Technobiophilia ?

WindowviewcroppedThe term ‘biophilia’ was coined by biologist Edward O Wilson, who believes that human beings constantly and often subconsciously seek connections with other living entities. He first conceived his hypothesis in 1961 during a field trip to Surinam, but it was twenty years before he finally published his thoughts in a book of the same name. He defines biophilia as 'the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes' [1]  and sees evidence of the biophilic tendency everywhere, from childhood fantasy to repetitive patterns of culture across most or all societies. In his view, such examples are 'too consistent to be dismissed as the result of purely historical events working on a mental blank slate' and he even suggests that they may 'appear to be part of the programme of the brain' [2]. There have been numerous studies of the biophilic tendency, and research in hospitals, prisons, workplaces and schools has produced remarkable data to show that many human beings undergo transformative experiences not only from being outside in nature, but even from simply viewing it through windows and on screens.

In 2005 I set out to follow a hunch that cyberspace is permeated with the language of nature. Six years later my notebooks are groaning with proof that I was right, but until very recently I still couldn't explain why we do this. However, I now suspect that the biophilia hypothesis might hold the key. Furthermore, as my forthcoming book will show, cyberspace is as drenched in biophilia as any other human environment, and that leads me to tentatively propose a new term built on Wilson's original theory. I call it technobiophilia, 'the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes as they appear in technology'. It's a somewhat clunky word and perhaps rather too stylised for its own good. I may yet change my mind about using it, but for the moment I'm offering it up as a way of getting to grips with the phenomena I'm working hard to understand. And time is pressing – the manuscript is due very soon….

I'll be talking about this for the first time at the Institute for the Future, Palo Alto, in January 2012. More information to follow.

PS: Lately the term 'biophilia' has been popularised by Bjork's new album/app of that name, and indeed there are certainly strains of technobiophilia to be found there too.

[1] Wilson, E.O. (1984) Biophilia, Cambridge: Harvard University Press p1. [2] ibid p85.


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