Plants are, of course, living organisms, but they are also an interesting material. Dead, some plants are adequately sturdy to build human infrastructure, like wood frames. Alive, they behave as responsive materials, growing towards and with sunlight; vines even respond to touch, as they must detect forms to wrap around.
A vine is delicate and flexible, yet strong and durable against the elements. They are smooth to the touch and pleasing to the eye, with curves tailored to the environment. The ubiquitous green soothes human cognition; there is some evidence that looking at the green hues of nature is the minimal visual cognitive load.
Most interestingly, they grow – in response to the sun, the land, and anything in the way.
What if they grew in response to us?
Tracking Personal Growth
In recent years, many people have adapted personal tracking devices – from sleep apps, to FitBits. The output tends to be visualized in graphical or numerical form.
Of course, the main feedback in these pursuits should be internal to you – you feel better rested, more fit, happier, etc. Yet there is a continued interest and desire for more than that – a sense of concrete feedback, and of total growth over time, rather than your experience and status in that moment; hence, the popularity of tracking applications.
What if this growth could be presented in a more tangible form than a mobile graph – like a garden?
The Personal Growth Garden will embody your personal growth in organic, dynamic, and beautiful forms. Plant a seed when you begin a new goal, and watch it sprout when you commence working on it, and then grow vines upwards and outwards in response to your own progress. Flowers may bloom at key junctures in your journey.
Maintain your efforts, or the vine may wither.
The Personal Growth Garden may begin as a conceptual model, to serve as inspiration for the development of programmable growth materials.
Alternatively, it could co-opt a responsive hydroponics system, that would vary water, nutrient, and light input to plants in reaction to personal progress. Progress could be tracked with traditional methods (user-input on mobile apps; phone pedometers, etc.) and fed to the system, thus promoting plant growth.
Finally, the system could involve a material that behaves like a plant, rather than actual organic matter. For example, plastic tubing could be densely packed into “seeds,” and then growth could occur via temperature change and inflation, producing vine-like shapes. The shapes would deflate without continued maintenance.
You can see, feel, and smell your efforts, as the flowers from your special successes bloom. The patterns of their growth are uniquely yours, intersecting with related goals you pursued concurrently. Others can come and admire the garden you have fostered, giving you the opportunity to share in each others’ progress.
I like the literal metaphor of personal growth. One of the cool aspects of tracking apps is the ability to go back and look in detail at a specific datapoint. What is the corresponding interaction with plants? If the plants grow with you, do you also grow with the plants (give you food, happiness, fresh air, etc.)? Could be a cool positive feedback loop. Of course, if you become depressed and your plants start wilting, will you be even sadder? How to avoid negative feedback loops while maintaining the base metaphor?
I also like the experience – sharing your gruarden/growth. Is there a social aspect? Is your growth synergistic or competative with other people’s/plants? Are there parasites taking energy away from your growth? Pestacides to ward them off? Many potential interactions within the metaphor.