Tag Archives: nature

10 Words Technology Borrowed from Nature, Orion Magazine

Art by Peter McFarlane
Art by Peter McFarlane

Excerpt from my new piece in Orion Magazine, September/October 2015

10 Words Technology Borrowed from Nature

1. Ecosystem. The internet is often described as an ecosystem (or a sky, or a park, or a jungle), and many of its parts are named after the natural world. “Cyberspace,” says the technology historian Fred Turner, “is a frantic mingling of biological, digital, and frontier metaphors.”

2. Tree. Inside every computer, smartphone, and server is a floating forest of branching directories, all sprouting from a deeply buried “root” folder. Open one and you’ll find it connected to many others, like a leaf atop a twig that’s attached, eventually, to a trunk.

3. Spider. One of the first search engines was named after Lycosa kochii, or the wolf spider. Called Lycos, the system was designed to imitate the spider’s habit of catching its prey by relentless pursuit.

Read the rest and add your comments

Apple’s Yosemite demonstrates the technobiophilic sublime

Yosemite (maclife.com)

According to writer and environmentalist Wallace Stegner, wilderness is both ‘an opportunity and an idea’.[1]

With the release of OS X 10.10 Yosemite, Apple adopts one of the most famous wilderness areas in the United States, the gloriously wild Yosemite National Park, as a totem of its own ideology. And it’s no coincidence that the stunning mountain images which accompany it engender a sense of deep awe.

Apple is deliberately connecting us with the technobiophilic sublime.

As I wrote last year in ‘Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace’, the vastness of the internet, both visible and invisible, can trigger a powerful sense of the sublime. I described how technology historian David Nye explained that eighteenth century philosopher Edmund Burke  ‘established an absolute contrast between the beautiful, which inspired feelings of tenderness and affection, and the sublime, which grew out of an ecstasy of terror that filled the mind completely’[2].

Before Burke, the notion of the sublime was connected with alchemy, but as the ideal of scientific objectivity grew into the foreground it came to be seen as part of the Enlightenment project of defining reason. And as the New World was opened up, the stunning raw landscapes of America seemed made for the expression of the sublime. Said Nye, ‘to experience the sublime was to awaken to a new vision of a changing universe.’

This changing universe, presumably, is the vision Apple wants us to buy into as we scale the dizzy heights of its own digital Yosemite, yet another new growth in the company’s much-vaunted ‘ecosystem’.

[1] Stegner, Wallace. Wilderness Letter, written to the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. 1969. http://wilderness.org/content/wilderness-letter
[2] Nye, David E. American Technological Sublime. Cambridge: MIT, 1994.

‘Another Ocean’, the internet and the sea in Orion Magazine

orionThis month I have a short essay, ‘Another Ocean’, in Orion, a long-established and beautifully-produced American magazine about nature and the environment. I’m very grateful to the editors for taking a chance on a piece about the internet and the sea because I realize that it’s a synergy which may not sit comfortably with some readers. I do hope they like it though.

Unfortunately ‘Another Ocean’ is in the paid-for section of the magazine but perhaps that’s a good opportunity to sign up for a free trial issue! I’ve been reading it for years and always enjoy the great writing and gorgeous images.