Experiencing nature in the digital age

Today, digital devices have become an integral part of many ways of using nature for leisure purposes. The goal of the project is to uncover the ways in which media technologies have shaped recreational uses of nature in Scandinavia since the late 1800s.

Collaborating institutions: Department of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, Umeå University; Humlab, Umeå University; Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Environmental Studies, SLU Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Recreational uses of outdoor natural environments have become a fundamental part of Scandinavian national identities since the late 1800s. Through leisure activities like trekking and hunting, people gain access to particular ways of knowing and valuing nature, developed over time as cultural traditions. More than anything else, such activities have come to define what a natural landscape should look like and how it should be valued. This project seeks to understand what happens when new and pervasive digital technologies become part of this relationship with nature.

Today, digital devices have become an integral part of many ways of using nature for leisure purposes. For instance, hunters and trekkers alike use GPS units and digital maps for planning, navigating, and sensing landscapes. Cell phones enable instant communication across distance, but also provides extensive information search and documentation opportunities through a variety of specialized apps. Digital photography allows for instant and virtually unlimited capture of scenic views and moments in nature. Such uses of what we can label media technologies can be seen either as augmenting the use of nature (by providing access to otherwise hard-to-acquire information) or as reducing environmental literacy and spatial cognition capabilities by taking away the need to "read" the landscape in traditional ways. This creates a need for extensive cultural negotiations with and about new technologies and their place in nature.

The goal of the project is to uncover the ways in which media technologies have shaped recreational uses of nature in Scandinavia since the late 1800s. The project will pay particular attention to digital media technologies post-2000, but will apply a comparative historical perspective to place these technologies in a longer historical context. Such a long time perspective is necessary in order to properly evaluate claims about fundamental changes caused by new media technologies in contemporary Scandinavia.

The project will investigate three main research questions:

  1. How have historical and current media technologies been incorporated into in hunting and trekking traditions in Scandinavia?
  2. How have media technologies shaped the valuation and management of nature for recreational use in Scandinavia over time?
  3. How do current recreational users of Scandinavian nature negotiate over the meaning of new technologies in nature?

The project hypothesizes that current debates over new and digital media technologies mirror those that took place with other forms of media technologies in the past. Furthermore, the project expects to find that the role of so-called early adopters of new technologies is critical in defining the status and broader reception of these technologies. Analyzing the gender, class, and social status of these users will thus be a central point of investigation.