[ 24]. There are also mobile tools thatdraw on and reinforce the characterof the natural world. Meditation andsleep aids invoke nature scenes torelieve stress and induce relaxation:feeling the warm sand beneath yourfeet on a deserted beach, approachinga clearing in a forest and smellingdamp pine needles, entering anexotic garden with birds and flowers,listening to a babbling brook, andso on. But we soon awake from suchreveries. This is not nature as it reallyis, but rather nature as invented,idealized, perceived, and experiencedthrough countless filters in the form ofshared narratives and recollections.
Such devices, programs, andapps enable us to do things wecouldn’t do otherwise. This isundoubtedly their main value. Butthey also reveal something aboutourselves and the world we live in.
Smartphones obviously enable accessto masses of information and providecommunication over distance andwhile on the move. They also revealthat we are mobile creatures, placingemphasis on movement in ways manyof us never thought of before thetechnology went mainstream. Welike to watch, observe, and watchourselves and others watching andobserving. Such technologies showus what we human beings think isimportant: We are still nomads,after all; social media indicates thatsociability trumps utility; we’ll usewhatever means are at our disposal(e.g., social media) to identify with theright group or assert our individuality.For some, this involves identifyingstrongly with the natural world. It’snot easy to pin down such revelations.
What digital devices reveal about theworld depends on who is making theassessment, the context, and the time,and will vary over time. More thananything, the reflective use of digitaldevices outdoors reminds me of thecontingency of the natural world andour representations of it.
There are good reasons to stay
indoors : excessive UV from the sun,
bush fires, predators, perishing cold,
searing heat, getting lost, or drowning
in a flood. In fact, Homo sapiens is
happy to step outside when it’s safe
and sunny and retreat back into the
shelter when darkness falls or when
the weather gets unpleasant. For
the hunter and the hunted, the edge
provides cover. Species compete for
the advantages provided by the edge
condition, the threshold between
open space and enclosure. It’s the site
of biodiversity. I maintain that digital
devices are now complicit in defining,
modifying, and breaching the edge
condition between the strange and
the familiar, the unkempt wildness
of whatever it is that we define as
nature and the technologized world of
innovative consumer products such as
I’m grateful to Jenny Roe, PeterAspinall, and Catharine WardThompson for introducing me toresearch on the restorative benefits ofoutdoor spaces. This article has arisenas part of a collaborative project,“Mobility, Mood and Place” (EP/K037404/1), supported through theEPSRC/AHRC/SRC/MRC scheme“Design for well-being: Aging andmobility in the built environment.”
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Richard Coyne is a professor ofarchitectural computing in the School ofArchitecture and Landscape Architecture atthe University of Edinburgh. He has publishedextensively on philosophies of design anddigital media, most recently The Tuning ofPlace: Sociable Spaces and Pervasive DigitalMedia (MI T Press). He currently blogs at
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