Category Archives: Dispatches

Feel better without logging off

Excerpted from my new blog – read the whole page here

Nature is good for you (why technobiophilia matters)

“We are all made of starstuff”.  (Carl Sagan)

We know intuitively that nature is good for us. Those wonderful sensations of wind in our hair, sun on our face, cold snowflakes on our skin all need no explanation. They remind us we’re alive. That we’re part of the planet we live on. That our DNA contains the history of the Earth and perhaps even the stars too.

We know this in our bones. But, beyond a sentimental thrill, what evidence is there to explain why we feel such a powerful connection with nature?

Biologist E.O.Wilson has a name for this very deep emotion: biophilia. It is, he says in his book of the same name Biophiliathe innate attraction to life and lifelike processes. He first experienced it deep in a forest in Suriname, when  one day, all of a sudden, “in a twist my mind came free and I was aware of the hard workings of the natural world”. He believes that early humans survived by attuning themselves to their surroundings and ‘reading’ the behaviours of other creatures and landscapes around them. Then it was a matter of safety, food and survival, but even today, says Wilson, we remain deeply drawn to manifestations of life.

Architect Stephen Kellert agrees that biophilia was genetically encoded inside us when sensitivity to sensory signals was crucial to our survival. In order to stay safe, we needed to be able to read the messages conveyed by changes of light, sound, odour, wind, weather, water, vegetation, animals and landscapes.

Today,  our everyday lives are less dependent upon our physical surroundings but those sensitivities remain. They may lie dormant for a while until triggered by a signal from our bygone past, such as an encounter with animals, a visit to the countryside, even just the scent of a flower on a warm day. Suddenly we once again sense a glimmer of that ancient life in the wild. Biophilia connects us to nature.

Read the rest…

Happy 2016! Tips on how to adjust your technature balance #technobiophilia


Happy 2016!  

This is the year for taking some time to adjust your technature balance. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips for a technobiophilic 2016:

  1. Images of nature can reduce stress and slow down your heart-rate so choose new pictures for your desktop wallpapers and screensavers.  Trees, water, blue skies and flowers all work well.
  2. Treat yourself to something made from real wood to add to your digital life – a mouse, a keyboard, a smartphone case. Enjoy the organic warmth, much more restorative than plastic.
  3. Take a trip into virtual reality to explore VR forests, plains, desert and oceans. Second Life has a wealth of landscapes to explore. Pause your shootout in Grand Theft Auto to take scenic photos of the glorious mountain ranges. Treat yourself to an Oculus Rift VR headset and open up whole new vistas.
  4. Go outside. Choose a topic to learn about this year – the shore, hedgerows, birds – and take your smartphone with you. There are lots of apps especially created for the outdoors, so remember – there’s no need to log off if you don’t want to.
  5. And finally, read my book, of course! Try the first few pages …

Wishing you all the best for the coming year

Sue Thomas

Nature, nerds, and technobiophilic maps

A High Peak panorama between Hayfield and Chinley.
A High Peak panorama between Hayfield and Chinley.

When I was in my twenties I regularly went walking in the Derbyshire Peak District with several friends who were keen on the outdoors. I, in contrast, was very inexperienced and went along for the company rather than the exercise, so it usually Ordnance Survey ‐ Explorer OL24 Scale 1:25 000 Map of The Peak District - White Peak Areawasn’t long before I would become a little grumpy about the pace and distance. Sorry guys. But I did love the picnics because that was when we actually sat down for a while and those meals always tasted wonderful outdoors. I still remember the mushroom and potato curry, cooked the night beforehand, packed in tupperware and then carried in a rucksack for miles before being heated up over a small stove and eaten atop some remote sheepy moorland. Some of the best meals I’ve had.

My companions were also very keen on map-reading. I, however, thought of maps as a massive distraction from the business end of walking which involved feeling the sun warm your pallid city skin, breathing cold clean air,  and treading resolutely across springy turf in sturdy boots. I seldom joined in when maps were being consulted and had no understanding of the obscure ‘legend’ information contained therein.  I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t care. I just liked being out. (Of course it goes without saying that without the map-reading expertise of my friends I would inevitably have ended up lost, cold, and miserable.)

Anyway, digital maps are a gift for map-phobics like me because they make life so much simpler, although of course following a GPS satnav is nothing at all like the rich experience of browsing an Ordnance Survey 1:25 000 Explorer where each 4 square centimetres contains all the details of 1 square kilometre of landscape.

Wifi in Parks

But that is just a preamble to the real point of this blog post, which is that the nice thing about technobiophilia is it brings all kinds of interesting people to my virtual front door and this week it brought queries from Sheffield Hale, a map-maker and resident of the city of San Francisco. Sheffield created the SF Nature Mapping Project and he’s also a member of the wonderfully-titled Nerds for Nature group, whose aim is to bring together “people with a passion for technology and the environment to understand, protect, and explore the natural world”.  Sounds pretty technobiophilic to me.

Sheffield’s Nature Mapping Project uses new technologies to connect people to nature. It’s early days yet and his work is ongoing but so far he’s produced a map of stargazing events in and around San Francisco; a map of some of the best places for children and tourists to experience nature in San Francisco, including where to bike in parks,  see wildlife, and enjoy local wild lands, and a map of parks in the area where wifi is available. He’s also just added a new section inspired by technobiophilia called 24/7 . It’s a place to share ideas on how to make screen time healthier and more enjoyable. If you have suggestions for apps or techniques please do send them along here.

And let me know if you’re running an initiative like this in your local area. Perhaps eventually we can build a map of technobiophilic maps.

One of the parks on the wifi map: Alta Plaza Park by djsamuelson