Next nature is the nature caused by human culture. That may sound like a contradiction, but really, it isn’t. Our technological world has become so intricate and uncontrollable that it has become a nature of its own. This means we have to re-investigate our notion of nature.
Next Nature is culturally emerged nature.
Old nature, in the sense of trees, plants, animals, atoms, or climate, is getting increasingly controlled and governed by man. It has turned into a cultural category. At the same time, products of culture, which we used to be in control of man, tend to outgrow us and become autonomous. Our notions of nature and culture seem to be trading places. The ‘natural powers’ shift to another field.
Plastic flowers are fake nature. Plastic flowers try to look like nature, but they are simply cultural artifacts. Next nature, on the other hand, is still real nature. It is not a representation or a simulation of a long-lost phenomenon. It may be hard to say what next nature is, but we can sure tell you what it is not: fake.
In the past, nature was traditionally defined as the “born,” or everything that came into existence naturally. Culture was the “made,” or everything created by human intention.
A more useful method to divide nature and culture is between the “controllable” and the “autonomous.” Next natural phenomena arise from cultural products that have become so complex that we relate to them more as organisms or ecologies.
Old nature can be cultivated and controlled through processes such as domestication or landscape management, turning nature into culture.
A cultural product or phenomenon turns into nature when it becomes partially or entirely autonomous and uncontrollable. The prime examples of this are the global economy, computer viruses, and transgenic or domesticated organisms that escape into the wild.
Nature is not static. It is a dynamic force that evolves along with biological and manmade processes. From wild animals to atoms to the climate, humans are increasingly able to manipulate natural processes. At the same time our culture and technology are becoming more complex, more intricate, and more difficult to control. Through both intentional and unintentional acts, human culture causes the rising of a next nature.
Next natural phenomena arose with the beginnings of the Anthropocene – the geological era characterized by the dominance of humans. Next nature began with the behavioral modernity of Homo sapiens, and accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, the Green Revolution and the Information Age. Over time, the expanding influence of humanity on earth has replaced old nature with next nature.
Next nature does not mean to abolish the boundaries between culture and nature. Rather, we’d like to redefine them as the “controllable” and the “autonomous”.
Old nature is the part of nature still untainted by human influence. Parts of the deep sea and the South Pole may be unaffected, although with climate change and the cycling of pollutants through the ocean, this is becoming less true by the day. Outside of the moon and earth’s ring of satellites, the rest of space still counts as old nature.
Most people might mention trees, wild animals, the green of the rainforest or the blue of the ocean. We tend to view nature as something that is always retreating, in danger of being lost – although it never disappears entirely. In abstract terms, nature can be infinite, inaccessible, or fearsome, but it can also be delicate, harmonious, and peaceful. Nature is a destination, where we go to relax, to play or to self-actualize. Where “real” nature is not is wherever humans are: our homes, the internet, cities, video games, factories and labs.
Untouched, authentic nature may no longer even exist, at least on earth. It certainly can’t be found in city parks, or on the windowsill where the cat is sleeping. With the possible exception of areas in the deep ocean, even the most wild places on earth are crisscrossed by human communication and travel networks, polluted by plastics and chemicals, and warmed by anthropogenic climate change.
The term ‘new nature’ would assume a single break boundary between old and new nature. Using the term ‘next nature’ emphasizes that nature should never be seen as a static entity, but rather as a dynamic force that changes along with us. Evolution goes on. With every attempt to cultivate our environment we cause a new setting, a new situation, a next nature. Next nature is as old as humanity. If you count tool use by extinct hominids or other intelligent species, next nature might be even older.
The term ‘post nature’ would assume the end of nature, as if there was a single boundary with nature. The term ‘next nature’ better emphasizes that nature should never be seen as a static entity, but rather as a dynamic force that changes along with us.
People often say “back to nature” to mean a return to a simpler and more old-fashioned way of living. It’s framed as a nostalgic act. However, some new technologies like Facebook or mobile phones can actually help people to live a more natural, tribal means of existence. Next Nature doesn’t take us back to nature, but forward to it.
The decline of biological diversity is clearly matched by a growth in technological and cultural diversity, but next nature does not make any judgements about which form of nature is more valuable than the other. We are certainly as opposed to species loss, habitat destruction, and global warming as anyone else – possibly even more. If next nature were to make any value calls, we would argue that increased diversity is “better” than decreased diversity, in any area.
As Heraclitus said, nature likes to hide itself. Our goal at Next Nature is to root out examples of nature from human cultural activities.
Though some of these examples may seem purely cultural, they are natural when considered from the perspective of next nature. When culture functions like nature, or when culture seems more “natural” than nature, it becomes next nature.
Nanotechnology, Genetic manipulation, Ambient intelligence, Tissue engineering, Neuroscience, Social Software, Soft Architecture. All of these young research fields radically interfere with our sense of what is ‘natural’. They are connected in the next nature research.