Video of my webinar – Technobiophilia: soothing our connected minds and easing our wired lives

Video of my webinar for the Biophilic Cities Project, 13 May 2015. 

(The name I stumbled over in the Q&A was of course Wallace J. Nichols’ book Blue Mind. I highly recommend it.)

Technobiophilia: soothing our connected minds and easing our wired lives
In her 2013 book Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace, Sue Thomas interrogates the prevalence online of nature-derived metaphors, and comes to a surprising conclusion. The root of this trend, she believes, lies in biophilia, defined by E.O. Wilson as ‘the innate attraction to life and lifelike processes’. Working from the strong thread of biophilia which runs through our online lives, she expands Wilson’s definition to the ‘innate attraction to life and lifelike processes *as they appear in technology*’, a phenomenon she calls ‘technobiophilia’. Attention to technobiophilia and its application to urban design offers a way to make our digital lives integrated, healthy, and mindful. In this talk she outlines the key elements of the concept and shows how, even in an intensely digital culture, the restorative qualities of biophilia can alleviate mental fatigue and enhance our capacity for directed attention, thus soothing our connected minds and easing our wired lives.

Here is a PDF of the slightly revised presentation, with a few more links added and a couple of formatting issues fixed.

Can a virtual reality game make you forget you’re in pain?

My new piece at The Conversation

A couple of weeks from now I will be in hospital undergoing a knee replacement. It will be the most extreme surgery I’ve ever experienced and I’m pretty scared. I’ve been told that I can expect to endure excruciating pain afterwards but I won’t be allowed to lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. In order to ensure a good recovery I have to get up and exercise the new joint numerous times a day. Make no mistake, this is going to hurt.

It may not be too long, however, until patients like me will be able to ward off their agonies simply by playing virtual reality games. This surprising advance is already being tested, but the premise behind it is not new.

As neuroscientist David Linden recently explained on NPR, the brain has more control over pain than we might at first imagine. It can say “hey that’s interesting, turn up the volume on this pain information that’s coming in”, or it can say “turn down the volume on that and pay less attention to it”. In Linden’s book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind, he discusses how our perception of pain relies on the brain and how it processes information coming from the nervous system. Continue reading

RESCHEDULED: Webinar, Wed 13th May 2015: Technobiophilia – soothing our connected minds and easing our wired lives

BC_webinarsRescheduled from last week, this webinar will now take place on Wednesday 13th May 2015 at 17.30 GMT / 12:30pm EST
Register here

FREE TO ATTEND

I’m honoured to be invited to speak in the Fostering Connections with Nature webinar series organised by The Biophilic Cities Project. The project conducts research and policy work on biophilic cities, both domestically and internationally, by Professor Tim Beatley and his team at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture. Its principal aim is to advance the theory and practice of planning for biophilic cities, through a combination of collaborative research, dialogue and exchange, teaching.

Technobiophilia: soothing our connected minds and easing our wired lives
Wednesday May 13th 2015, 17.30 GMT / 12:30pm EST
Register here
In her 2013 book Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace, Sue Thomas interrogates the prevalence online of nature-derived metaphors, and comes to a surprising conclusion. The root of this trend, she believes, lies in biophilia, defined by E.O. Wilson as ‘the innate attraction to life and lifelike processes’. Working from the strong thread of biophilia which runs through our online lives, she expands Wilson’s definition to the ‘innate attraction to life and lifelike processes *as they appear in technology*’, a phenomenon she calls ‘technobiophilia’. Attention to technobiophilia and its application to urban design offers a way to make our digital lives integrated, healthy, and mindful. In this talk she outlines the key elements of the concept and shows how, even in an intensely digital culture, the restorative qualities of biophilia can alleviate mental fatigue and enhance our capacity for directed attention, thus soothing our connected minds and easing our wired lives.

Event: Biophilia Film Channel & Drawing Inspiration, Dorset County Hospital

Art, landscape and health event – Biophilia Film Channel & Drawing Inspiration
27th January 2015, 15-30 to 17-30
Lecture Theatre, Education Centre, Dorset County Hospital, Williams Ave, Dorchester, DT1 2JY, UK
Entry is free but please RSVP via Eventbrite

Autumn Mists at CorfeI’ve been invited to give a short talk about wired well-being at this  event dedicated to two projects by Arts in Hospital and Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Both showcase in different ways the relationship between landscape, art and wellbeing at Dorset County Hospital. See some of the films on show, hear from the curator Dr Richard Povall, editor of Digital Creativity Journal and listen to a short talk from me, then take a look at the Drawing Inspirations exhibition, followed by tea and cake in Damers Restaurant,

Films on show in the new channel include works by Sue Palmer, Ivon Oates, Robert Golden, Dave Young (Pod Films), Sam Stewart, Stephen Banks, Matt Stockman, Ben Symonds, Geoff Dunlop, Phil Bambridge / Nathan Filer, Ted Evans, Matt Stockman, Michael Jenner and Alex Murdin.

I’ve written about this innovative project before (see How to bring nature into your digital world: 1.) but the Biophilia Channel takes the idea one step further by inviting artists to create works specially designed for streaming to patients in certain wards. I look forward to seeing them.

Dawn's Early Kiss at Old HarryI also look  forward to the Drawing Inspiration exhibition, which takes a closer look at landscape-inspired art to encourage people to look at the landscape from a new perspective and tell us about the cultural, physical and social changes that have shaped how we live today.

If you live close by, please do come along. It promises to be a very enjoyable gathering. It’s free, but sign up via Eventbrite

Talking to houseplants might make them happy, but one app calls for a deeper connection

How good are you at caring for your houseplants? Come to that, how good are you at caring for yourself? Symbio, a new app still currently in development, will connect your well-being to that of your plants and ensure that all of you thrive. Continue reading

20 years since the founding of trAce. Do you remember the Noon Quilt?

In May 1995 I was teaching creative writing in the English Department at Nottingham Trent University when, quite unexpectedly, I fell into the internet. That moment redirected the course of my life, and the most instrumental part of that change was the birth of the trAce Online Writing Community.

trAce was born at the cusp of a new world. The Internet was 26 years old by then but the World Wide Web was still very new.

I set up the CyberWriting project, later to become trAce, in May 1995 at Nottingham Trent University, England. The idea was to explore writing on the internet. trAce’s first-ever publication was in paper, a word-processed photocopied booklet, and it was produced by Simon Mills, at that time a student on the MA in Writing. To collect the information, Simon spent his summer vacation online trawling the net for links. He surfed through hundreds of sites, sorted the best of them into categories, and wrote a short review of each. That October in 1995 he collated his results and photocopied them in booklet format for internal distribution to writing students and faculty. It formed the basis of the first trAce website, launched May 1996, and here it is. I wonder how many of the sites are still live?

What had begun as a personal quest had grown into a very promising research project, and by May 1996 Simon had taught himself HTML and uploaded the booklet into trAce’s first website.

Now, 2015 marks the anniversary of the first year of what would turn into a decade of collective innovation for trAce members around the world. To commemorate their fantastic creativity, I’ve set up a Facebook group where writers, artists, coders, and other members of trAce can share memories of that hectic time. I hope you’ll join us there. I’m going to post something from trAce every month, starting this month with The Noon Quilt, a gorgeous project which still shimmers with beauty wherever you click.

footThe Noon Quilt is an assemblage of patches submitted by writers from around the world. Together they form a fabric of noon-time impressions. The two quilts were made over a period of approximately five months during 1998-1999. They were designed,’stitched’ and maintained by Teri Hoskin from an idea by me. Ali Graham wrote the perl scripts needed to frequently update the quilt.

ohIn 1999 we built the Eclipse Quilt http://tracearchive.ntu.ac.uk/eclipse-quilt/scripts/eqQuilt.html  We created the three trAce quilts in close succession, then later the British Council commissioned two more, both of which were sadly lost when the Council moved its website to a different server. The Dawn Quilt was made for participants in South Asia, and the Road Quilt was made for Russia.

Did you contribute to the Noon Quilt? Can you find your entry? Why not post it on the Facebook Page? Share your memories of trAce there too. We’d love to reconnect.

noonsun

Changing a landscape with the power of your mind is hugely relaxing

Looking over the landscape I could see an old tree standing frozen and seemingly dead, its branches coated with icy rime. Around it, mossy grass and small rocks lay beneath a coating of snow and in the distance glistening waterfalls tumbled down the sides of whitened mountains. It looked like the wilds of Ireland in wintertime, but the view existed only in my phone. My task, using a handheld biosensor called PIP, was to bring summer to this deeply cold outdoor scene by the powers of mental relaxation.

The device – the brainchild of developer Daragh McDonnell, who started work on it in 2004 at Media Lab Europe (the ill-fated European partner of the MIT Media Lab) – connects to your phone or tablet via bluetooth and works by sensing electrical changes at the surface of the skin which indicate stress levels. This data is then passed by Bluetooth into The Loom, a mobile app that uses biofeedback to help you measure, understand and manage your stress levels.

The more you relax, the faster the landscape moves from winter to summer on your phone or tablet. In my case, this process took between five and nine minutes, but a friend managed the transformation in as little as two.

Winter looms. (PIP)

To change the scene before me, I concentrated on visualising warm air around the trunk of the tree. Slowly it started to thaw. Fresh moss appeared at its base, then stones, grass, and tiny mountain flowers. A nearby stream melted into life and flowed again. And as the mountains softened and the sky relaxed from grey to blue, the tree finally burst into bloom, displaying bright leaves and creamy petals. I had revived a frozen world using only the power of thought and in the process my heart rate slowed and I felt more calm.

The Loom in Summer (PIP)

Environmental psychologists know that images of nature can relax us and reduce stress. As long ago as 1971, a research project involving patients recovering from gall bladder surgery showed that those placed in a ward with a window view of some fairly ordinary trees required less pain relief and recovered faster than similar patients in a ward where the windows looked out onto brick walls. This experiment has since been repeated in offices, schools, and prisons, with similar results.

The app takes a departure from the usual terrain of digital well-being – Californian beaches and mountain ranges – favoured by an industry where style is lead by US West Coast culture. Instead the “loomscape” I experienced was made up of photographs taken in different parts of Ireland. So if you’ve visited Massey’s Wood, Glen of the Downs, Devil’s Glen and Tomie’s Wood in County Wicklow, or Connemara in the west of Ireland, you might recognise some of the slivers of their verdant panoramas which have been woven together to create this fictional game-like landscape.

PIP has also worked on other apps linked to the power of relaxation such as Relax and Race where your stress level is used to determine your speed in the race – the more you relax, the faster you go. And new loomscapes are in the works for 2015.

Both PIP and Relax and Race use games technology to promote new kinds of well-being and stress reduction. There are many apps, of course, that promote relaxation as an end in itself or as insomnia and meditation aids and training. And there is an increasing amount of evidence that some video games have a relaxing effect, but this biosensor may be the first instance of the player entering into an active feedback loop and causing changes to the game itself. It would be interesting to see how far this goes in the future.

This article was first published in my column at The Conversation. Read the original.