Soft Fascination Compatibility
    12. 12. Technobiophilia The innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes as they appear in technology
    13. 13. Kahaulani-South, Second Life
    14. 14. ‘Digital Break’, Paris
    15. 15. Virtual nature /8/0/yaoi__world_of_warcraft_by_yuhsuke chiohara-d45m7re.jpg
    16. 16. Practical experiments to try
    17. 17. What you can do indoors 1. Pay attention to the view from your window 2. Use indoor plants to your advantage 3. Connect with animals 4. Treat yourself to biophilic computer kit
    18. 18. What you can do outdoors 1. Go outside! 2. Create an outdoor office 3. Grow stuff 4. Use your smartphone to enhance your outdoor experience
    19. 19. What you can do online 1. Visit a virtual world 2. Play a video game 3. Sample some next nature 4. Add biophilic design to your online spaces
    20. 20. Tech:nature literacy The ability to interpret experiential information generated by a synthesis of nature and technology. Project Wild Thing Great Chapparal by Adam Thwaites (by permission of the artist)
    21. 21. Transliteracy/Metaliteracy Transliteracy (Thomas et al) Metaliteracy (Mackey and Jacobson) The ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. Metaliteracy promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age, providing a comprehensive framework to effectively participate in social media and online communities. It is a unified construct that supports the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities.
    22. 22. Tech:nature reminds us of the organic dimension to online life and can... • Combat digital dualism (cf Nathan Jurgenson) • Inform reflective learning • Connect experiential learning and research • Encourage strategies for well-being through tech:nature balance • Support lifelong learning
    23. 23. Looking ahead Biophilic design Second Life teaching space
    24. 24. Class Activity Map out your own relationships with technology and nature. Do they overlap or are they kept separate? Can you see ways to integrate them which would contribute to your digital wellbeing?