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Friday, March 2, 2018

The Media Chakras of Clinton, Obama, and Trump



Over sixty years ago, media scholar Marshall McLuhan suggested that every medium of communications, regardless of the content it carries, both extends and impacts our nervous system to both good and ill effect. Today, our electronic grid of smartphones, social media and “always-on internet connections” has extended our individual nervous system to the entire planet. And, just as our nervous system has its spiritual energy centers – the chakras, so too, I believe, does the global grid. Each communications technology emerges as a product of consciousness, and each holds and reflects a different spiritual challenge. Each is associated with a different chakra.

I developed this model in my book, Digital Dharma (2007), where I traced the evolution of telecommunications from the spark of the first electric telegraph, through the analog waves of the telephone’s seductive voice, the power broadcasts of radio, the broken heart of television, and on into the then-emerging technologies of global interconnection, digital compression and virtual reality and the “internet of things,” speaking to each other via “grid computing” (or, what we now call “the cloud”). Today, a decade later, the technologies of social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and our smartphone apps, have become the foundation of much of our lives, reflecting and impacting the state of mass consciousness, and its reflection in our contemporary political and social lives. Using the chakra-based model of Digital Dharma, I will look at our Twitter-obsessed “texting” president, and why his claims of “false news” are actually shadow intimations of a deeper spiritual truth; why he continues to be successful in railing against the internet-driven consequences of global integration and boundary deterioration; why Hillary’s television image-based appeal was so easy to mock; and why the heart-centered values embedded in new visual communications, may indeed bring someone like Oprah to the White House.


Hillary’s Fourth Chakra Television-Based Campaign

Hillary Clinton’s campaign was built on the “dynamic feminine” fourth chakra values of “sharing and caring” – inclusion and cooperation, compassion for outsider groups, and the protection of individual rights. The work of this chakra is to integrate the heart’s desire to be fully loved with the reality of living in an ego-based world of limitation and attachment. Thwarted fourth-level emotional energy can easily turn to hypersensitivity and the high drama of the victim syndrome. Philosopher Ken Wilber has called this response “boomeritis” – utopian dreaming and multicultural sympathies bordering on collective guilt for all the world’s victims, mixed with unacknowledged attachment to material luxuries and high drama.

These are the same core values of the medium of television: the technology that brought her husband to the White House, but seemed out of date in the Internet age. Television’s gift to the “boomer” generation was its face-to-face close-up view of the world’s diverse community: people, plants and animals, and our home planet itself. Despite its menu of cowboys and Indians, crime fighters and violent cartoons, TV also introduced us to outsiders of different colors, tribe and nation. It connected us, along with the Space Program, for the first time to our entire planet as one Spaceship Earth. It was the medium of human and animal rights, the environment and holistic thinking. Balancing its diet of “hard news” and glorified sports violence, it was also a medium of the feminine: of the intimate family narrative and soap operas of personal disclosure, bringing the carnage of the Vietnam War into every living room. In its “shadow reflection” of the Heart Chakra, television offered an addictive emotionalism: the glorification of desire, and its fulfillment at bargain-basement prices. Instead of true compassion, its shadow offered a chance to feel pity or disdain for the parade of the world’s “losers” brought to our screens (or faux corporate boardrooms), a half-response that only deepened a sense of spiritual depression and disconnection. As consciousness evolved, television’s world-view of naive optimism, and its shadow of self-pity and addictive consumerism, became easier and easier to mock. Donald Trump understood this, and brazenly used television itself to belittle its feminine side, offering in opposition a parody character of a loud-mouthed, self-made millionaire and beauty-pageant and wrestling promoter. At the same time, consciousness was pushing us upwards into the new, fifth chakra technology of the Internet, bringing with it new forms of social connection, new problems, and a new form of presidential campaigning.


The Fifth Chakra, Internet-Presidency, of Barack Obama

While television offers an opportunity to look at the multicultural world, the Internet brings us the gift and the challenge of actually connecting with it. Fifth-level communications presents us with a world of overlapping instantaneous, unfiltered interconnection: the “other” is not just a face on a screen “out there,” but someone, invited or not, inside our personal space. This is the multi-cultural, globally-cosmopolitan, knowledge-based, world of today. At its best, this is a place of respect for the formerly-unheard voices of minority peoples, for the organizing of vibrant decentralized online communities, and the creativity that comes from rubbing against new peoples and new ideas. It offers a new holistic environmental awareness of the true interconnection of all life, and the possibility of new tools to better integrate humanity into the biosphere.

Its shadow reflection can be found in our fear of viral infection – from pandemics of AIDS and SARS and Ebola, to the waves of global migrants at the door of the “developed world,” to the infection, data thefts, and cyber-attacks on the technological pillars of the information economy. A strong fifth chakra can cope with this bombardment of messages. It is a “truth filter,” capable of resisting unhealthy viral memes, able to discern the underlying truth in every system of relationships. When closed, this chakra manifests as the intellectual cynicism of deconstructionism where “nothing is real,” or its gut-level version of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” Blasted open, it manifests as compulsive self-regard, a fixation on “the presentation of self,” the end of all privacy, and the pseudo-communication of outright lying. The Internet’s constant chatter mimics the babble and distraction of our planetary “monkey mind.”

This was the world that Barack Obama understood in ways that the older TV-generation could not. His campaign was based on data-driven Internet organizing, and his Presidency was based on the “cool management” of a less inflated nation in a multi-polar world. It is no surprise that this move into fifth-chakra, network-style governance, would generate unease and push-back from those left out of the information economy, those frightened by the real or imagined appearance of the “the other” at the door, and those who felt that their (formally unquestioned and dominant) voices were now being stifled by “political correctness.”


A Return to the Text: Donald Trump as the Twitter Candidate

In the 2016 campaign, at a time of deep social division and growing distrust of the new networked global financial corporations and financial institutions, the Democrats offered a candidate steeped in fourth chakra aspirational memes (fairness and multicultural “rights”), coupled with an unpleasant air of fourth chakra entitlement shadow (“its my turn”). Donald Trump, who rose to fame manipulating television’s shadow as the exemplar of me-first materialism, crass cynicism, and melodrama, easily embraced the role of anti-fifth chakra avatar. He ran as the anti-diversity, anti-politically-correct speech, anti-feminist, anti-immigration, candidate. He tapped and twisted the deconstructionist ethos into casual lying, a disregard for the truth, projecting his own fifth chakra shadow into chants of “lying Hillary” and “fake news.” He channeled his attacks against the values of the Internet Presidency using not just his television persona, but even more radically, the medium most aligned with the primal masculine “alphabet power” of the first chakra the chakra of security, survival, and fight or flight, the 140-character “telegraph of self,” theI talk, you listen” one-way broadcast of the Twitter feed.

Twitter’s mini-telegrams – short textual declarations, free of nuance, without even the perfunctory hellos and goodbyes, let alone the empathetic responses of telephone talk, reflect the first chakra’s work of individuation: discovering the I – and presenting it to the world. At this stage of development, relationships are evaluated primarily in terms of one’s safety and one’s gain: the very applications that drove the early telegraph system (what Tom Standage has called the “Victorian Internet”) market transactions, military and colonial control, and emergency communications. In Chapter One of Digital Dharma, I called these wireless services “the telegraph of Aliveness,” and suggested that this medium was the perfect voice of adolescence: the time when kids start to push away and declare their individuality, announcing and reinforcing their ‘Beingness’ to their peers, calling attention to their cleverness. Adults usually grow out of this narcissism. When they don’t, in Maureen Dowd’s words, “its as if your id had a typewriter.” Today, the most prodigious user of texting, the loudest voice on Twitter, is the President of the United States!


What Might Come in 2020?

The same force of technological evolution, and its impact on consciousness, that brought us from the telegraph to the telephone, radio and beyond, is still at work. We are accommodating ourselves to unfinished work of fifth-level communications. In response to the crudity of the Trump “winner take all” lower-chakra politics, we are already seeing the activation of a mass movement of deeply-offended women pushing for a return to some of the better fourth chakra values (personified by television’s face of empathy and financial reward, Ophrah Winfrey). This trend will grow stronger as text-based communication itself continues to decline in favor of visual image sharing and voice networking. Fifth-level shadow will continue to be exposed as the Internet reveals the impossibility of holding “secrets” from the public, manifesting in more calls for “transparency” and “Me Too” campaigns, and also in more fears of “secret deep state actors” and other conspiracies. Immigration policy – how to manage boundaries in a networked world – will also swing between heart-centered compassion for the “dreamers” and calls to build stronger firewalls and security systems.

Into this mix will also come the initial impact of sixth-chakra communications. This is the center of “deeper seeing,” of the “codes of reality,” and the mystical understanding that “all reality is but a dream, all reality is the same!” At its best, this chakra reminds us to treat all communications as the product of the ego-self, to act with great humility in “deep listening” to those we have decided are “others,” and to connect with all beings at the soul level. It teaches us to "watch the codes," in practices like mindfulness meditation. In its shadow presentation, this is the center of hallucination, false voices, and false realities (including the latest dark phenomena of creating real-looking fraudulent videos). Sixth-level communication technologies include all digital image devices, video games and VR, virtual worlds such as Second Life, and the coding schemes that make them work. Issues of managing genetic coding, controlling AI, and accommodating different variants on the racial, gender, and neurological spectrum will dominate political debate in the coming years.

One can imagine further polarization along three versions of sixth chakra “truths” – (1) “My truth is the only truth, (and its written here in my Holy Book),” (2) “There is no truth, everything is fake, (and therefore only my tribe’s stories are real),” and (3) “All things are true, (and we must learn to communicate the deeper feelings and needs under our words).” Let us hope that our evolving consciousness brings us closer to the third response!





Saturday, July 22, 2017

FIREWALLS AND SILOS: TURNING FROM THE FACE OF THE OTHER

In Chapter Five of Digital Dharma, I wrote about the impending “crisis of contagion” as our Internet connections collapsed every wall and barrier to the Other. “Television,” I wrote, “prods us to open our hearts to the world; the Internet reflects the challenge of dealing with the consequences of such openness… a sea of memes – idea fragments that flow from brain to brain, reproducing like viruses” (DD, 90). Reflected in the Internet are all the symptoms of a dangerously over-active Fifth Chakra: self-righteous speech that is often arrogant, over-reactive, dogmatic or fanatical. This unfiltered network gives equal voice to hate-mongers, liars, and unscrupulous profiteers and purveyors of pornography and rapidly-spreading viruses. For every online Utopian community, there’s another full of seduction and anger. (DD, 95)

I balanced this dark portrayal with the hope that we would find a way to truly see the gift in this technology that has pushed us into direct contact with all the truths – about our constructed false selves, our secrets and lies, and all the dark places – that we repress, suppress and deny. As we are forced to see the Other in every blog post, tweet or news-feed, we often respond by building stronger defenses and boundary walls to keep the “foreign contagion” out of our system, or countering with even more of the same – excessive “presentation of the self” that takes the form of nonstop talking, poor listening, or outright lying. As our world gets more complex and integrated, where former “outsiders” no longer keep their mouths shut, it is no surprise that for many frightened folks, the answer is to build higher walls and ban outsiders, challenge the idea of “truth itself,” making all values transient figments of fleeting clashing subcultures, and dropping down to safer forms of one-way discourse such as Twitter (DD, 88-9).

Ten years ago I warned that in a communications environment where everyone has a voice, and multiple “truths” run free, “being connected to everyone all the time” can easily overwhelm our brain’s defense systems. In a world of what William Gibson described as “deliriously multiple viewpoints, shot through with misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and a quotidian degree of madness” (DD, 100), I suggested that simply building bigger firewalls and loading our computers with more and more anti-virus software, would not protect us. We needed to both turn inwards and outwards: participating in smaller, intimate communities, where we could drop our masks and ego posturing; and also begin to build links to “trusted sources” that could validate and verify the swirl of conflicting “truths” coming our way.

These conflicting responses – more walls and more “hyper-curated pretend-selves” on one hand, and the pull of staying in safe communities, have only increased in the intervening decade. We’ve seen the continued proliferation of special-interest sharing and support forums, “the private spaces where people gather to share information they might not be willing to broadcast publicly, or behave in ways they might not want their friends to know about.” Facebook itself, whose entire business model has been focused on getting users to “share as much information as they could, as publicly as possible” in its electronic town square, recently turned to promoting, as New York Times’ business writer Kevin Roose wrote, “its gated subdivisions” [Behind the Velvet Ropes of Facebook’s Private Groups (7/16/17)].

While these groups are a healthy response to media overexposure, and reflect our human hunger for the safety and intimacy of trusted small group connection, trusting only one’s friends at the expense of respected experts, seems to be a new cultural fault line. In some communities, science itself is under attack, and more and more people prefer to communicate from safely within their “thought silos,” taking their cue from their Twitter feeds and online “taste buddies.” Finding a way to step outside of our comfortable though environments without being overwhelmed remains a core challenge.

Our “digital dharma work” is to make a jump in consciousness – in Ken Wilber’s words, “from relativism to holism, or from pluralism to integralism” (DD, 88), simultaneously living in multiple overlapping hyperlinked networks, where everything and everyone are connected, where the true face of the Other cannot be avoided, all while maintaining one’s unique, but permeable, center.

One way to strengthen our ability to live in these multiple worlds is to strengthen our core Self through meditation practice: clearing the memory buffers and brain chatter that confuse and distract. These moments of silence are the “inner firewalls” against the waves of electronic stimuli that surround us all. From this place of deep quiet we can begin to perceive the whole web of illusion, beyond appearances and habitual concepts, to the true state of non-duality which modulates all reality. As media scholar Marshall McLuhan told us 60-years-ago, pay attention to the underlying medium, not the message.

Mindfulness meditation is, in effect, a process of observing the instruction codes of our consensual reality come and go, without actually downloading them and running their embedded programs of thoughts, emotions and attachments. From this place of unity consciousness, we can be both a “node on the network” and an observer of the network cloud, with all of its lightning and data storms. In earlier posts I suggested some “cyber-mediations” and offered “ambient awareness” as one way to help us with “Twitter overload.” They seem as timely today as when I first wrote them in 2007, and in my follow-up blog posts.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

ALEXA and the SEDUCTIVE POWER OF THE DISEMBODIED VOICE

 
Last Thursday (7/13/17), the New York TimesStyle section featured a number of people admitting that they’ve developed quite an attachment to their Amazon Alexa “bot.” Whether “ideal roommate,” “a cross between a mistress and a nurse,” or “perfect woman, (who) never says, ‘Not tonight, dear,’” we seem deeply drawn to this disembodied, but friendly, voice in the dark. Media scholars understand that this allure is nothing new. It recapitulates our earlier fascination and deep emotional attachment to our telephones. Marshall McLuhan, writing in the 1950’s, asked:

Why should the phone create an intense feeling of loneliness? Why should we feel compelled to answer a ringing public phone when we know the call cannot concern us? Why does a phone ringing on the stage create instant tension? Why is that tension so very much less for an unanswered phone in a movie scene? The answer to all of these questions is simply that the phone is a participant form that demands a partner, with all the intensity of electric polarity.

As I wrote in Digital Dharma, “a quality of intense longing has permeated the social history of telephony from the moment of its birth.” As opposed to the declarative texts of telegraphy and its modern rebirth as texting and Twitter, the telephone represented what Erik Davis has called the “ultimate animist technology… an inert thing full of voices,” – a technology of feelings, wants and desires.

While first seen as a business tool, limited to the male domain of business, government and the military, the telephone, by the 1920’s had become a domestic appliance, moving from the ordered left-brain-dominant realm of the alphabet, to the flowing, musical, feminine right-brain space of the voice. It was deeply unsettling to the established patriarchal social order: it empowered women in numerous ways, along with lovers, pranksters, and criminals. It was, in the words of historian Robert MacDougall, “a lawless thing, at times dangerous, at others sexualized, at others juvenile.” [See DD p. 36-42, for a discussion of the impact of the telephone’s “call to intimacy.”]

I believe that the telephone and its new forms as responsive “voice bots,” can be seen as extensions of our Second Chakra’s hunger for deep connection: at its best, drawing us into places of intimate sharing and community; and at its worst, fostering dependence and unhealthy emotional attachments. As we talk less and less on our phones, interacting with the world through our eyes, it is no surprise that our primal prewired attachment to the intimacy of the human voice is reasserting itself through these new devices. Our inner challenge before we fully engage with these external “voice whisperers,” is to create our own internal “voice of validation,” clearing old attachments and disconnecting the stuck cords to the unhealthy belief systems of our inner wounded children. With these cords of communication cleared, we can truly enjoy our newfound talking, Cloud-connected, playful electronic friends.

Monday, July 17, 2017

THE GLOBAL TELEGRAPH AND A PRESIDENT WHO CAN’T STOP “TWEETING”

THE GLOBAL TELEGRAPH AND A PRESIDENT WHO CAN’T STOP “TWEETING”


As early as 1851, in The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne has its protagonist reflect on the marriage of electricity and the human nervous system, presaging the emergence of the Global Brain. 
 
Is it a fact — or have I dreamt it — that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence! Or, shall we say, it is itself a thought, nothing but thought, and no longer the substance which we deemed it!" His listener who is less taken with modernity, responds, "If you mean the telegraph," said the old gentleman, glancing his eye toward its wire, alongside the rail-track, "it is an excellent thing, — that is, of course, if the speculators in cotton and politics don't get possession of it. A great thing, indeed, sir, particularly as regards the detection of bank-robbers and murderers.”

Hawthorne goes on to suggest that this new technology would be ideally suited to the back and forth of lovers:
An almost spiritual medium, like the electric telegraph, should be consecrated to high, deep, joyful, and holy missions. Lovers, day by, day — hour by hour, if so often moved to do it, — might send their heart-throbs from Maine to Florida, with some such words as these 'I love you forever!' — 'My heart runs over with love!' — 'I love you more than I can!' and, again, at the next message 'I have lived an hour longer, and love you twice as much!' Or, when a good man has departed, his distant friend should be conscious of an electric thrill, as from the world of happy spirits, telling him 'Your dear friend is in bliss!'

As the telegraph network evolved into what Tom Standage has called “the Victorian Internet,” it never became the transcendent medium of Utopian global intelligence, but was quickly turned to “first-level” concerns of commerce, public safety, colonialism and war. Inventor and mystic Nikola Tesla too, in a 1904 article on “World Telegraphy,” had a vision of the earth “converted into a huge brain” once the wireless telegraph could be connected to a “cheap and simple device, which might be carried in one’s pocket.” 

Today, Tesla’s dream is a reality, over 560-billion text messages were sent worldwide last month (not counting 60-billion Facebook and WhatsApp daily messages!), but our new wired brain seems to be stuck in the most primitive level of communicating: “this message is all about Me.” It’s as if in the midst of our climb through the developmental stages [described by Maslow, Ken Wilber and Don Beck (and my use of the Chakra model)], from concerns with personal safety and control to true global interrelationships, from the telegraph to telephone, radio to television, the Internet to Virtual Reality and the Cloud, made possible by Cloud technologies, we’ve cycled back to the security of simple Yes/No binary signaling!

I believe that these mini-telegrams – short textual declarations, free of nuance, without even the perfunctory hellos and goodbyes, let alone the empathetic responses, of telephone talk, reflect the primary psycho-social inner work of individuation: discovering the I – and presenting it to the world.
At this stage of development, relationships are evaluated primarily in terms of one’s safety and one’s gain.

In Chapter One of Digital Dharma, I called these wireless services “the telegraph of Aliveness.” I connected RF-ID and texting to the coordination broadcasts of our living cells, and suggested that this medium was the perfect voice of adolescence: the time when kids start to push away and declare their individuality, announcing and reinforcing their ‘beingness’ to their peers, calling attention to their cleverness. Adults usually grow out of this narcissism. When they don’t, in Maureen Dowd’s words, “its as if your id had a typewriter.” And, today, the most prodigious user of texting, the loudest voice on Twitter, is the President of the United States! 

Clearly, we are beset with existential challenges. Our choice is to embrace them at the highest level of our consciousness, or drop back to fear-based responses – and an embrace of the technologies that amplify and reflect our hunger to be seen and to feel safe, to send out our He-Ne-Nee call, or by “following” our pop star heroes, to join in the safety of the (electronic) crowd.

I ended Chapter One with the hope that these messages connect us the Song of Aliveness transmitted by all Beings, that we use them to give voice to the planet itself as we extend digital sensors to the ocean depths and the tagging collars of dwindling wild species. This is still my view of the potential to live this aspect of our Digital Dharma.


DIGITAL DHARMA TEN YEARS LATER


Its been ten years since my book, Digital Dharma, was released by the Theosophical Publishing House (Quest Books). I’ve decided to look over some of my “predictions” a decade later, and in general, I think I did pretty well! Yes, Second Life and Friendster didn’t make it as online communities, but Facebook has over 1.9 billion monthly users. I called Twitter messages “twits,” but truly predicted the rise of SMS text-based services, and while I labeled the emergence of shared global intelligence networks “the grid,” we are all becoming dependent on our “smart devices” communicating via “the Cloud!”

In retrospect, using the chakras as the organizing ladder was probably a mistake in terms of marketing: my media-ecology and technology readers were frightened away by the esoteric references to “energy wheels,” while my New Age friends often told me that they “hate their computers and smartphones,” and have no interest in seeing them as tools for self-reflection. It might have been safer to rely more on Don Beck’s “Spiral Dynamics” and Ken Wilber’s holons, but in the end, the real leap I asked my readers to entertain was that our “outer technologies” both reflect and influence our inner psycho-spiritual challenges, and are in turn, created and used in ways that also reflect the state if our mass consciousness. As our world gets even more connected, having a “big picture view” of the emerging spiritual issues – the Light and Shadow of each technology – is even more critical to our mental health and the survival of the planet.

In the next few weeks, I will try to update each of the book’s seven chapters. I will also try to respond to any blog questions readers may have about the intersection of telecommunications technologies and spiritual evolution. As a start, here is a look at how the global telegraph, with its “first level” issues of security and self-identity, has reemerged in our constant “texting” and Twitter feeds, and a President who can’t keep his thumbs off the phone screen!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Building the Cloud: Hearing Gaia's Voice

The coupling of electricity with our nervous system over a century-and-a half ago started the process of what the prescient media sage Marshal McLuhan’s called, “the outering our nervous system.” From the one-to-one communications technologies of the telegraph and telephone, to the one-to-many forms of broadcast radio and television, and the all-to-all global grids of the internet and social media, we continue to grow more connected, more accessible, and more stimulated. Today, we are moving from interconnected networks to entire environments of distributed intelligence. With that change comes many potential negative outcomes, but I believe that despite the dangers of being seduced into Matrix-like pseudo-environments controlled by commercial interests, our emerging cloud consciousness – driven by these enabling technologies – also gives us an opportunity to reconnect with Gaia herself.

In the recent years we’ve seen the image of the internet morph from a two-dimensional “grid” to three-dimensional pervasive “cloud.” Distributed processing technology allows for data storage, software and computing technology to reside out on the network in large interconnected data centers far removed from the local user. Using these networks and remote data centers, extremely large-scale computing projects can now be shared across millions of independent loosely-coupled smaller processors worldwide, each "donating" its spare computing cycles to the functioning of the whole. Cloud-based shared computing networks are already tackling the modeling of new cancer-fighting drugs, the mapping of the universe, and the tracking of the smallest quantum interactions.

The cloud is now the "place" where we store more and more of our cumulative human intelligence. In addition to shared processing cycles and web applications, eventually every book written, every recording, every webpage, every film and television program -- the entire works of humankind, will find its way to the cloud, while we rely on ever-more-powerful search engines, "data mining" algorithms and crowd-sourcing to make sense of this overflowing abundance: the meshes, mixes and remixes of our evolving culture.

The explosive expansion of the information cloud is given more and more objects and places a digital voice: many office machines call in service technicians before their owners are aware of any problems, tiny sensors monitor soil and water conditions, alerting farmers when to irrigate and harvest. Similar devices in bridges are now sending wind, wave, and traffic data to the highway department, while soon vending machines will adjust their prices depending on supply and the current weather and traffic conditions, texting when they need restocking. Cellphone-guided neighborhood tours and local living histories are being developed in many communities: one New York artist has recruited his neighbors to record stories about the love life in their building, while another has poets tell the stories of individual trees in a Bronx park.

But beyond “talking trees” is the emergence of real-time connectivity to the earth’s life web itself. The internet has allowed us to vicariously participate in the naturalist’s work of monitoring and tracking wild animals: from nesting baby bald eagles on city sky-scraper ledges, to grey wolves in Yellowstone, to deep-diving seals, to tiny insects in the canopy of the rain forest. Earth-based monitoring – from interactive underwater observatories, to atmospheric carbon and ozone monitoring stations on the tops of mountains and deep in the forest; from stress sensors embedded deep in the earth, to the emergence of the “smart electrical grid,” is creating a proto-nervous system for the planet, making it possible to “listen” to Gaia herself.

We must learn to synthesize and integrate the messages from these extended neurons without becoming overwhelmed or overly thick-skinned. The technology of “ambient devices” provides one such tool. These devices track myriads of complex data inputs, synthesize their impact and display them in easy-to-understand interfaces such a cellphone app or a “cyber-pet” whose tail changes color as electrical consumption increases and whose purr is replace with a sad grumble as more carbon-based power is added to the mix.

As we learn to monitor our physical environment through such digital intermediaries, we will be challenged to pick inputs that represent our highest selves. What if we insisted that we use this planetary ambient awareness to electronically track and share the encroachment of the deserts, the thinning of the Ozone Layer, the decline of the ocean’s diversity? Not just the condition of our investment portfolio, but the number of malnourished children in the world? Not just status updates from “friends” we hardly know, but reports from our “adopted” whales, sea turtles, giant redwoods or tiny mushrooms living in the Amazon?

I believe that as we become more comfortable with our real-time connection to the planet’s multiple voices, we will begin to see ourselves less as individual beings competing for resources, power or status, and more as one node in a joyously, noisily communicating system. And with that system awareness, comes the chance to see in the Cloud beginnings of a paradigm shift in human consciousness: the modeling of a world where we connect not only with every other being, but through awareness of that interconnection, with the larger network itself – what the mystics have understood as "unity consciousness," the simultaneous experience of individual identity and cosmic oneness.

© Steven R Vedro, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Strenthening Our Inner Firewalls


Our always-on electronic devices have connected us to a pulsating web of information, social chatter and the possibility of endless distraction. Many writers have lamented the addictive nature of the never-ending stimuli brought to us by our smartphone apps, Facebook updates, texts and emails. In last Sunday’s (2/10) New York Times Maureen Dowd decried the “intoxicating lure” of instant electronic gratification, while Frank Bruni blamed “the Internet… and social media and cable television” for upending our belief in moderation, and replacing it with a culture of extremes— from food and diets, to sports and politics.

In Digital Dharma I discussed the “shadow side” of the Internet, digital realities and self-reinforcing online communities. In a communications environment where everyone has a voice, and multiple “truths” run free, being connected to everyone all the time can easily overwhelm our brain’s defense systems. In a world of what William Gibson described as “deliriously multiple viewpoints, shot through with misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and a quotidian degree of madness,”[i] we need to cultivate the power of discernment – conscious attention and conscious inattention. In a hyper-stimulated media world, silence clears the “memory buffers.” Mind clarification must precede mind expansion. Our gullible consciousness responds to any software we put into it.[ii] 


These moments of silence are the “inner firewalls” against the waves of cultural spam that threaten to inundate us. From this place of deep quiet we can begin to perceive the whole web of illusion, beyond appearances and habitual concepts, to the true state of non-duality which modulates all reality.  As media scholar Marshall McLuhan told us 60-years-ago, pay attention to the underlying medium, not the message.

Mindfulness meditation is, in effect, a process of observing the instruction codes of our consensual reality come and go, without actually downloading them and running their embedded programs of thoughts, emotions and attachments. From this place of unity consciousness, we can be both a “node on the network” and an observer of the network cloud, with all of its lightning and data storms. In earlier posts I suggested some “cyber-mediations” and offered “ambient awareness” as one way to help us with “Twitter overload.” They seem as timely today as when I first wrote them.


[i] William Gibson, “The Road to Oceana,” New York Times, June 23, 2003; (p. 100 in Digital Dharma).
[ii] Discussed in more detail in pp. 132-135 in Digital Dharma.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gaia's Voice


In my 2008 book, Digital Dharma, I wrote about tiny digital chips becoming embedded in our physical environment – from our houses to shopping malls, to our appliances, clothing and body parts – and how soon these devices would evolve from simple one-way signaling beacons to fully-interactive and addressable nodes, monitoring their internal processes and sharing their status with every other device on the net.

In this world, office machines call in service technicians before their owners are aware of any problems. Tiny sensors monitor soil and water conditions, alerting farmers when to irrigate and harvest. Similar devices embedded in bridges send wind, wave, and traffic data to the highway department… and Coke machines adjust their prices depending on supply and the current weather and traffic conditions… calling nearby delivery drivers when they need restocking. (p. 150)

In our emerging Infosphere (of what we now call “the cloud”), we are beginning to give a voice to Gaia herself. From interactive underwater observatories, connected to each other and to land-based research laboratories, to atmospheric carbon and ozone monitoring stations on the tops of mountains and deep in the forest; from dairy cows that tweet that their udders are full, to stress sensors embedded deep in the earth and in roads and bridges, data about the earth’s health now pours in from all around our environment: each adding its own small signal to our collective nervous system.

We are even giving threatened species a chance to be heard. Last Monday’s (2/4/13) New York Times had an opinion piece about how the internet has allowed us to vicariously participate in the naturalist’s work of monitoring and tracking wild animals. Writer Emily Anthes told of how thousands of people had become friends of 832F, an alpha-female grey wolf who left her protected environment in Yellowstone National Park and was shot by a hunter. She describes how wireless “tracking collars,” connected to the Internet by satellite and cellular frequencies, are being used “to track everything from tiny tropical orchid bees to blubbery, deep-diving elephant seals.”  

As we learn to monitor our physical and social environments through such digital intermediaries, we will be challenged to pick inputs that represent our highest selves. What if we demand that our signaling technologies send us easy-to-understand messages about the planet’s true health as opposed to just the rise and fall of the financial markets? What if we insisted that we use this planetary ambient awareness to electronically track and share the conditions of our environment, the encroachment of the deserts, the thinning of the Ozone Layer, the decline of the ocean’s diversity? Not just the condition of our investment portfolio, but the number of malnourished children in the world? Not just status updates from “friends” we hardly know, but reports from our “adopted” whales, eagles, foxes, sea turtles, giant redwoods or the tiny mushrooms living in the soil deep in the Amazon rainforest?

I believe that as we become more comfortable with our real-time connection to the planet’s multiple voices, we will begin to see ourselves less as individual beings competing for resources, power or status, and more as one node in a joyously, noisily communicating, system. And with that system awareness, comes the chance to see in the Cloud beginnings of a paradigm shift in human consciousness: the modeling of a world where we connect not only with every other being, but through awareness of that interconnection, with the network itself: what the mystics have understood as "unity consciousness," the simultaneous knowledge of individual identity and cosmic oneness.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book Talk Announcement in Sarasota on May 13th



In the last decade our shared planetary nervous system has been extended, as media sage Marshal McLuhan predicted in the early 1960’s, into a global embrace. Communications networks have advanced from wires to fiber optics, from interconnected radio and television grids to a world of billions of wirelessly communicating sensory devices – each with its own address in cyberspace. Our collective systems for sharing thought have undergone the most rapid change in human history, affecting our mental, psychological, and etheric bodies.

The electronic media amplify, distort and attenuate our senses, change our awareness, and “mediate” our experiences. But from a mystical perspective, everything we have created in cyberspace holds a lesson for our spiritual unfolding. The Infosphere is the new environment through which humanity must now play out its evolutionary challenges. If the universe itself, as many philosophers tell us, is a field, not just of matter, but also of information, then the Infosphere must hold in its microcosm all levels of human experience: all knowledge, all our dramas of politics and power, and all our dreams. This knowledge is encoded in our ubiquitous systems of telecommunications, and yet because it is so omnipresent, to most of us it is still invisible.

Based on his book Digital Dharma, Steven Vedro’s multimedia presentation will introduce the core communications metaphors of each of the seven levels of consciousness. Join Steven for a challenging and entertaining exploration of the developmental metaphors of light and shadow in our cellphone and texting mania, the impossibility of finding the truth over the internet, the challenge of deep-seeing brought to us by digital compression, and the glimpses of field awareness inherent in evolving social media and “cloud consciousness.”


Event Name: DIGITAL DHARMA BOOK TALK
Event Date Wednesday, 02/13/2013
Time: 7-9pm
Location: Rising Tide Spiritual Center, 5102 Swift Road, Sarasota
Price: FREE

Monday, June 25, 2012

ARCHETYPES IN THE CLOUD


ARCHETYPES IN THE CLOUD

Learning how to navigate a world where everyone and everything is connected, where every object has a voice (if not IP address), where all things can be found, and all that was hidden is seen, where realities comes into being based on what decoding scheme we chose, is truly a mythic challenge. Without proper tools and spiritual preparation, hyper-connectivity can be an endless hall of mirrors, trapping us in the morass of our electronically magnified addictions and fears.
                                 
Perhaps it is from the inner world of myth and archetype that we can find the wisdom to live and thrive in this new environment? Each archetype has its “gold” -- its power and its gift to connect us with our deepest aspirations for our soul, and its “shadow” -- its immature manifestation that tricks us with false promises (of safety, of power, of love, of spiritual connection), and leads us further into isolation.

Traversing this new world we can draw upon the deep wisdom of the protector archetypes: the Warrior, whose work it is to set and protect boundaries from a deeply grounded place; the Lover, who can establish clean connections with "the other;" the Magician, who is able to discern shadow from light, and recognize the larger patterns; and the Elder/Sovereign, who through the act of blessing and generosity, can not only see, but change, the codes of reality, healing the web of creation. We can see the light and shadow side of these archetypes at play within each of the current strategies we have embraced to guide us through the world of the cloud.

The Magician

Out in cyberspace, where every digital bit effects all others, and where each bit brings forth a slightly different “reality,” having a guide that can see through the “data smog” and recognize the underlying patterns -- the meta-information -- is critical. This is the domain of the Magician -- one who is comfortable in the shadow places, one who is a systems-seer, capable of finding their way in a sea of conflicting signals. The Magician is comfortable walking in the world of the manifest, and in the worlds of potential form. It sees beyond habitual concepts to the underlying patterns that modulate all reality. And, because it can past the illusion, it is not seduced by every immediate stimuli. “Spend time pondering not what you see, but why you see it,” Merlin tells the young Arthur in Depak Chopra’s The Way of the Wizard. ‘Look at the carpets rising and the straw blowing about; branches, leaves and trees dancing; the pond wearing rippled armor,’ all these things look different, Rumi tells us, but “in root and reality, they‘re one: the wind.”

At its best, this archetype can help us distinguish between all the potential tricksters and false signs that we meet on the journey; at its worst, in its “shadow” manifestation, it is itself the great manipulator, the promoter of false insights and dreams that pass for reality -- the land of the Matrix movies. More often, the Magician gets carried away with her mental abilities, becomes detached from the earth, and loses touch with her heart. Google’s reliance on its data-mining processes has much Magician energy about it: wonderful results can come forth, but sometimes it provides results that are completely disconnected from life as we live it!

Men and women following the Magician in cyberspace must be alert for the intoxication of data-gathering, for the delusion that “only the right algorithm can find the truth,” for the temptation to “just play one more level” or download “just one more app.” But, at its best, the Magician reminds us to venture past our fear of the unknown, to widen our reception channels, to take in more frequencies, until we can see with what Sri Aurobindo called “the eye of complete union,” finding, as poet William Blake saw, “a world in a grain of sand.”

The Lover

The Lover seeks connection, sparks our creativity, and holds all beings out in the web in its heart center. Relationship and reciprocity is the core communications focus of this archetype, its greatest desire is to reveal our dreams and joys, our innermost desires, to a trusting circle of friends. When in shadow mode, the Lover can lead us into obsessive concern about not being connected, and lead us to engage in compensatory over-communications to the point of drowning out the truly important signals all around us. It often mistakes codependency for compassionate listening, getting hooked into other’s stories as if they were “real.”

This guide is an important friend, as it pulls us back from the Magician’s conjured dreamspace and abstractions into the domain of feelings and the safety of trusted circles of friends. The Lover is a strong advocate of “crowd sourcing” and open-systems, freeware and shared content. It must be alert however, to the seduction of self-promotion, group-think and mutual ego inflation, that flows like a dark current through much of today’s social media networks. When disconnected from the intelligence of the Magician, and vulnerable without the protection of the Warrior, the Shadow-Lover may “spill its secrets” on to all and everyone with the click of a mouse regardless of the impact (some would see this “na├»ve openness” shadow in WikiLeaks).

A wounded lover can respond be becoming “thick-skinned” and cynical as a way of self-defense, eagerly awaiting another scandal or embarrassing video thrown up on to the web for all to see. At the other extreme, the shadow can take the form of hyper-sensitivity and the “victim syndrome,” compulsively finding more reasons for their own loneliness in every friend’s Facebook status update or Twitter post.

The Lover understands that a trusted friend is a much greater security check than layers of complex passwords and firewalls, that a referral from within one’s circle of intimates is going to carry much more weight that a data-driven recommendation protocol. The explosive growth of Facebook and social search, the flood of heart-tugging “cute animal videos” on YouTube, and the success of viral campaigns for human rights that continues today, reminds us that the Lover has never been banished by the geek Magicians of cyberspace. For this we can be thankful, for it will be the Lover responding to these calls for environmental sanity, that keeps us from destroying our spaceship Earth.

The Warrior

If we use the Magician to help us see the underlying data patterns within the cloud, the Warrior archetype gives us the power to move through this hall of mirrors towards our true goals. It gives us a shield to protect us from the constant bombardment of data distractions in our hyper-connected world. The Warrior is protective of boundaries, defending our personal information from expropriation by those that may want to harm us or use our data for inappropriate purposes.

The Warrior is not tricked by appearances (the Lover’s weakness) or seduced (as is the Magician) by the complexity of near-infinite choice. Warrior energy fuels the use of the internet and social media for justice and civil rights, for calls to live a life of mission and service. Listening to the cries of the Lover, this archetype takes on the responsibility of using technology for the care the earth, pushing the Magician to simplify and clarify (through careful design and presentation) the complex data patterns about global warming, population growth, pandemic outbreaks, etc., in such a way that individuals and groups can take specific action.

We are all too familiar with the Warrior’s shadow. Violence and aggression against projected demons and external enemies, rigidity and attachment to rules and procedures, distrust and distance from the messiness of life, are all signs of the wounded or immature Warrior archetype. We see these behaviors all over the web. On the aggressive side, flaming wars, scattershot spam, hate speech and “trolls” set out to destroy the infrastructure of the network itself. In its passive form, hierarchical systems of control that stifle others creativity and sharing.

In so many ways, Steven Jobs and Apple personified these positive and negative Warrior traits -- from elegant simplified design strategies and top-to-bottom responsibility for its products, to the rigidity of locked battery cases and non-interchangeable cables, to exclusive smart phone “apps” and cellphone contracts that trap its customers in a “follow the leader” relationship. In its quest for just-in-time streamlined manufacturing processes, Apple has been accused of forgetting the Lover’s core values in terms of worker health and safety.

Tapping the power of the Warrior allows us to navigate the cloud from a place of personal safety. And from this place, tap our power of creativity, whether it is the making of new programs and applications, to playing with our online identities and finding our personal expressive voice. 

The Sovereign

The Sovereign [Wise Elder/Crone] operates from a place of blessing and generosity. Closer to death than any of the other archetypes, she is no longer caught up in her own ego defense. She has no fear of the transpersonal realms, but her stance is not to “understand it” [as a Magician] or “change it” [as a Warrior], but to observe it with love and compassion, watching the flow of information as it traverses the cloud from a place of non-attachment. This distancing from the “hooks of attachment and attention” allows the Elder to offer unconditional love for the entire human experience. The shadow danger is here is one of inflation and narcissism, mistaking one’s “big picture understanding” for that of the Divine mind.

Healthy Sovereign energy fuels our efforts to heal the web of life. It is the underlying ethos of the internet itself -- openness, trust, the free flow of packets across multiple paths, all finding their way to the final destination through the “goodwill” of router devices that read the packet’s destination and generously forward it on to next node that is either closer to its goal or relatively free of competing traffic. The Sovereign understands that each packet has its own destiny and path, but that once assembled in the proper order, the true meaning of the message is revealed. Its job is to keep the network itself, and all of its potential paths and routers, as strong as possible.

When we tap this archetype, we are empowered to commit acts of kindness without attribution. Performing the ancient Jewish moral commandment of Tikkun Olam, the Sovereign calls upon all the other archetypical energies to guide its stewardship of the planet, and its electronic nervous system. It means staying fully conscious of our operating systems, and like the self-healing “mesh networks” we are building out in the Infosphere, downloading new applications that are in greater alignment with our inner work: stepping into the Cloud not as dependent children, or dangerously independent adolescents, but as “inter-dependent” adults, bringing forth a transformation of human consciousness.