Sunday, 7 January 2007

The Digital Wild

In The Vital Machine, scientist-historian David Channell says, 'One of the most important issues facing us as we move toward the twenty-first century is a new relationship between technology and organic life.' Pointing to medical procedures and engineering technologies that extend life and make survival possible, he argues that the boundaries between the natural and artificial have become less clear. This ambiguity - which he calls 'liminality'- between humans and machines brings discomfort to humans, and for that reason he argues that we need to engage in a reexamination of the relationship between humans and technology so that we can 'intelligently and responsibly deal with [the new technical developments]' (3-4).
The dichotomy of machine and organic suggested in Channell's argument is interesting when we consider that a driving force underlying much of what we humans do is a need to set ourselves apart, not only from the artificial but also from other organic life. As far back as Aristotle, we have classified, categorized, and codified organic life, arriving at the idea that what sets us apart from other life forms is that we 'liv[e] by art and reasonings' (Metaphysica 980b 26-7).
So, in a sense what this special issue, 'Wild Nature and the Digital Life' is meant to do is to refine Channell's call for reexamination by stepping back from distinctions of humanity and technology and looking instead at the liminal spaces between nature and humanity mediated as both are (or can be) through computer technologies.
Perhaps by doing so we will come to understand that that technology is not a category of objects that exist outside of humanity but within it. The essays, art, and ideas that Sue and I have put together for this issue tell us that a more productive response to new technical developments may be one that does not focus on distinctions between the natural and the artificial but rather one that articulates what humanity gains and loses when the natural and artificial come together. Is it not the unknown, the lack of understanding of their relationship, that makes either (and both together) "wild"?
Dene Grigar

"In Wildness is the preservation of the World."
Henry David Thoreau
In the introduction to the "Wild Nature and the Digital Life" Special Issue of the LEA, Dene Grigar asks: "How are humans reinventing 'the wild' digitally? What is the relationship between humans and wild nature, and has it changed with the advent of computer technology?"
The terms "wild", "wildness", and "wilderness" have undergone quite a few transformations -- from a designation of the beastly and savage to the sublime antithesis of "culture" to the rare and endangered spaces that need to be preserved. But in all cases, the "wild" has represented an instance that was opposed to civilization and the problems of humanity - a form of uncontaminated purity.

Both last two LEA's look very relevant to me.
New Media Poetics

and the November issue - Digital Wild

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