Can ecological technologies exist? Can it be used to interface with the other-than-human? And who is technology really for? These are the questions which arose during advaya’s monthly study club, the theme centreing on technology. When I began writing, I felt pulled — naturally — by the challenges of living in a technological world. Was it a clear-cut good and bad scenario, or was it more complex? I was sure that technology would always result in a negative impact when considered in relation to ecology and connectivity. However, through writing this I have come out with a softer view on technology and how it can be utilised to support our relationships with the other-than-human on this earth. In Advaya’s study club, we explored this push and pull between living a life in relationship with technology, and one where we heed its ability to foster disconnection and domination.
My initial understanding and view of technology was higly interwoven with the understanding of it being part of the attention economy; where our attention, whether on Instagram, Tiktok, Facebook, is valued more that human, face-to-face interaction. As Jenny Odell wrote in her book, How To Do Nothing, “In a world where our value is determined by our productivity, many of us find our every last minute captured, optimized, or appropriated as a financial resource by the technologies we use daily.” Technology has become a means to monetize anything and everything. Large conglomorates are fighting for our attention; and we are fighting for each others attention. The role of technology is influencing the way we participate in the world; in this case, mirroring technology by constantly reaching for optimisation.
However during the call, we also explored kinship and our capacity to welcome technology into our circles of kin; or to use technology as a means to interface with the other-than-human. The dominant paradigm which pervades is humans sit at the top of the hierarchy. As creators of technology (as we know it, computers, phones, AI, etc), this can be used to weild power over others, ourselves, and other-than-human.
But what if we used technology as co-conspiritors to dismantle the dominant hierarchy?
What if we expanded our kinship circles beyond just what we know (humans beings), to other-than-human, such as the ecological world? This brings to mind the technology which is used to record the sounds of plants to make music; or technological breakthroughs which allow us to understand the natural world in new ways, such as underwater camera’s which capture life in the depths of the ocean. Here we have examples of technology helping us realise the potential of the ecological world, while offering us a doorway into understanding and participating in this world.
Yet the use of technology for the means of relating to and understanding the natural world is not something which we necessarily need technology for, as David Abram shared in his essay, Magic and the Machine, “But is it not apparent that this whole huge trend, ostensibly motivated by the aim for ever-greater convenience and efficiency, is tacitly driven by an impulse to recreate, somehow, the animistic experience common to virtually all of our indigenous ancestors—the experience of living in a fully sentient world, a reality filled with intelligence?” Technology, according to Abram, is simply an extention of our own nervous system; we are ultimately severing ourselves from the rest of the world, living inside our phones, computers, TV’s, where “we enter into a bizarre kind of intraspecies incest." Rather than simply going out into the world, and experiencing this animism for ourselves, we are creating a barrier, a second nervous system beyond our own to experience it for us.
When we think of technology, or the internet, it mirrors our own organic world. Like mycellial networks that connect the wood-wide web, the internet connects us to the world-wide web. It would seem technology is merely acting as a reflection of an animate world which already exists. This form of ecological technology, which was once known and intuited by our ancestors in the natural world, is now being replaced by technology.
We have stepped over the threshold into this complex network of data, algorythms and pixels; it has become hard to imagine a world without it. So it becomes a question of can we use technology as a force for good? I believe we can. When in the right hands, we can create movements, share stories, welcome discussions, and learn about the world beyond just our human experience. However, there is also a side of technology which is used to perpetuate hierachies and domination. By the end of our call, the questions that were left percolationg were: who is technology for, and who is influencing how it is used?
Ultimately, this can only come down to us. What and how we choose to use technology is in our hands. Intentionality is key; and remembering what was here before technology, when engaging with the animate world was intuitive and first-hand. Technology is with us, but the questions of by who and for whom should be guiding us towards a world where technology does not dictate, but supports our connection to kin and other-than-human.