Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Technological Nature

Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of Human Life

Peter H. Kahn
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Technological Nature
    Book Description:

    Our forebears may have had a close connection with the natural world, but increasingly we experience technological nature. Children come of age watching digital nature programs on television. They inhabit virtual lands in digital games. And they play with robotic animals, purchased at big box stores. Until a few years ago, hunters could "telehunt" -- shoot and kill animals in Texas from a computer anywhere in the world via a Web interface. Does it matter that much of our experience with nature is mediated and augmented by technology? In Technological Nature, Peter Kahn argues that it does, and shows how it affects our well-being.Kahn describes his investigations of children's and adults' experiences of cutting-edge technological nature. He and his team installed "technological nature windows" (50-inch plasma screens showing high-definition broadcasts of real-time local nature views) in inside offices on his university campus and assessed the physiological and psychological effects on viewers. He studied children's and adults' relationships with the robotic dog AIBO (including possible benefits for children with autism). And he studied online "telegardening" (a pastoral alternative to "telehunting").Kahn's studies show that in terms of human well-being technological nature is better than no nature, but not as good as actual nature. We should develop and use technological nature as a bonus on life, not as its substitute, and re-envision what is beautiful and fulfilling and often wild in essence in our relationship with the natural world.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29525-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    In his treatise,The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature, Erazim Kohak (1984) writes:

    Though philosophy must do much else as well, it must, initially, see and, thereafter, ground its speculation ever anew in seeing. So I have sought to see clearly and to articulate faithfully the moral sense of nature and of being human therein through the seasons lived in the solitude of the forest, beyond the powerline and the paved road, where the dusk comes softly and there still is night, pure between the glowing embers and the distant stars. (p....

  5. 1 The Old Way
    (pp. 1-10)

    As a species, we love nature. It could not have been otherwise. For our minds and bodies came of age hundreds of thousands of years ago on the African savannahs, where certain patterns of interaction with nature contributed to our survival and psychological well-being.

    Back then, for example, we sought out bodies of water, hunted, dug deep for roots, walked the land when our predators did not, and situated ourselves with landscape that could offer prospect and refuge. There were hundreds of such interaction patterns with nature. These patterns are with us still. They comprise part of our essential selves....

  6. 2 Biophilia
    (pp. 11-26)

    Still today, in modern times, humans are shaped by the Old Way. That is the basic idea from chapter 1. The idea has been taken up in the academic literature under the termbiophilia.

    This term was used as early as the 1960s by Fromm (1964) in his theory of psychopathology to describe a healthy, normal functioning individual, one who was attracted to life (human and nonhuman) as opposed to death. In the 1980s, Wilson (1984) published a book titledBiophilia. I have never seen Wilson cite Fromm’s use of the term, so it is unclear whether Wilson was aware...

  7. 3 The Technological Turn
    (pp. 27-44)

    At some junction in our evolutionary history, we began to create, use, and love technology. That is what I mean by thetechnological turn. It is odd, though, for while we are a technological species, our technologies do not always appear to advance our lives.

    Consider this example from about a hundred years ago (Ingalls and Perez 2003; “The Tradition of the Lector,” 2004). When the Cuban cigar factories of the late nineteenth century made their way to Florida, they carried over the unique tradition of the “lector.” This individual was hired (and well paid) by the workers to read...

  8. 4 A Room with a Technological Nature View
    (pp. 45-64)

    The story of Michel Faber’s (2005) “The Eyes of the Soul” begins with Jeanette and her son looking through their apartment window onto the graffiti-filled concrete walls of a small grocery shop in their blighted urban neighborhood. Outside the shop, unsavory parts of the neighborhood congregate. They see kids sniff glue and drug users argue with the police. They see violent gangs acting violently. Jeanette once looked out the window and saw “a drunken, bloodied boy larking about on the roof of the shop, pissing over the edge, while his mates whooped and ran around below, dodging the stream” (pp....

  9. 5 Office Window of the Future?
    (pp. 65-88)

    I took Michel Faber to task in the last chapter. My reason was that in his story “The Eyes of the Soul,” he had not asked his reader to consider how his futuristic technological nature window compared directly to a glass window view of the same nature scene. A plausible response could be something like: “Who cares? Get real. The point is that many people now and especially in the future will not have access to actual nature, so if in our technological nature window we can even somewhat successfully mimic the experience of actual nature, we’ll be coming out...

  10. 6 Hardware Companions?
    (pp. 89-106)

    Science fiction can make for both good reading and prescient perceptions. Philip K. Dick’s (1968)Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?is yet another such story that offers both. The reader might know this story from the movie it became under the titleBlade Runner. I begin this chapter with a synopsis of this story and a handful of scenes, as they will help to motivate not only the empirical work of this chapter—which focuses on how people interact with and conceptualize a robotic dog—but of the next three chapters, as well.

    The story takes place sometime in...

  11. 7 Robotic Dogs in the Lives of Preschool Children
    (pp. 107-124)

    We learned in the previous chapter that AIBO, the robotic dog, can be a compelling social technology in the lives of adults. In that study, members of discussion forums often conceptualized AIBO in three social ways. They viewed AIBO as having alifelike biology(e.g., “I do indeed treat him [AIBO] as if he were alive”). They viewed AIBO as havingmental states(e.g., “my dog [AIBO] would get angry when my boyfriend would talk to him”). And they viewed AIBO as being capable of engaging in social rapport with humans (e.g., “I do view him [AIBO] as a companion”)....

  12. 8 Robotic Dogs and Their Biological Counterparts
    (pp. 125-136)

    We learned in chapter 6 that members in the AIBO online discussion forums often seemed to relate to their robotic dogs as if they were biologically live dogs. Recall, for example, the member who wrote: “The other day I proved to myself that I do indeed treat him as if he were alive, because I was getting changed to go out, and [AIBO] was in the room, but before I got changed I stuck him in a corner so he didn’t see me! Now I’m not some socially introvert guy-in-a-shell, but it just felt funny having him there!” Or recall...

  13. 9 Robotic Dogs Might Aid in the Social Development of Children with Autism
    (pp. 137-150)

    Throughout much of this book I have been showing how technological nature is better than no nature but not as good as actual nature. In this chapter, I focus on the first part of this proposition. I discuss a study my colleagues and I conducted to investigate whether a robotic dog (AIBO) could aid in the social development of children with autism. If the answer is yes, it would highlight an important application for technological nature.

    Before turning to what my colleagues and I did and what we found, I would like to say a little about what autism is...

  14. 10 The Telegarden
    (pp. 151-162)

    This book is focused on the psychological effects of interacting with technological nature. My primary empirical data has been based so far on six studies across two forms of technological nature: two studies on the display of real-time nature on flat digital screens (chapters 4–5) and four studies of people interacting with robotic pets (chapters 6–9). Each study took on the order of several years to complete. It is not quick research. Thus one needs to choose one’s studies carefully. The advantage to multiple studies on a single form of technological nature is that we can gain confidence...

  15. 11 Environmental Generational Amnesia
    (pp. 163-184)

    I started recognizing the problem of environmental generational amnesia some years ago. A colleague and I had interviewed African-American children in the inner city of Houston, Texas, about their environmental views and values (Kahn and Friedman 1995). We talked with the children about dozens of issues, such as whether animals, plants, and open spaces played a role in their lives, and if so how, and whether it was all right or not to throw trash in their local bayou, and why, and whether their judgments generalized to a people elsewhere with different environmental practices. We found that these children—72...

  16. 12 Adaptation and the Future of Human Life
    (pp. 185-210)

    Through creating and using technological nature, we are changing long-standing patterns of interaction that have existed for tens of thousands of years. Is that a problem? Some people say “No, it’s not a big deal.” At the core of their argument usually lie three claims, which sound something like this: (i) “We’ll adapt.” (ii) “Adaptation is how we evolved.” And (iii) “Adaptation is good for us.” The first claim is true. We will adapt. It is that or we will go extinct, and I doubt that will happen. The second claim is also true. Adaptation is part of our evolutionary...

  17. References
    (pp. 211-224)
  18. Index
    (pp. 225-230)