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What is Next Nature?

With our attempts to cultivate nature, humankind causes the rising of a next nature, which is wild and unpredictable as ever. Wild systems, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us.

Steam Horse

Steam Horse

Surely, this steam horse illustrates the notion that new media (steam powered carriages in this case) often try to mimic an older medium in order to become accepted more easily. Yet over time, the older medium is superseded and transformed into a cultural relic (horse powered carriages in this case). Other examples of this principle are the electric candle light, electronic mail, and the record collection on your mp3-player.

Related: Your grand-grand-parents new media, Who wants to drive a fish?, Sexy Car, This way for survival.


  1. Note the bell on top of the horse’s head- this was a legal requirement in the USA for all steam locomotives running in the streets.

  2. Nice one for the biomicmarketing colllection.

    Is there a name for the process you describe? Should we invent one?

    Media Nostalgification?

  3. Perhaps these terms are lacking the meaning of “progress”… But I could live with “Nostalgification”.

  4. The name you are looking for is “Skeumorphism”

  5. Arnoud van den Heuvel

    “A skeumorphism is an element of an artifact not essential to the current design and materials, but necessary for a previous incarnation to function at all. The innovator reproduces earlier forms by default even when they don’t need to.”
    Thanks Kris De Decker!

  6. Thanks Kris, for posting the term skeumorphism. I had never heard of it before, but it is quite appropriate! Always good to learn.

    Apparently skeumorphisms may also be deliberately employed to make the new look comfortably old and familiar: a rhetorics of renewal.

  7. About the examples of ‘skeuomorphism’ …

    (please, you guys have all mis-spelled the word … in multiple discussions!!! – don’t forget the letter ‘o’ behind the ‘skeu’)

    Koert, I think the time has arrived to wake up!

    Maybe it’s time to describe also some examples of … ‘FAKE NEXT NATURE’!???

    If you think that this could be usefull, I would propose that the 2 examples of ‘skeuomorphisms’ which have been NOTICED at nextnature.net so far (I think the ‘steam horse’ & ‘ufo drums’ are the only topics labeled by you guys as examples of ‘skeuomorphism’) … could actually be described as examples of: “FAKE NEXT NATURE”!???

    For example, if the ‘steam horse’ is accepted as an example of NEXT NATURE … the implication appears to be that I could also propose in this perspective that any car could be described as a ‘next nature’ variant from the human leg!???

    Do you really want to go into that direction? And would you describe that as a ‘sensible thought’??? (I don’t think so!)

    Actually, I also think all examples of NEXT NATURE should include a ‘mind-lifting aspect’.

    For example, the car-proposal I just described … doesn’t have this ‘mind-lifting aspect’. I hope we can agree on that?

    Just in case you would accept my car-example, then on the other side of that coin, I would prefer to write: “please, don’t forget … that cars don’t really relate to nature!!”

    Hmmm … quite a lot words. (But I think my point is actually quite simple!)

    Thanks for all your efforts so far!!


    Just a few more thoughts…

    PS. 1: I am writing so many words on this example of ‘skeuomorphism’ because … I noticed likewise problems in many other topics posted at this blog/forum.

    For example: the latest topic:

    Do you guys recognize that Arnoud’s latest post about “Robot hand meets Sushi” … is also just another example of ‘skeuomorphism’!???

    What’s the difference with those robots at fairs (kermissen) where you can try to ‘grip’ a cheap ‘golden watch’ for just 1 euro!???

    PS. 2: Koert, if you start working on presenting a ‘next nature 2.0′ re-start (you know that I am waiting for quite a long time to see some new NEXT NATURE definitons) … I hope you will not forget to the include the word ‘skeuomorphism’.

    PS.3: Arnoud … thank you for introducing the word ‘skeuomorphism’!

    You should know that in the past months I have presented Koert quite a few questions related to the definition of the concepts behind NEXT NATURE.

    Merely because I think and feel that quite a few topics at this blog are hardly related to the definition of the concept NEXT NATURE (as described in the FAQ of this blog) … and sometimes not related to any form of NATURE at all…l!


  8. Oops … sorry: it was Kris who actually introduced the word ‘skeuomorphism’!

  9. Thanks for the comments Martijn,

    The core interest of this project is to investigate the nature caused by people. More generally, we are also interested in exploring our changing relation with nature and its effects on our everyday lives.

    I do agree that quite a lot of posts on the blog are on the border of the topic (to say the least) and we need to be sharp on this or otherwise the theme will vaporize (surely not something I am interested in).

    On the other hand I do cherish the bloggy character of the site and the informal research we are conducting via a stream of often anecdotal observations. Besides a substantial amount of crap, it also leads to more general insights over time. Yet, I fully understand this may not be very visible to the readers and we should do think of ways to improve this.

  10. Hi Koert,
    Thanks for your quick response, and it makes sense to me.
    But, I hope you don’t mind that I would like to ask 2 additional questions in line with what I described earlier?
    (Just to get a more detailed picture of the concepts you have in mind):
    1 – How do you value my example: that ‘any car can be described as the NEXT NATURE variant of the human pair of legs?’
    2 – Could you describe one example of ‘skeuomorphism’ that – from your point of view – should be recognized as an example of NEXT NATURE?
    I hope that you will be able to describe examples that are truely related to ‘nature’; for from my point of view so many topics on this blog are by fact not related to nature at all… including the example of the ‘steam horse’.
    Hhmmm… sorry Koert :-) … I have a third question:
    3 – At wikipedia the word ‘nature’ is described as having 2 philosophical aspects; what do you think – does the concept NEXT NATURE relates to both aspects?
    (If you answer is a ‘yes’, maybe that would also be an usefull issue to describe when talking about these your ‘pet’)
    PS. This is the wikipedia page about the word ‘nature’ (describing 2 philosophical aspects): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_(philosophy).

  11. Martijn van Mensvoort

    One more thought (after re-reading your FAQ):
    If a ‘plastic flower’ is not considered as NEXT NATURE … should a ‘plastic’ horse be described as NEXT NATURE?
    By the way, for your info:
    This source below reports that the ‘steam horse’ was likely only an idea, and it appears that it has never entered the streets. Can an idea be an example of NEXT NATURE?
    So, I think these are 2 others aspects that support the thought that the ‘steam horse’ could be used as a perfect example of: “FAKE NEXT NATURE” …!?

  12. Hello Martijn,
    Thanks for commenting so thoroughly. Appreciate the effort and it helps reflecting on the why of the NextNature discussion.
    The way I have tried to use this blog, is to investigate the changes caused by both humanity, its culture and what we speak of as “old” nature, to gain a broader perspective on how human culture and old nature relate and react upon their mutual presence. Let’s call it the interaction between “the born” and “the made”.
    Hereby I’d like to take distance of the presumption that all we are doing is finding (cool) examples that relate to the subject. I agree that there must be a mind-lifting aspect to everything we post on the blog, otherwise we wouldn’t have to call it informative and/or research. But small examples are definately needed to describe and discuss bigger issues.

    Let me explore that a bit with your example of the car as a substitute for legs or horse. Of course the fact that the car functions as a substitute for something else is by far interesting, let alone mind-lifting. But as the car has become so integrated in our way of living, it has become part of our present nature: The highways we construct, the parking spaces we build, the gasoline production we have become addicted to, the navigation through handheld-devices, yes even social behaviour has changed because of the car. You see, at this point I am contradicting your statement that cars don’t relate to nature. They do because they affect nature. Furthermore; if all cars were to be fueled with water from now on, it would mean huge change for the way we produce and organize our world. Everything is very much related.

    As mankind progresses, new problems occur and it is human nature that tries to adapt to these new problems.
    The fight for survival — a mechanism that all living organisms can relate to — is no longer our main concern. We are surviving! And we are doing it so well, that our territories have become too small and our dominance too persitent. Our habitat has changed and both we and the earth will have to adapt to the new situation. That we do by inventing new ways to transport, new ways to build, new ways of communicating, in short; new ways of living. And nextnature.net is witnessing it all.

    Concluding; it is my hope that researching the Next Nature will contribute to the discussion of how to move forward.
    P.s. My apologies for not checking the spelling of “skeuomorphism”. ;)

  13. Arnoud van den Heuvel

    @ Martijn: I now discover you crossposted me prior to my comment. Question for you: Could your “Fake Next Nature” concept be substituted by “Hypothetical Next Nature?”

    I would like to answer your question — “Can an idea be an example of Next Nature?” — in that same light:
    I don’t think it matters whether or not inventions have become material products for us to discuss them in relation to the concept of Next Nature. Ideas can form a possible culture / nature / future, hence the emphasis lies on the implications of using steam horses, not on the invention or the device.

  14. Hi Arnoud (& Koert),
    Thanks for your responses and clarifications!
    First of all, thank you for confirming that examples of NEXT NATURE should have a ‘mind-lifting’ aspect!! Now, I hope that Koert will confirm this as well – for that provides us at least SOMETHING to agree about easily…!
    Second, regarding your question: “Could your “Fake Next Nature” concept be substituted by “Hypothetical Next Nature?”
    Sorry Arnoud, I would prefer to answer your question with a ‘no’.
    Let me explain: my answer is a ‘no’ merely because I can describe 3 other objections – beyond the ‘it’s only an idea’-argument:
    1 – Has this example really a ‘mind-lifting’ aspect?
    2 – If we take away the ‘skeuomorph’ aspect of this ‘steam horse’ vehicle (by sculping the head of the horse) how does this object really relate to the classical interpretation of the word ‘nature’ (= the things created by the universe/cosmos)?
    3 – And I have another argument to add:
    Koert described in his FAQ how various technologies relate to the concept of NEXT NATURE (Nanotechnology, Genetic manipulation, Ambient intelligence, Tissue engineering, Neuroscience, Social Software, Soft Architecture), but does this implicate that every technology can be related directly to NEXT NATURE? (I hope not!)
    Arnoud, in line with this last point: I think many people actually see ‘nature’ and ‘cars’ as opposites!
    Sure, I can follow your way of thinking when you describe that “the car has become so integrated in our way of living, it has become part of our present nature”
    But then you appear to be talking about ‘human nature’! (which is classically EXCLUDED from the word ‘nature’ – that is related to the universe/cosmos).
    Arnoud, I hope that you recognize that in your thinking the meaning of the word ‘nature’ is no longer connected to the 1th philosophical aspect of the word ‘nature’ – which is described in the wikipedia link that I mentioned earlier:
    PS. :-( The earlier link doesn’t work like it should! Not sure that it will now work correctly …?.
    PPS. Koert & Arnoud, I think the danger of ‘vaporizing’ the concept NEXT NATURE could be directly related to exclussion of the 2th philosophical aspect of the word ‘nature’ (described in the following wikipedia quote):
    Wikipedia quote:
    “2. Historically, and also in casual speech, “nature” does not include all things, because it excludes the artificial or man-made.”
    Yes, the word ‘nature’ has multiple aspects (maybe even more that what is described on the wikipedia page) but I repeat the question which I posted earlier: “does the concept NEXT NATURE relates to both aspects?”
    Can we agree on the following?:
    A – The steam-horse is completely man-made & artificial (illustrated by the skeuomorph aspect);
    B – … and no significant parts were ever ‘alive’!
    If so, I would like to repeat my other question:
    Isn’t it fair to say that the ‘steam horse’ is actually a perfect example of FAKE NEXT NATURE???
    Again, the wikipedia-quote illustrates the point I made earlier: … do you really want to keep describing a ‘plastic’ horse as an example of NEXT NATURE?
    Thanks again!
    (Sorry, for confronting you with my repeated questions & unasked advices … but I hope you are willing to spend more focuss on highlightening the fundamental basics of the NEXT NATURE concept :-) … in order to make it survive!? ;-) )

  15. Thanks for the explanation Martijn.

    Regarding the steam horse example in this post. I understand it might be confusing because of the faked horse, which has a connotation with fake flowers, of which I always emphasize that nextnature is not about.
    In my view the example isn’t interesting because of the faked horse in isolation, but because of the role it plays in the acceptance of new technology. The steam horse example is relevant within the research topic because it shows how something familiar (the horse) is being faked in order to introduce an emerging technology (car). This relates to one of the key notions in our view, which is that every second nature, in the end becomes a first nature (not my idea, Nietzsche invented this).
    One could say nextnature is about taking second nature extremely serious. Want an example? Think for instance of agriculture. 10.000 years ago when people started with the domestication of plants and animals, it was a radical new technology. Today we think of this as nature. Something similar might happen with the technologies that are introduced during our lifetime, at least, that is what we are speculating on and exploring in this project.
    And yes, this can be cars. For many the car has become such a fundamental extension of the body that once you would take it away, it would cause people to feel ‘unnatural’.
    Regarding the part of the Wikipedia definition quoted by you (”Historically, and also in casual speech, “nature” does not include all things, because it excludes the artificial or man-made”), I want to emphasize that we started this project to explore a concept of nature that is currently not mainstream. Hence, it is no surprise there is a conflict with the Wikipedia definition. In my view the common notion of nature is rather naive and needs reconsideration. I for one, would not be surprised if in fifty years or so, this common notion of nature will be altered. It would not be the first time. For instance the Greek associated the word ‘nature’ more with growth, whereas the Romans associated it with ‘born’ (I prefer the Greek view, as it puts less emphasis on having an origin outside the realm of man).
    Regarding terminology, the blog is used to develop and sharpen it. As a result the terminology on the blog at times will be inherently sloppy and inconsistent, after which we discuss it and aim to improve.
    In conclusion, I think Skeuomorphism is a good concept to use within the nextnature realm. If I look at the current Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeuomorph) I notice it only gives examples in architecture, design and archeology, however I could also think of skeuomorphisms in old nature. For instance the human tailbone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coccyx). I think it is a good idea to add ‘Skeuomorph’ as a tag and see if we can re-tag earlier posts that revolved around this topic. Thanks guys!

  16. Hello guys. I would have answered something similar. Thanks Koert, for saving me the time.
    I realize, that as the discussion on the definition of NextNature proceeds, there lies a ‘danger’ in clinging to old definitions. I am not saying we shouldn’t use known definitions, but if we continuously use ‘nature’ to define ‘next nature’, we could end up in an arguing-game similar to Galileo in his time, telling the Catholic Church the earth was not the center of the universe.
    But if we would simply skip defining the two different realms and take ‘nature’ (or ‘the born’) as a starting point and add to it all man-made technology, social interconnectivity-through-media, scientific experiments, development, architecture, robotics, nourishment and production… call it ‘a next step’ or “Next Nature”; then this would open up an entire matrix — if you will — of unexplored laws: A bubbling mix of life and technology; a fuse of the born and the made. At the same time we don’t forget where we came from. We’ll call it the past, old nature or home. We reflect on / and refer to it — perhaps even preserve various stages of progress and development from the born to the made — while new directions are explored.
    We have just begun doing nano-research and discovering our building blocks. There aren’t many examples of how they can be used. So at this point in time no one can forsee what it will lead to and what guidelines should be followed. We need to be prudent of course. One way to proceed, would be to take a status-quo of life/nature in one hand and technology in the other, have a laboratory setup and some controlled interaction. Afterwards the ethics are discussed and politics and free-market economy will do the rest. This is not representative for the reality we live in. The other way is more adventurous and risky; We ARE playing ball — always have been since we picked up that bone — and have to think up the rules as we play. In this analogy, I think Next Nature is trying to find out how we would like to play the game and when to blow the whistle.
    I hope you can forgive me my crude and figurative way of arguing here; but zoom out far enough and you will take old nature, science, development, humanity and everything happening on the planet; as one fungus-like entity, living, growing, interacting, thinking and evolving in space. Cars and plastic skeuomorphic horses included. At this point we will have to give it a name. Progress affects life and its habitat and “nature” doesn’t cover it anymore. If it is progression and growth we point at, we might as well put “next” to “nature” and explore it by lifting our minds.

  17. Hi Koert,
    Thank you for your explaining thoughts why the ‘steam horse’ could be described as ‘next nature’.
    But basically, I am still wondering … WHERE is the (old) ‘nature’ in the “steam horse” example?
    But maybe … you don’t see that as a requirement at all to be included under the umbrella NEXT NATURE? And maybe… I am asking the wrong invalide question??? (Anyway, asuming that my question is valide, I continue:)
    Let’s make a quick step back to the basics of NEXT NATURE:
    Your ‘Next Nature FAQ’ says:
    “Q: Do you have a definition of Next Nature?
    A: Next Nature is culturally emerged nature.”
    From this definition I can understand why you don’t count a ‘plastic flower’ under the label NEXT NATURE – for, obviously … in a ‘plastic flower’ there is no (old) nature at all! (no ‘life’ = no ‘growing process’ & no ‘origin in the cosmos’, etc.)
    Back to the ‘steam horse’:
    Yes, I can understand your observation on the motive why the skeuomorphism was introduced in the vehicle. But then, from my point of view, you make a gigantic step in your thoughts … by saying that the introduction of a ‘fake’ object to introduce an emerging technology … is an example of NEXT NATURE…???
    After re-reading your ‘Next Nature FAQ’, I guess the problem that I observed is likely related that the first 8 of your basic definitions/descriptions of the concept NEXT NATURE (the first 8 Q’s), relate to the (old) nature!
    But suddenly, in the 9th Q and 10th Q … the examples that are not related to (old) nature at all – with I think only one exception: example 7 – ‘products that GROW in its own packaging’.
    Basically, I think one can safely say that (old) nature arises with a direct input from the cosmos/universe. And therefore this can also be said about your example 7 – for a GROWING object does have a direct input from the cosmos/universe. But where can I find the cosmos/universe in the other 6 examples … and the ‘steam horse’???
    I think the implication of your defintions is that in your NEXT NATURE perspective you describe certain technology related phenomena as being related to nature – while by fact quite some of those examples there is no ‘life’, nor a ‘growing proces’, nor a ‘starting point in the cosmos/universe’ at all (and they are also not related to the list that you present in your 12th A: “Nanotechnology, Genetic manipulation, Ambient intelligence, Tissue engineering, Neuroscience, Social Software, Soft Architecture.”).
    So, ok, if you want CULTURALLY PRODUCED DEATH MATERIAL TECHNOLOGIES to be included in the NEXT NATURE concept … that’s up to you! (Let’s say it’s the free choice of the inventor)
    But I can not relate the ‘steam horse’ with what you described under the 10th Q:
    “Q: Why do you use the word ‘nature’ for these phenomena? Isn’t that confusing?
    A: We speak about Nature, because it has all the pragmatic functioning of nature, so that is what we should call it (even when it is not green). Next nature it is as real as can be, and has all the workings, threads and opportunities of the older, natural phenomena. It might be confusing at first, but after a while things become clear again.”"
    Koert … I observe that aspect of the ‘Next Nature FAQ’ is quite an impressive combination of… abstract language!
    Ok, the ‘steam horse’ has a pragmatic function, workings, threads, and opportunities … but beyond those aspects quite a few other basic aspects of (old) nature are definitely missing: again … it has no ‘life’: no ‘growing proces’ and no ‘origin in the cosmos/universe’!
    I hope again that this all makes sense!?
    PS. If NEXT NATURE doesn’t require the presence of ‘old nature’, then is it truely an aspect of nature?

  18. Martijn, In your analysis on whether this steam horse is next nature you focus entirely on the object itself. As I see it it is not so much the object itself that is nextnature (lets face it, it is just a plastic horse), rather the process underneath its existence: new technologies are mimicking older technologies in order to become accepted.

    This fits our mission as described in the colophon, which is a bit more general than what you read in the faq: “On this website we explore our changing relation with nature. While our natural environment is being replaced by a world of design, at the same time, our technological world is so complex and uncontrollable that it has become a nature of its own. ”
    In summary one could say: the steam horse itself is not nextnature, yet it visualizes nextnature, hence it belongs on the blog.

  19. Okay Koert!
    I think now your answer makes sense to me … thanks for confirming (in your summary) that the ‘steam horse’ – as an object itself – is not NEXT NATURE.
    Yes I totally agree that my focuss was/is on the objects themselves.
    By the way, in the colophon you are using the word ‘nature’ with multiple meanings:
    The first word – ‘…our changing relation with nature’ – does seem to refer to ‘old nature’ (as mentioned in your FAQ).
    However, the second word – ‘… it has become a nature of its own’ – refers to another meaning of the word nature: ‘the nature of things!’
    Beyond the example of the ‘steam horse’: this leaves me wondering …do you relate NEXT NATURE to all possible meanings of the word ‘nature’? ;-)
    Again, I would like to remind you to the point described in detail at the wikipedia page I mentioned earlier:
    From a philosophyical point of view: historically ‘the nature of things’ (and ‘human nature’!) was not included in the word classic word ‘nature’ (or: old nature) . While in your colophon you appear to relate sort of all three phenomena (though not explicitely)…. while they bear various meanings of the word nature!
    Sorry, I am not used to get confused while eating ‘hutspot’ – so many questions rise in my head while reading this blog.
    Anyway, thank you for the wonderful ‘potpie’ of VISUAL POWER at your blog! :-)