We are usually being told how digital technology will change and impact us in the future. However, most of us are not asking ourselves what we want that technology to become. As it develops, digital technology more and more seems to literally have a mind of its own and it becomes increasingly important that we ask big questions about the ways we want to live with that technology. There is power in creating intentions for the future that most calls us: if we don’t know what we are shooting for, how will we know if we are heading in the right direction?
Last summer, we had an uneasy conversation about feeling like powerless victims facing digital “monsters’ looming on the horizon, threatening to alienate us even further from the kinds of environments, organisms, and intuitions that we find both deeply satisfying and that are evolutionarily most familiar to all humans. A world without digital tech seemed impossible. A world of increasing mechanization and the destruction of living systems seemed terrible. It was difficult to imagine futures that could be both possible and desirable.
Sitting in my (Carissa’s) backyard, eating blackberries and looking into the face an old cedar tree, we decided to take a position of greater agency and less isolation by imaginatively asking the “nature in ourselves” what tech future we/it most wants to see. The metaphoric answers we found after silence and inner journeying led to surprising insights for both of us. Most importantly: that the beautiful patterns we see in nature are more fundamental that any supposed nature-technology divide, that those patterns can inform digital technology design, and that we can all be active agents in building beautiful, digital futures in which we want to live.
The Digital Naturalness Project looks for ways that digital technology can contribute to increasing the depth and quality of life by mimicking deep patterns in nature. We start from the view that humans and all human-made technology are always-already part of nature and that there are ways we can design technology to feel even more natural. We pursue research, develop community, and train technologists and designers to investigate the value of a digital naturalness approach to technology design. After a period of quiet development, we are beginning to work publicly with biologists, technologists, designers, philosophers, wise elders, and technology users to undo our alienation from the natural world by building a more enchanted future in which nature is honored and deeply appreciated and technology helps us come more alive.
We will soon publish some of our early research and conversations and invite you to contribute.
What digital future do you most want to see?