Forests and Humans on The Web in Their Pursuit to Thrive
Context, Connections and Complementary Identities
This article, written by Gina Fiedel, was originally published on August 9, 2019 on Search News Central.
The parallel between the forests we live beside with their interconnected, wildly creative, and resourceful behaviors and the content we’re collectively creating for the web is kind of stunning. Consider the forests’ slow, steady and purposeful progression of development. The essentially invisible nutritional networks laboring under the surface to find where they’re needed. A forest’s consistent building, reaching, filling in the gaps, and providing vitality for each of its parts. Signals and warnings. Interdependence, relationships, always striving for survival, and the thrill of abundance.
Think of the structure of the internet, the semantic web, linked data, making and interpreting languages, connections, cooperation, collaboration, and search. Identities, relationships, authority, relevance, trust.
There are things to be learned in thinking about the forest
Fungal mycelium spread far and wide capturing water and nutrients in distant locales to transport, deliver back home to tree and plant roots enriching them with life-giving energy and opportunity to grow. Data, documents, and algorithms in the synthetic structures we create online become evidence of our seeking to build connections that make sense. Except that in a forest each of the elements is essential and has its role. Obviously, that can’t quite be said of the web. Maybe it will never be so but that doesn’t lessen its potential or the intention many of us have for it. Small contributions add up.
Rotating through ideas worthy of focusing on, I’ve come back relentlessly to this. How does one make even a gentle case for thinking about forests while taking a look at what we’re up to on the web? Because I’m enchanted by what seems like the enchanted forest to me right now. It’s inspiring, so please bear with me here. My imagination has been sparked.
While it’s an impossible fantasy to hope to someday transform the web to only essential parts, eliminating those that don’t carry their weight, help, serve, entertain in an appropriate manner, there’s no reason we can’t build on the concepts, our awareness to give this some thought and conviction. Chip away one effort at a time. At the very least, make sure our own insertions have meaning.
Life on the Web
I write about working with entities of all shapes and sizes in the development and design of their websites as the vehicle; making, shaping content, guiding their entree to or continuing presence on the web. On the ground, I also counsel them over time on their continuing online sustainability. I stress genuine communication. Substance with value for others. Together, we look at questions about how they will be real, true, join into the masses and take part in ways that foster being seen, don’t cancel out growth. How will they represent themselves? How can they communicate with and appeal to the people they want to engage?
Ultimately: How will they connect? Like all the elements of a forest. And thrive.
We’ve gotten used to saying we are all in this together. That is more poignant, has more meaning than we may even realize from moment to moment. Naturally, there are the struggles that the competition of vying for attention can’t avoid. Yet even while we are striving to be at the top, we are interrelated and dependent upon the evidence of our relationships. Maybe nowhere more so than on the web. Links and the trails that lead us towards joining with each other.
In my last article here on Search News Central, I said, “It’s a forest and the trees kind of thing” while discussing details, finding a way of saying humans can lose sight of what’s important, get bogged down in minutia and how everything ultimately fits together. It was an effort toward understanding the interconnectedness of the birds-eye and the close-up points of view.
Turns out that when you think of in terms of nature, I’m learning that there really is no forest and trees kind of thing.
“Everything in the forest is the forest. Competition is not separable from endless flavors of cooperation.”
Richard Powers, “The Overstory: A Novel”, Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
In another enlightened observation, Powers says, “There are no individuals in a forest. Each trunk depends on others.”
During a pivotal moment in the book, an expert field scientist who has devoted her life to studying forests is asked some skeptical questions in a courtroom scene:
“ ‘…Trees summon animals and make them do things? They feed and take care of each other?’ In the dark-paneled courtroom, her words come out of hiding. Love for trees pours out of her—the grace of them, their supple experimentation, the constant variety and surprise. These slow, deliberate creatures with their elaborate vocabularies, each distinctive, shaping each other, breeding birds, sinking carbon, purifying water, filtering poisons from the ground, stabilizing the microclimate. Join enough living things together, through the air and underground, and you wind up with something that has intention. Forest. A threatened creature.”(italics, mine).
Isn’t creating intention what we’re all trying to do?
It is, and with the human-made web, intention can and ought to begin well before anything is added to it. It’s common to use metaphors to gain traction in contexts that are complicated or difficult to comprehend. They can be applied at any point within a long-term process not only after the fact of something. Adapting our relatively new understanding of forests to the systems and structures of the web could help us to help shape it in the long run.
Science And Metaphor Keep Us Connected To Human Concerns
I realize this is anything but a how-to formulaic piece whose purpose is instruction by artificially imposed methodology. Maybe it’s the artist nature I cannot fully separate from – but it seems important to me that we never lose sight. That it’s useful to open our poetic side to nature even when working in technology. Maybe especially when working in technology.
The longer I’m in the business of working with organizations to express themselves and reach their audience/customers/clients on the web, the more I feel substantiated in my effort to not lose touch with basics and instruct others (and myself) to pay attention to those basics… to the things that come naturally and organically and make good common sense for human beings to notice and respect.
- A discussion with Cruce Saunders and Teodora Petkova about the Semantic Web and Linked Data:
- One of my all-time favorite books, “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren.
- You can imagine my delight in stumbling upon this after I wrote the above. Some like-mindedness-
“Scientists Should Be Less Objective When Writing about Their Research.” Geochemist & geobiologist, Hope Jahren
“Science writing, or the way scientists describe their research, purposefully removes the human element, but this is what readers want most, says career biologist Hope Jahren. “I think it’s very common that scientists or technical people have an artistic side. Sometimes they are very accomplished musicians. Sometimes they have very fine tastes according to art or design. […] And I can’t help but think of all the artistic talent that exists in all the scientists and technical people that I know that is got to be some kind of untapped resource that could enrich everything they’re doing. And I just want to encourage people to go back to that part of themselves and take a chance on expressing it. And I don’t know what the hybridization is for you but I’m pretty confident that it’s worth exploring.”
Hope Jahren on the personalization of science writing.
Photo by Darren DeLoach on Unsplash
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