Tag Archives: technobiophilia

Over and over again, cyberspace brings us back to the physical (Free Access)

So here we are, poised at a moment of crucial tension. Do we embrace cyberspace as part of the natural world, with all of its opportunities and flaws, or do we keep it at arm’s length, as an unnatural guilty pleasure we should not really enjoy?

I’m writing my first novel for twenty years. It’s new, but it’s also the culmination of all my previous books, fiction and nonfiction. So much so, in fact, that the brief final chapter of my 2013 ‘Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace’ might even turn into the introductory chapter of whatever this new book will be called.

So to bring myself up to speed, I’m sharing that last chapter at Medium. Writers often share the first chapter of a book but they rarely give away the ending. In this case, however, the ending is turning out to be the beginning of something else. So here it is. Am I on the right track? I welcome your comments. If you like it, please give me a clap or two. It all helps! Thank you.

Go to Medium to read Over and over again, cyberspace brings us back to the physical

Important note about Medium: Medium now has a paywall but they permit writers to give free access to friends. This link will allow you to read my piece even if you’ve used up your monthly allowance.

Pay less for ‘Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age’

“We need more nature, not less technology.”

My 2017 book ‘Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age’ is one year old this month and I’m marking its first birthday with a permanent price reduction.

  • Find out how our smartphones, tablets and computers connect us to the natural world.
  • Learn 50 ways to bring your own digital life closer to nature.
  • This book is not about giving up technology, it’s about opening up your life.

New prices

USA Paperback now $8.99 (was $10.99) Kindle now $4.00 (was $4.99) See at Amazon USA
UK Paperback now £6.40 (was £8.43) Kindle now £2.84 (was £3.81)* See at Amazon UK

Readers gave it 5 stars. This is what they said:

“New ideas about how we manage a healthy wired life which don’t involve turning off our devices. I like the range of suggested ways to stay connected with nature as well as the Internet. This book enables me to feel good about making the most of the technological advances which offer us different opportunities to live life to the full.”

“I have always had a deep connection to nature. I don’t need to worry about how much nature I experience. I walk a lot. I run usually in lovely countryside. Yet having finished this book there are things I am going to change in my work environment. As a writer I need to glue backside to seat for many hours. Having just finished writing a book myself my eyes hurt from the screen time and I had to immerse myself in nature for a bit before I could even begin to tackle all that online marketing… blog posts, tweets, articles for magazines etc that books entail. I thought I would never write another book again! I think a few small changes to my writing space and I will be onto the next book. Thank you Sue Thomas. I will be recommending this to some worried parents too.”

“Virtual or natural worlds? Both please! This book is a great reminder to explore the fusion between our virtual and natural worlds. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. The book is full of great tips and activities for taking care of ourselves online and offline.”

“Really thought provoking. As someone who loves my digital life, it’s great to be told that I don’t need to feel guilty about that! I like the useful tips on how to create a better connection with my natural environment.”

“Humans are addicted to apps & devices engineered to attract & distract our attention, but we also are soothed by nature. We’re all conflicted about the amount of time we spend online, looking at our phones, and most people I know are increasingly ambivalent. So much of the critical writing about this dilemma is about weaning yourself, logging off. I like Thomas’ book because it strives for a middle ground — how to appreciate the natural world as a kind of antidote to the techno-trance.”

Feel better without logging off

*UK prices may vary because they are generated by Amazon from US prices

RIP John Perry Barlow. The rancher who made cyberspace his territory.

John Perry Barlow has died, age 70. When I was writing Technobiophilia I often referred to his ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’, written in 1996. Mentions of his contribution to the development of the idea of ‘cyberspace’ are scattered throughout the book, but here’s an excerpt about the way it became a foundational narrative not just for the internet, but for the United States. It’s followed by the 1996 Declaration in its entirety.

Have we created ‘a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace’? Your thoughts are welcome.

Cyberspace as a foundational narrative

‘Cyberspace did not appear … from nowhere,’ wrote the London-based Islamic scholar Ziauddin Sardar in 1995. It was ’the conscious reflection of the deepest desires, aspirations, experiential yearning and spiritual angst of Western man’. He saw it as ‘the American Dream writ large’, marking the dawn of a new ‘American civilisation’.

It was also a reflection of the need for a foundational story with which to understand the new world of the internet. Historian David Nye explains that in the early days of colonisation there were no technological creation stories, but after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 the former colonies began to re-imagine themselves as a self-created community and it was then that technology became an important part of the national narrative. Two hundred years later when the frontier re-opened in the form of cyberspace, that foundational narrative would weave itself back in and battles over territory were inevitable.

One of those leading the way was John Perry Barlow, born in Sublette County, a former fur-trading community in a sparsely-populated area of Wyoming, who later became a California adoptee. He might be the only countercultural internet pioneer who was also a cattle rancher, a career he combined with writing lyrics for The Grateful Dead and being an advocate for internet freedom through the Electronic Frontier Foundation. No one, writes Andrew Kirk, better captures the world of hybrid politics, technophilia, environmentalism and western regionalism than Barlow. He was also responsible for coining the term ‘electronic frontier’ and for being the first person to migrate the term ‘cyberspace’ from Gibson’s cyberpunk writings and apply it to virtual space. ‘Imagine discovering a continent so vast that it may have no end to its dimensions’, he wrote ‘Imagine a new world with more resources than all our future greed might exhaust, more opportunities than there will ever be entrepreneurs enough to exploit, and a peculiar kind of real estate that expands with development.’ Cyberspace, in its present condition, he believed, ‘has a lot in common with the 19th Century West. It is vast, unmapped, culturally and legally ambiguous, verbally terse (unless you happen to be a court stenographer), hard to get around in, and up for grabs. Large institutions already claim to own the place, but most of the actual natives are solitary and independent, sometimes to the point of sociopathy. It is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for both outlaws and new ideas about liberty.’

Passionately protective of this new territory, he was infuriated by the 1996 Communications Decency Act which embodied a first attempt to regulate pornographic material on the internet. Emailing from a fastness somewhere in Switzerland, he dashed off the lengthy ‘Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ which seized the opportunity to declare the freedoms which seemed to be ‘natural’ to the internet. ‘Our identities have no bodies,’ he wrote, ‘so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge’. And ‘We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth’, a world where ‘anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity’. Most importantly, Barlow stressed what many at the time saw as the trump card of life in cyberspace: ‘Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.’

From Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace, Sue Thomas, Bloomsbury, 2013. See book for references.

Continue reading RIP John Perry Barlow. The rancher who made cyberspace his territory.