From nature to natural

Does using your smart-phone to change the colour of painted walls sound bizarre? It may be, but it is already possible in principle. The idea comes from Next Nature, a Dutch organisation that looks at how technology and nature interact.

Koert van Mensvoort, Nextnature founder and initiator of the Nano-Supermarket, is fascinated by the difference between, or rather the integration of, nature and technology. Nature and technology were previously separate worlds. Nature, where developments by invisible forces were established, on the one hand; on the other, the technocratic world of man-made developments.

But this separation is becoming blurred, because we have more and more influence on those natural processes. During Material Xperience, Koert gave his views on the topic with recognisable, surprising and sometimes hilarious examples.

Some examples of integrated technological nature: we are able to generate energy from our own belly fat. Or include nanoparticles to change the taste of wine, giving you instant Shiraz, a spicy Barollo or a smooth Merlot. Or consider growing meat in-vitro. And why not: we already barely recognise the contents of our processed meat and sausage foods.

To make sense of what is happening, Koert developed a hierarchical system. His solution resembles Maslow´s pyramid of need. The ‘Pyramid of Technology’ was produced with the following questions in mind: “What is an ecosystem?”, “Can a tree growing over a river be architecture?”,  “Is a visualisation of the electronic highway a natural phenomenon?”.

Such questions led to his reshaping of the boundaries between the geosphere, biosphere and the technosphere. The distinction between things that are ‘born’ and ‘made’ are fusing’, as are ‘nature’ and ‘culture’; these two domains are shifting, too. ‘Born’ and ‘made’ can be thought of as: beyond control and controlled. For example, a volcano can’t be controlled, while a bonsai tree or a car can be. On the other hand, traffic jams and excess CO2 emissions can’t be controlled.

The Pyramid of Technology is as follows:

– Envisioned: the idea exists in the human mind, like living on the moon.

– Operational: working prototypes exist, like in vitro meat.

– Applied: available and affordable, like solar panels.

– Accepted: part of everyday life, like a car or mobile phone.

– Vital: almost impossible to live without, like a toilet or, nowadays, internet.

– Invisible: not experienced as technology, like clothing or the clock.

– Naturalised: an integral part of our environment, like cooking or the alphabet.

It is clear that there is no longer a strict separation between nature and technology. Both inspire, influence and shape each other. As a result, they are closely intertwined. The more technology evolves, the more knowledge we have. At the same time, our responsibility to deal with the consequences also grows.


Read the full presentation as a pdf here.