It’s Not Natural: The Triumph of the Techno

When a polar standing on a chunk of ice floats past an island of heaped e-waste, the scene is set for the conflict between the cost to animals of humanity’s fetishistic allure for techno-updates. Marina Zurkow dramatizes the dire environmental consequences of humanity indulging in the newest versions of convenience and fun. This shift in cultural value is also apparent in non-art circumstances.Marina Zurkow <br />The Poster Children <br />2007 <br />Duration: 9-minute loop <br />Medium: animation <br />Dimensions: variable <br />© 2007 Marina Zurkow <br />Courtesy of Marina Zurkow

Consider, for example, the changes made in the latest edition of the dictionary for schoolchildren published by Oxford University Press. Words that were judged to be obsolete were deleted. They included dandelion, beaver, heron, magpie, otter, acorn, clover, ivy, sycamore, willow and blackberry. Words that were considered current, and therefore essential for children to know, included blog, MP3 player, voice mail, and broadband.

The replacements reflected the frequency with which the words would be used by children. These vocabulary shifts signal the wholesale immersion in territories dominated by engineered experiences, and indifference to situations that are not engineered and the species who occupy them.

The rejection of the biological vocabulary for electronic terms provides compelling evidence of the alienation between children and the wondrous world of plants, rocks, critters, puddles, and twigs. Without words for the non-human realm of existence, children can’t conceptualize it. Without such concepts, they can’t become familiar with it. Without familiarity, they won’t respect the dynamic forces that permit life to exist on this planet. Without respect, they won’t attend to the non-humans with whom they co-inhabit the planet. Marina Zurkow’s polar bears are symbols of multi-species crises. Her islands of e-waste are symbols of humanity’s multi-pronged abuses. 

Since human survival depends upon plants and animals, water and air, soil and sun, ‘nature’ words can never be obsolete. Electronics are luxury items to enjoy after we attend to our non-human relationships. Let us retain these words before they die and require a miracle for their resurrection – if we live that long.