The Talking Tree: Vegetation Does Social Media
Facebooking flora, or what biometric feedback has to do with broadening empathy.
By Maria Popova
We walk by trees all the time, rarely recognizing them as living beings rather than static objects. But that’s what they are — complex, delicate organisms that respond to their environment, from the weather to pollution to noise level, in ways too subtle for us to notice. If they could speak, what would they say? To find out, Dutch science magazine EOS decided to equip a 100-year-old tree in Brussels with a variety of sensors and devices. The Talking Tree was born. The tree has its own wifi station, sending data from all the different devices to custom software that then analyzes it to extract how the tree feels, eventually translating those feelings into words to be shared across the social web.
Between the ozone meter, light meter, weatherstation, fine dust meter, webcam and microphone, the tree was given a kind of technology-assisted eloquence that allowed it to “comment” on its living circumstances through constant biometric feedback translated into human language. The Talking Tree then shares these sentiments on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. A Flickr stream documents its immediate environment regularly and a SoundCloud set captures its auditory surroundings. (Which reminded us of Diego Stocco’s bonsai symphony.)
Lots of trees in big cities have a hard time due to the pollution. But when you’re walking past a tree that’s sick you don’t always see that there is anything
wrong with it or how he’s experiencing his environment. So, naturally, we got the idea to let the tree talk about how he’s experiencing all this.” ~ Ramin Afshar
The Talking Tree is part of EOS‘s Low Impact Month initiative, rallying for carbon-minimalist living in the month of November. But, more importantly, beneath the cheeky concept of social-media-savvy flora lies a profound provocation of how we relate to other beings, broadening our scope of empathy to encompass complex, sentient species beyond our own.
Published September 17, 2010