Can Virtual Goldfish Calm You Down?
Biophilia is the draw that most humans feel towards life. When we’re walking in a forest or watching the incoming waves on a beach, we feel relaxed and more happy.
Studies have shown that this connection with nature can also help calm us down in the face of potential stressful situations – like say a visit to the dentist office.
Now, author Sue Thomas is making the connection between our biophilia and our technology, noting that there are signs that our human mind doesn’t distinguish between the virtual and the real when it comes to receiving the health benefits of biophilia.
In other words, it seems that you can gain equal benefit from walking in a forest as from viewing an image of a forest or, as in my case, from watching virtual goldfish as opposed to real ones.
As you might hope, this piece gets into some interesting questions about what is or is not “nature”:
The other meaning [of nature] is much broader, taking the first and adding to it all the products of human action and intention. Snyder calls it the material world and all its collective objects and phenomena. ‘Science and some sorts of mysticism rightly propose that everything is natural,’ he writes. In this sense, ‘there is nothing unnatural about New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy, and nothing — by definition — that we do or experience in life is “unnatural”.’ That, of course, includes the products of technology.
Though there is a part of me that still cringes here, over the last few years, I’ve come increasingly to adopt this view of nature and technology – and even our organizational structures (but that’s another story).
Why? Because I come back to a question that Kevin Kelly asks in What Technology Wants, which is essentially, when it comes to accepting, or in this case defining, technology, where do you draw the line? The Amish seem to have drawn the line somewhere around the late 1800s (though as Kevin notes, even that isn’t quite true). All kinds of animals use tools, as did we, going back millions of years.
So where do you draw the line in terms of what is – and is not – natural?
And, to the point of this article, does it really matter if it makes you feel good? On this last question, I think it does matter. It matters because our traditional environment is a wondrous complexity, a living treasure. As we make way for new notions of nature, it should never, never undermine the sacredness of that which came before it.
This article is a good read.