Technological Nature- What is it and what does it mean? | eePRO @ NAAEE

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Technological Nature- What is it and what does it mean?

Though this book may be dated 2011 (what seems like forever ago), I recently came across the concept and subsequent book title labeled: "Technological Nature: Adaptation and the Future of Human Life." Author, Peter Kahn, defines technological nature as "—technologies that in various ways mediate, augment, or simulate the natural world." He has done extensive research in this field related to the physiological and psychological effects of replacing nature experiences with technological nature. Several articles have been posted relating to this theme that reflect examples of technological nature, but I must admit, I didn't' realize it had a name!

If you haven't discovered them yet, check out the research article and book in the links below. I highly recommend both reads, but especially the journal article.

If you have heard of technological nature, tell me more! Have you read the book? How are you applying it, if at all, to the work you do in environmental education? How can we be strategic as an industry about how we engage the next generation of environmental leaders and thinkers who are growing up with perhaps greater exposure to technological nature? How does this viewpoint shape our collective view of nature? These are just a few of the many questions circling in my mind on this topic, but please feel free to share your own.

I have never read this book but after reading your post I plan on adding this book to my list of books to read! Technological nature is a concept that I really have never thought about before but I think its important to address.

Since I am an educator in the state of Arizona I think using technology to learn about nature is valuable and necessary. There is a lot I can teach my students about the desert and there are several different things we can learn from the environment my students live in. However, there are some natural places my students may never see. Take the ocean for example. My students are low income and rarely take family trips, so very few of them have had the opportunity to visit the beach/ocean. But technology gives me the chance to allow my students to still experience in the ocean by going on virtual field trips, looking at photos/videos, or using different apps. This being said we still have to be strategic as educators and not rely solely on the technology to do the teaching for us. I think using technology is very necessary, especially with this generation of kids, but it definitely has both positives and negatives which we have to be aware of.


I have not heard the phrase "technological nature" until reading this post. However, now that I know what it is, I can see its influences. I believe that technological nature can be a great teaching tool, but it should not replace nature. In the article you linked to, "The Human Relation With Nature and Technological Nature", it was said that technological nature "appears better than no nature but not as good as actual nature". I agree with this. I want people, especially children, to experience real nature. I understand that this is not realistic in all circumstances, making technological nature a useful tool. Humans do crave a connection with nature through our art, recreation, livelihoods, and food. There are many ways we can use technology to our benefit to expose children to nature and nature concepts to mitigate the loss or unavailability of nature.

Nature documentaries that help us see natural landscapes and living things that are not in our cities or local ecosystems is an amazing way for kids to learn about our world. I also enjoy different phone and tablet apps that can connect children to the nature in their city. Star map apps, bird identification apps, even pokemon go. These apps have the power to get kids outside and see the nature that exists around them. It is better than nothing. I hope that planting these small seeds has the power for them to grow into other experiences and interests to be in actual nature when the means and availability are there.

I agree with the article that humans adapt to the loss of nature. Landscape amnesia/environmental generational amnesia are natural processes themselves as humans continue to manicure the earth in an anthropocentric way. Teaching children and current generations biocentric ideas with or without technology will be of benefit. More and more the small computers that we carry in our hands, as cell phones, I hope can connect us to actual nature as well as technological nature. The availability of technology for kids to use today is amazing. When I was in fourth grade I made stop motion movies with a camcorder and vhs tapes. For me to have to access to an iphone that could take time lapse videos everything else it can do... I think that would have a great asset for me then. I think we need to encourage kids to be out in nature in ways that use technology positively so they will want to do more of it on their own. I would like to see an Augmented Reality (AR) app for phones that shows your what the landscape used to look like and what it could look like if it were protected or polluted.

Rachael, I think that's an excellent point! We as educators have a challenge between balancing use of technology as a tool, when appropriate, with time spent immersed in hands-on exploration. I'm not sure what age you teach, but perhaps you may be interested in these examples that blend use of technology as a tool to connect with nature.

Amber, I appreciate sharing your thinking on the role of technology and its impacts on our societal connection to nature. The article you attached from ABC News highlights an important finding on the concept of "environmental generational amnesia" and the fact that humans remember and pass down the environment they are surrounded, so passing down an environment that is better than the one they received may be a difficult mental model to shift. To that, I share your optimism toward planting the seeds that may work to reverse the amnesia effect and create for a next generation that is aware of and responsive to the place-based needs of their local geography.

In addition, I wanted to specifically comment on your idea for an Augmented Reality experience that shows what a place used to look like and what it could look like in the future if shaped negatively or positively by human behaviors. This may not be exactly what you are envisioning, but locally here in Milwaukee, a group called Reflo is in the process of developing a place-based role-playing game that works in conjunction with an AR waterscape sand table and a water stories GIS map to show how the city has changed in past, present, and where its headed for a positive future. The game should be completed by end of summer. If you'd like to stay tuned, I've included a link below to their blog here.

This is a very interesting topic, Carly. Thank you for sharing and thank you all for opening up the discussion. I have not read the book, but I have come across the terms and phenomena associated: biophilia, environmental generational amnesia, shifting baseline. It seems the discussion has expanded to also include in particular how EE may go about implementing technology in the teaching toolbox. I think I echo others here in believing that the “baseline” should be real experiences in nature which are then complemented or supplemented by technology. One example in my experience was introducing 6th graders to GPS technology in the context of wildlife tracking. We utilized hand held GPS devices to document coordinates and store data when we found signs of wildlife out in the field. Another component of this lesson was a discussion surrounding Habimap, a cool tool for AZ educators, and the importance of data collection (Habimap link:

Still, the basis for the learning experience was hands-on time spent in nature. So in regards to the broader issue, I cannot help but think that technological nature as a sole source would surely be a detriment to society and would only widen the disconnect with the natural world that I believe so many are already feeling, whether conscious of it or not. I agree with others that nature documentaries, virtual field trips, etc offer exciting discovery opportunities from afar. But again, as a stand-alone source, these experiences may run the risk of creating a sort of “otherness” perception of nature, something that exists completely beyond the human situation or perhaps something that exists solely for entertainment. It is important that the studies here suggest that experiencing one kind of technological nature may be better than experiencing no nature at all, but that ultimately technological nature is not a full-on substitute for a truly natural relationship with the natural world.

A strictly dichotomous view would be wholly unproductive. A goal of environmental education for children is to inspire and motivate future stewards and engaged citizens ready to take responsibility for creating a more sustainable world. It is my hope that students who have a positive learning experiences in nature may be the future wildlife biologists, geologists, ecologists, etc that we need. In such positions certain forms of technology already play a vital role, and one could argue that the effectiveness of research will rely heavily upon the utilization and leveraging of ongoing technological developments. All this to say that within the realm of environmental education the use of technology to complement or augment a learning experience in nature is desirable. Again, to echo what others have said, the place for technology is to build upon experiences in nature and supplement learning. It is a bonus rather than a substitute.

Nick, thank you for sharing your thinking on this topic. I absolutely agree the two (nature and technology) are not mutually exclusive but instead, are dependent on one another. Our organization hosts a STEM into Nature Event that aims to expose students from all backgrounds career options that bridge STEM fields and the environment. I agree with your statement that this will be a critically important set of skills for our next generation stewards. Please let me know if this event jogs your memory of others that we ought to be familiar with.