Published on The Hedge School Blog.
by Bernadette Smart
Nature seems to jar against the synthetic metal and plastic of technology, but as with all apparent polarities, there is another way of seeing things. Taking the route that both respects nature and positively utilises technology could unite two opposing forces, and harness this union for the greatest good of all.
Technology, paradoxically, offers a way to reach out from the virtually clogged, overstimulated modern world into our true heart-home of nature. A quick internet search will show the wealth of nature connection and nature education apps available for the smartphone, that pernicious piece of technology most of us have seamlessly assimilated into our daily lives. The tech-rejecting nature lovers among us may balk at the idea of a smartphone app helping people connect with nature, but apps have huge potential.
It’s comforting to think of these nature-technology cross-cultural communications as nature reaching through technology and asking us to return to her, to remember who we truly are, and what is important to us as humans living and breathing in this world. If we listen carefully we may hear her whispering, her voice drifting through our digitally veiled reality. We just need to open our eyes and see the potential in this crossover of languages, worlds, and lived experiences.
The technocultural phenomenon of social media has become a complex digital web that can connect, unite, inspire, change, and educate humanity. While on the surface simply a virtual connecting of humans with other humans, there is capability to also connect humans with nature. Social media can inspire, build, and maintain a relationship with nature that has the potential to transfer to the physical world.
Social media networks have been effectively used to raise awareness of the Tree Sistersmovement, an online (and offline) campaign to connect women all over the world with a shared desire to maintain a relationship with nature and contribute to planetary healing. With over 221,000 likes on Facebook, and almost 5,000 followers on Twitter, Tree Sisters is a “global network of women who donate monthly to fund the restoration of our tropical forests as a collective expression of planetary care”. Calling themselves a “feminine leadership and tropical reforestation organisation”, the movement has inspired vast numbers of online supporters using social media as the tool to spread awareness and connect people with nature in a positive way. Individual physical transference from digital to physical could be the missing link with this movement, because there is a filter of disconnection (someone else is physically planting the trees). The overall message is certainly one of awakening to and connecting to nature, so there is real potential here in the demonstration of how social media can be used to inspire and build relationships with nature.
Social media has become the tether that helps us feel connected. Many people use their social media accounts as a form of online bookmarking; “like” an organisation or a community page to keep up to date with what they are doing. Following on Twitter or liking on Facebook provides a platform for targeted communication which has been embraced by the environmental movement. Creating community connections around local environmental issues, and linking to global movements and solutions has given a powerful collective voice to humans concerned about the well-being of nature, and provided the potential for real-world action. People all over the world “checked in” to Standing Rock on Facebook as a message of solidarity with those trying to protect their water and their sacred places in nature from the behemoth of capitalism. The deep connection to nature of the people protesting at Standing Rock spoke to the hearts of so many around the world and garnered massive online support. Many were inspired enough to physically travel to the reservation and stand with other humans in the face of tyranny to protect nature. This is the power of social media, to provide the impetus for action, movement, and physical connection with nature.
It is this potential exchange of focus, from a purely digital connection to a physical one, that is vital to the radical balance we need to achieve. Humans are using social media to rebuild, in a new way, our lost communities and support networks. Although online groups may be “virtual”, they are still connecting us to nature – community, reciprocity and connection are all expressions of nature.
Issues arise when humans start viewing and experiencing nature through a filter of technology; obsessively photographing with the intention of sharing on social media, using technology as an excuse not to engage in real (non-virtual) life. Seeing nature through this kind of disconnected experience is stepping outside of the moment and into the future, projecting into the feelings, attention, and hits of dopamine which reward the sharer in the bizarre currency of likes, shares, and comments. This unbalanced relationship will not connect a human with nature, it will take them further away from the presence of the moment into a toxic relationship of utilisation and objectification, and the beauty of being fully embedded in their physical experience with nature will be lost.
The internet at large, and the open source (free to use, share, and build upon) movement provides access to a wealth of valuable and previously cloistered information which has the potential to awaken ancestral knowledge and connect humans more deeply with nature. Think of the wonderful offerings available in terms of online courses, digitised and open-source texts, interactive websites, learning resources, activist movements, online connections, live online ceremonies, podcasts, I could go on. The internet is a wonderful resource if used sensitively and with the right intention.
We can learn about nature through technology, support nature, promote nature, see representations of nature, try to understand nature, illicit emotions about nature, connect with other humans who want to connect with nature; there are so many possibilities. While these possible interactions between nature and technology will contribute to the connection we seek, there will always be one aspect missing – physical presence in time and space; the feet on the bare earth-hands in the dirt. There will always be a filter of disconnection from the real when using technology to connect with nature, because the full five-sense bodily experience simply is not there. To complete the circle and gain true connection we must allow technology to be the inspiration for our actual, physical presence in nature, and the wonderful understandings, insights, and healings this can give us.
Radical balance is found in radical presence; to approach the use of technology consciously, positively, and with the right intention. In allowing technology to be the tool that reconnects the broken circle and plugs humans back in to nature, there can be a reawakening of the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature which honours our beautiful Earth.