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Digitalization brings us closer to nature


Digitalization can be an aid and a way of entertaining - but also changes the way we see the nature around us, suggests Dolly Jørgensen, historian of environmental technology at the University of Luleå.

During the conference Digital Humanities in the Nordic countries, she spoke about the new nature that humans create in our era - the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene is a much-debated concept and it is not yet clear when it actually started.
– When did humans become a geological force? Jørgensen asked rhetorically.
She suggests that not only moving cows and crops around the planet, as well as the use of fossil fuels is the cause of this condition. Nuclear disasters have changed the composition of animals and humans in certain areas, such as Fukushima, where there is a radioactive boar invasion and the boars eat radioactive material.
– This is the new natures that we are creating. And the new natures are happening at the same time as the rise of the digital, said Jørgensen.

Fascination for aquariums

Dolly Jørgensen suggests that the human epoch can only be understood by including the digital. Instead of thinking what we can do with the digital we have to think what the humanities can offer to the digital. How we see nature, how we know what nature is and the augmenting of nature.
– Digital technology changes the way that humans see nature, said Jørgensen.
She brought up the case of aquariums. When they arose in the mid 1800’s, they became a way for people to see something that they could not otherwise see – life and ecosystems under water. With cameras and the Internet it is now possible to watch this life under water without leaving your home.
– In the early 90’s with Internet, one of the first things people started to put on the web was aquariums. Today, we don’t have to go to the aquariums. The digital allowed us to see something else under water.

A new way to look at nature

Today we have databases where different species are charted with information down to an individual level. There are animal tracker apps showing where animals that are geotagged are located at the moment.
– We are seeing amove to citizen science. You record your findings, upload them and discuss them in a community. It’s changing what we know about nature.
At the Smithsonian museum there is a skin and bone app, so that even if only skeletons remain you can see what the stellar sea cow looked like even if they are extinct.

This new technology is not only a way to educate and entertain us, but can also be crucial for our survival.
– We are replacing natural processes like bee drones. If pesticides kill all bees, we need them, and we will teach them to recognize flowers in order to pollinate them, said Jørgensen.

The digital shapes and reshapes both culture and environment. But what can humanities offer?
– A critical analysis of the historical development of the new digitally-enabled mediated natures in the Anthropocene. Examinations of the role of these new natures in art and literature, and position these new natures within philosophical and religious thought. We need to rethink what it means to be human and what it means to be natural.

The conference Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries was arranged by the Centre for Digital Humanities and gathered almost 200 participants from around the world. 

Read more: New possibilities with digitalization on the agenda