Steam Horse

Van Mensvoort
March 31st 2009

This remarkable proposal for a steam powered street locomotive was invented by Mathewson in 1876. According to the inventor the goal was to make a machine resembling a horse in form, so as not to frighten the horses on the streets.

I may be wrong, but I think it would be a pretty dim horse that would be fooled by this biomimicmarketing avant la lettre. Perhaps another purpose was to make the steam powered carriage more acceptable to people.

Surely, this steam horse illustrates the notion that new media (steam powered carriages in this case) often try to mimic an older medium in order to become accepted more easily. Yet over time, the older medium is superseded and transformed into a cultural relic (horse powered carriages in this case).

Other examples of this principle are the electric candle light, electronic mail, and the record collection on your mp3-player.

 

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Martijn van Mensvoort
Posted 13/07/2009 – 15:19

Okay Koert!
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I think now your answer makes sense to me ... thanks for confirming (in your summary) that the 'steam horse' - as an object itself - is not NEXT NATURE.
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Yes I totally agree that my focuss was/is on the objects themselves.
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By the way, in the colophon you are using the word 'nature' with multiple meanings:
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The first word - '...our changing relation with nature' - does seem to refer to 'old nature' (as mentioned in your FAQ).
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However, the second word - '... it has become a nature of its own' - refers to another meaning of the word nature: 'the nature of things!'
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Beyond the example of the 'steam horse': this leaves me wondering ...do you relate NEXT NATURE to all possible meanings of the word 'nature'? ;-)
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Again, I would like to remind you to the point described in detail at the wikipedia page I mentioned earlier:
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From a philosophyical point of view: historically 'the nature of things' (and 'human nature'!) was not included in the word classic word 'nature' (or: old nature) . While in your colophon you appear to relate sort of all three phenomena (though not explicitely).... while they bear various meanings of the word nature!
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Sorry, I am not used to get confused while eating 'hutspot' - so many questions rise in my head while reading this blog.
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Anyway, thank you for the wonderful 'potpie' of VISUAL POWER at your blog! :-)

Koert van Mensvoort
Posted 13/07/2009 – 11:38

Martijn, In your analysis on whether this steam horse is next nature you focus entirely on the object itself. As I see it it is not so much the object itself that is nextnature (lets face it, it is just a plastic horse), rather the process underneath its existence: new technologies are mimicking older technologies in order to become accepted.
This fits our mission as described in the colophon, which is a bit more general than what you read in the faq: "On this website we explore our changing relation with nature. While our natural environment is being replaced by a world of design, at the same time, our technological world is so complex and uncontrollable that it has become a nature of its own. "
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In summary one could say: the steam horse itself is not nextnature, yet it visualizes nextnature, hence it belongs on the blog.

Martijn van Mensvoort
Posted 13/07/2009 – 03:25

Hi Koert,
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Thank you for your explaining thoughts why the 'steam horse' could be described as 'next nature'.
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But basically, I am still wondering ... WHERE is the (old) 'nature' in the "steam horse" example?
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But maybe ... you don't see that as a requirement at all to be included under the umbrella NEXT NATURE? And maybe... I am asking the wrong invalide question??? (Anyway, asuming that my question is valide, I continue:)
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Let's make a quick step back to the basics of NEXT NATURE:
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Your 'Next Nature FAQ' says:
"Q: Do you have a definition of Next Nature?
A: Next Nature is culturally emerged nature."
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From this definition I can understand why you don't count a 'plastic flower' under the label NEXT NATURE - for, obviously ... in a 'plastic flower' there is no (old) nature at all! (no 'life' = no 'growing process' & no 'origin in the cosmos', etc.)
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Back to the 'steam horse':
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Yes, I can understand your observation on the motive why the skeuomorphism was introduced in the vehicle. But then, from my point of view, you make a gigantic step in your thoughts ... by saying that the introduction of a 'fake' object to introduce an emerging technology ... is an example of NEXT NATURE...???
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After re-reading your 'Next Nature FAQ', I guess the problem that I observed is likely related that the first 8 of your basic definitions/descriptions of the concept NEXT NATURE (the first 8 Q's), relate to the (old) nature!
But suddenly, in the 9th Q and 10th Q ... the examples that are not related to (old) nature at all - with I think only one exception: example 7 - 'products that GROW in its own packaging'.
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Basically, I think one can safely say that (old) nature arises with a direct input from the cosmos/universe. And therefore this can also be said about your example 7 - for a GROWING object does have a direct input from the cosmos/universe. But where can I find the cosmos/universe in the other 6 examples ... and the 'steam horse'???
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I think the implication of your defintions is that in your NEXT NATURE perspective you describe certain technology related phenomena as being related to nature - while by fact quite some of those examples there is no 'life', nor a 'growing proces', nor a 'starting point in the cosmos/universe' at all (and they are also not related to the list that you present in your 12th A: "Nanotechnology, Genetic manipulation, Ambient intelligence, Tissue engineering, Neuroscience, Social Software, Soft Architecture.").
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So, ok, if you want CULTURALLY PRODUCED DEATH MATERIAL TECHNOLOGIES to be included in the NEXT NATURE concept ... that's up to you! (Let's say it's the free choice of the inventor)
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But I can not relate the 'steam horse' with what you described under the 10th Q:
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"Q: Why do you use the word ‘nature’ for these phenomena? Isn’t that confusing?
A: We speak about Nature, because it has all the pragmatic functioning of nature, so that is what we should call it (even when it is not green). Next nature it is as real as can be, and has all the workings, threads and opportunities of the older, natural phenomena. It might be confusing at first, but after a while things become clear again.""
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Koert ... I observe that aspect of the 'Next Nature FAQ' is quite an impressive combination of... abstract language!
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Ok, the 'steam horse' has a pragmatic function, workings, threads, and opportunities ... but beyond those aspects quite a few other basic aspects of (old) nature are definitely missing: again ... it has no 'life': no 'growing proces' and no 'origin in the cosmos/universe'!
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I hope again that this all makes sense!?
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Martijn.
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PS. If NEXT NATURE doesn't require the presence of 'old nature', then is it truely an aspect of nature?

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