The term “techno-naturalist” was coined by Richard Louv in his book The Nature Principle. The term refers to using technology to help us connect with nature and spend time outside. Louv argues that many wrongly perceive technology as the antithesis of nature. However, baby boomers used toy hunting weapons and fishing rods to enter the woods. In contrast, newer generations use modern gadgets such as portable electronic microscopes to engage in enhanced visual experiences with nature. Both weaponry and microscopes are technology elements from different times; technology offers tools to connect with nature. I love that Louv, a baby boomer himself, captured and shared this perspective in his book.
Louv’s perspective is unique to a generation who had early experiences with nature and therefore valued the significance of the natural world beyond what any other generation could. Newer generations are growing up entirely deprived of these experiences. This is creating a sense of hopelessness as we lean on them to protect an environment that needs care urgently combined the mental and spiritual distress of its habitants who suffer because of it.
“We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. And touch. And hear.” Richard Louv
As Xennials1, we have a unique perspective too. The perspective of what I call a techno-naturalist by birth. Our point of view is particularly valuable as we explore ways of renewing the relationship between humans and nature. Many of us had a childhood with a substantial dose of nature, spending our summers in the countryside, on wheels, by foot, surrounded by farm animals and creeks– or at least absent of technology, and now can adulthood in the fast digital era. As a Xennial myself, I have experienced the wonders and the challenges of interacting with both worlds as I left behind my wooden construction sticks and uninterrupted attention to step into the virtual age with my tech gadgets and obsession with efficiency. As a scientist and engineer, I have used my professional toolset to accelerate medical research and improve industrial processes while witnessing our failure to tackle the underlying issues that affect our wellbeing. As a parent, I vigorously strive to foster my children with a healthy balance in interacting with these worlds– a task that has often proven thorny with the various pressures from modern society.
Like Louv, I see technology as a mighty path, a common language, that can help us build a bridge between two worlds that are different that can integrate as one. By repurposing the same design principles used to construct habit-forming technology that has successfully glued an entire generation of eyeballs to a mobile screen, we can relearn the habit of interacting with nature while caring for it. For us to be successful, such technological solutions ought to be transparent; they will help reestablish the bond between humans and nature without dominating the relationship. In Louv’s own words, “the worth of any nature-oriented gateway gadget should be related to how long it takes the person to put down the gadget.” We subscribe to this line of thinking and pledge to promote direct interaction between humans and indoor plants, regaining attention to our natural environment instead of incoherent streams of information from technology.
1 Xennials are the micro-generation of people on the cusp of the Generation X and Millennial demographic cohorts. (Wikipedia)
2 Baby Boomers are the largest generational group in the US born between the World War II and the mid 1960s. (Wikipedia