I recently went to a tech talk in Manchester where a speaker introduced his topic with this – “We are now naturally urban animals” Or in other words, we’ve moved on from our rural origins, have long since walked out of the savannah and our chosen birthplaces are now among skyscrapers.
The hills are alive
We’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that we’ve turned our backs on our old ways and that we’ve evolved into concrete dwellers. As trends go, we have consistently been leaving our rural homes behind since the very first cities shot up. On average, 74% of all developed and 44% of all emerging countries are now urban.
But aren’t we forgetting something? Isn’t nature where our origins lie, isn’t it still our habitat?
Moving to the big smoke has always been about getting a job, finding new opportunities or leaving a ‘worse’ life behind. It’s never been about putting ourselves in concrete mazes away from nature, it’s just become a by-product.
There are also scores of studies that prove flora and fauna aren’t just pretty, they are integral for our health and sanity. Increased exposure to nature is directly linked to decreased levels of stress, depression and anxiety which often have a detrimental impact on physical health – which means we need to be near nature to feel better.
Our online spaces are, in theory, the most far-flung spaces from physical nature, and it is perhaps for this reason that we are constantly designing and coding with nature in mind. Perhaps we are unable to truly design or invent anything completely outside of our own viewpoint or experience and so logically our most high-tech inventions have their origins in something that already exists in nature.
Take the internet itself, which represents a spider’s web in its most simplistic form, and how our brains make connections in its most complex. Or if we think of ‘the Cloud’ it works in a very similar way to how we store memory.
You can link the structure of code to how soil works for living things, it creates strings of organic matter (or code) which forms connections and binds those separate connections to form more complicated organic structures. Even our phones are created to work in tandem with how we think, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to use them or understand how to extract information. Our smartphones sync so well with how we communicate and connect ideas that they now feel like an abstracted part of ourselves.
Our most forward-thinking robotic experts are also building biomimetic robots to either to look like us or to represent an animal or the best parts of lots of animals that already exist.
Let there be light
We are also slowly realising that the concrete gap between us and nature needs to be bridged with metaphoric gardens. Biophilic design, or designing with nature in mind, is a great practical example and is a trend that is moving at the speed of light.
We are quite literally bringing natural elements through our windows and into our internal spaces. Panoramic views, wood, indoor gardens, rooftop greenery, natural colours, open spaces, floor to ceiling windows and circadian lighting are all trendy examples. But biophilic design reaches far beyond architecture or office décor and has jumped right into the digital world.
Gone are the fluorescent colours and jarring navigation of the early noughties. Our websites and social media accounts are now designed with clean lines, simple navigation and fluid connections. We are creating open, light and welcoming digital spaces that mimic our old natural spaces.
SEO is also riding the trend. Most words that have a naturally meaning score highly on user retention and engagement. Words like social, open, organic, natural, green, local, sourced, community and space, are all prime terms for websites and branding, and are all systematically linked to nature and our roots.
Another great example is UX design, which basically foresees what is going to happen to our online behaviours and physical designs around those predictions. If you ask any UX designer they will agree that it’s paramount to create navigation from A to B, B to C and C to A in the most fluid possible way, because it is a sure-fire way to create a positive and productive user experience. It is because of this that internet spaces are now completely interlinked, just like our real lives because conversation and communication are naturally fluid and interconnected.
Our mass urban exodus also doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. In 2050, 70% of the world will be urban. The challenge for the future will be adopting practices and developing innovations that truly merge nature into our physical and digital spaces, so that we create real urban jungles that are healthy for both us and the planet.
I think it would be naïve to think we can go back to a simpler time, but what we can do is use both the future and the past to create a balanced present where urban and digital nature more than just lovely a sounding paradox.
Sara is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She owns the commercial and creative content company Fraiche Ink, focusing on think pieces and marketing content.