A few blog posts ago, we glanced into the world of biomimicry, the practice of taking inspiration from nature to create new technology, art, and anything in between. For my last blog post, we will revisit nature, though this time it will be from a more meditative state. Take a look at how the digital realm can make us appreciate and indulge in the physical world.
The apps that could bring us closer to nature
For years I have spent afternoons and nights strolling around the forests, parks, and fields of my town. With its lush green visage, I consider myself lucky to have grown up along the trees, Recently I decided I wanted to know more about the flora and fauna around me. What bird is exactly singing and which tree is this? After a quick search on the Appstore, my phone was equipped to determine everything in the wild, from flowers to the squiggly bark and even birdcalls.
The first app I want to show is called ‘Plantsnap’ and recognizes the different types of plants. All you need to do is take a picture and it starts determining which species is the most likely candidate to be in front of you. The method of determining is done by comparing the input image to the database of plant images. Once it has been analyzed you get a short description of the plant and, if applicable, how to take care of it.
The second app is a bit more complex and is called ‘BirdNET’. Made by the university of Cornell and Chemnitz technical university, users can input recordings of birdcalls and songs to determine what species they are hearing. Like the previous case, the input data is compared to a database contained within the app.
The inherent lie in nature on social media
These apps could be seen as bringing us closer to nature by understanding what we hear and see around us. Though if you need to be activated first to invest your time into inquiring about plants or birds, then social media might look like the way to fan the flame. Platforms such as Instagram have cultivated massive pools of content that are nature themed. If you stumble upon it the algorithm will make sure you are trapped in the vortex. Media of cute animals in the wild and cinematic rolls of tree canopies will overrun your feed before you know it.
Why does a company like Instagram however promote this? Is it not in their best interest to keep you away from a non-technology-infused state? The answer in my opinion lies in what kind of relationship social media institutions want you to have with the outdoors. They have categorized nature in a diminutive way compared to the non-discrete value it exemplifies in human culture. In other words, for social media; nature is to be framed, understood, and shown to an audience, it is an act. So can digital media bring us closer to nature, it depends on whether your appreciation is beyond the scope imposed by social media companies.
If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to go outside, take the apps with you or don’t, but experience what nature feels like to you and how it contrasts with the digital world you have amassed.
I really liked this blog post :). I had heard of apps like ones that you have mentioned but never really thought that they worked, but it’s cool to know more about them. Its an interesting point you raise at the end however, I completely agree that social media can easily shelf the natural world through representation of it but the only way truly feel it’s power is to go and seek it out yourself. Go touch some grass.
Hello, thank you for writing this blog! I really enjoyed reading it. I was likewise interested in the similar apps, which can identify plants for example. At one point last year I bought way too many different plants and worried about my lack of knowledge of how to take care of them. So, I downloaded one of the recognition apps which also mention how to properly take care of them, and I can say it really helped me!
I agree with your point and the comment above xD, being in nature is always the main go-to, but when you decide to bring a little nature in your own home like me, it is indeed very nice to have these apps available. 🙂
Hey! I really liked reading your blogpost. It is very informative about the nature apps and the relation social media has towards posts showing landscapes. I think the nature apps can be very helpful if you are trying to learn something specific, such as how to recognize certain plants, but it is undeniable how social media has perhaps warped our perception of nature, because on the social platforms the nature portrayed is all about how aesthetic the image is.
All in all, very informative blogpost! The connection between such nature apps and social media never occured to me before!
Thank you for this post. I have heard and tried out some apps like these, specifically for plants, when my obsession with houseplants started during the first or second lockdown. Out of boredom I bought an abundance of plants (I think in my room alone there were around 36 at some point), often without knowing their names or how to take care of them. Of course, many started to not do so well, which is why I tried out some apps, the names of which I cannot remember. Unfortunately, for me, they never quite seemed to work, so I soon gave up and found help elsewhere.
Personally, I never encountered specifically nature-themed Instagram algorithms on my own feed, but instead many that were specifically related to my new-found hobby of being a plant mom. In this case, I would guess that there would be some way for Instagram to make money out of that, but I never quite thought about it as you did. I do think, however, that these apps can be a great asset for people already interested in all things regarding nature, a hike in the mountains would be so much easier if instead of a book, all you need is your phone. If all of this would work without any internet connection, that would be even better.
So thanks for this thought of the mind, I will keep my eyes open about that in the future.
Lovely post, thank you! I have been trying these apps to recognize plants in the mountains, and then its both touch and digital. But I have to say that I love Instagram posts about nature from around the world, it does give me valuable information to research further and maybe strive to see. There should be a balance as with everything I think. 🙂
I love apps like this because they show how digital technologies can re-articulate our relationship with that which is natural. I think smartphones can be used to become more ecologically invested. However, still, with these encyclopedic apps, it may oversimplify ecologies or give information in isolation overlooking context.