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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Truth and Lies - The Challenge of the Internet (excerpted from Chapter 5)

Fifth-level dharma challenges are held at the throat center, the transponder of cosmic sound, self-expression and creativity. Its core issue is communications itself; and its demon is falsehood. Positive fifth chakra energy can be found in the free flow of information and creative ideas within and among small, trusted groups such as fellow worshippers, service volunteers and support and recovery circles. Its shadow can be found in cults of all kinds, and in a world where every communications is about making money or promoting the false self.

Mastering fifth-level dharma in the digital age requires speaking truthfully, and acting in ays that cause no harm. For in a world of instant, unfiltered connectivity, even small “private” actions often have large systemic consequences. On the receiving side, the equivalent challenge is about learning how to remain present to, but not swayed by, all the messages – electronic and physical – that bombard awareness. In our interconnected world, unprotected (fourth-level) “compassionate openness” is an invitation to be overwhelmed or manipulated.

All of the light and shadow of fifth-level digital dharma is held for us by the web of instantaneous connectivity, overlapping voices, online communities, and shifting realities, that is the Internet. This is a virtual “place” where such conventional limitations as time and space are gone forever, along with previously assumed distinctions between self and other. While the mass media of radio and television bombard us with images and sounds, they do not demand much other than our attention and our commitment to consumption. The Internet on the other hand, offers both instant "surfing" for fleeting stimulation, and an opportunity to connect deeply and co-creatively with other souls. It is the medium of a new generation, and has shaped its worldview no less than television did for the “boomer” generation.

On radio, one had to fight to get to a microphone; on the Web, access is no longer an issue. Now the challenge is ensuring that your voice won't be lost in the simultaneous broadcast of a billion other streams and podcasts. Television prods us to open our hearts to the world. The Internet reflects the fifth-level challenge of dealing with the consequences of such openness. “Always-on” network connections have thrown us head-first into a sea of memes – idea fragments that flow from brain to brain, reproducing like viruses, the net's constant chatter inevitably mimicking the babble and distraction of our planetary “monkey mind.” We are discovering the hard way that living with such an information glut without adequate “boundary protection” can be dangerous. In critic John Lahr’s words, “we know too much and too little; the world is at once too close and too far away…”

The Internet is a technology whose gift is to show us all the ways that we – and our entire society –hide our light through secrecy and lies. It has thrown open every “closet,” of human behavior, and beyond all denial – for wayward spouses and Presidents, hidden fraternity hazing practices and the bad behavior of college sports heroes. Way beyond anything on “tabloid TV,” on the Internet nothing is protected from our eyes and ears: from stupid and silly “ex-girlfriend revenge” photos, to the painful facts of spousal cheating, to the horrific expose of prisoner abuse in Iraq.

Once-secret religious doctrines, practices and mystical texts are now available to all. According to recent news report, “husbands and wives, moms and dads, even neighbors and friends increasingly are succumbing to the temptation to snoop,” using inexpensive “keystroke recording” software to track their partner’s (often now, their “ex-partner’s”) emails. Funeral directors now have to cope with screening online memorial guest books for posts from disgruntled family members, mistresses and coworkers that “diss the dead,” or reveal, through postings such as “they met the deceased at an AA meeting,” more than the family might wish to know. Because of Internet postings, professional wrestling has been revealed to be a scripted soap opera in tights; and even online "bookies" are finding that their web-savvy clients now know more about the odds than they do.

Web-based citizen documentation regularly thwarts information control by the powerful. The Pentagon is in a quandary about soldiers’ blogs originating from Iraq. Journalists are no longer the only pipeline to the front. “A lone individual,” writes Wired contributing editor Dan Pink, “can now monitor a large institution and transmit the pictures to the entire planet.” And, at the same time, satellite photo images of any place or manmade structure on the planet are now available for all to see – often over the objections of the building owner or the local government – with a few clicks on Google-Earth.

Yes, surfing the Internet can put you face-to-face with the uglier side of humankind: Internet ‘road rage” channeled to harassment and electronic vendettas, disgruntled “exes” turning to stalkers, predators in chat rooms, online identity theft, hate sites, and the proliferation of viruses and spam are just a few examples. Because it cannot effectively be censored, it forces us to ask the hard question of where is the truth when everyone can say anything they want?

Pondering the immense social impact of Internet connectivity presents parallel lessons for one’s personal inner life. Fifth-level dharma asks you to live with a transparent heart in an overwhelmingly diverse world. This requires appropriate energetic filters to keep out unwanted negative signals – just as we have our Tivos and caller-ID, air filters, the V–Chip, noise-canceling headphones, and our I-Pods. In a world where "transparency" brings not the one big truth, but in Gibson’s words, “deliriously multiple viewpoints, shot through with misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and a quotidian degree of madness,” we need to cultivate the fifth chakra power of discernment. On the Internet as in all communications, appropriate and healthy interfaces between medium and message - between the expanding universe of information-producers and one’s inner consciousness – are required. This means practicing the Buddhist art of mindfulness: conscious attention and conscious inattention.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pervasive Computing, Aliveness in the Divine -- From Chapter Seven

Fifth-level digital dharma asks us to confront the vulnerability of network interdependence: one is part of the Grid, but always a bit susceptible in an environment beyond one’s control. At the seventh-level, we are asked to live as if we are connected in all dimensions: horizontally to our families and our communities, and vertically to our common earth at one pole, and our spiritual vision at the other. At this level of the Infosphere, all devices know where they are, monitor their internal processes, go out on the web for information, and routinely talk to each other.

Jerry Kang and Dana Cuff, at UCLA’s Institute for Pervasive Computing and Society, describe this as the emergence of "PerC" – or pervasive computing, “when the Internet gets ubiquitous, embedded and animated." Like earlier anxieties over telecommunications, there is much to fear in unrestricted, ego- and capital-driven implementations of seventh-level technologies. We saw it in the doomsday “Y2K” scenarios and the beliefs by some that UPC barcodes are “marks of the Beast.” But like all human creation, the Infosphere also holds a more positive vision of expanded consciousness: PerC mimics in silicon and radio waves a world where we are Witness, Creator and Creation. A world where we effortlessly download from the “divine treasury” the entire wisdom of the quantum universe, and the knowledge of how to use it; in which the spiritual and the mundane are not so far apart... A number of media artists are already bringing into concrete reality core seventh level concepts. Some are experimenting with humorous ways that communications devices can cooperatively affect community space:

The Chaos Computer Club, a community of German hackers with a predilection for public art transformed a building in Berlin into a giant computer screen by making offices on the top eight floors light up like individual pixels. A computer controlled lights in each room to produce a matrix of 18x8 pixels based on received SMS messages. Blinkenlights, as the installation was called, allowed people to send in messages, post animations and play Pong.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Fiedler, Berlin

In the U.K., SkyEar sent a cloud of helium balloons and cellphones up into the sky. Users could listen to the sky’s electromagnetic sounds, and by “calling the cloud,” they could also modify its environment and cause variations in brightness and color. Beyond these playful uses of signaling technologies, I see the expression in the cultural sphere a quality of awe and wonder at consciousness networking itself: each node of individuality bringing forth a unique story (karma) by its own actions, and simultaneously creating new stories by its relation to every other being.

An early expression of beauty created through the act of networking was , where ten participants carried Bluetooth-equipped umbrellas with accompanying PDAs running networking software. The umbrellas were illuminated by LEDs that pulsed red when searching for others, blue when connected, and flashed when the participants were sending (or relaying) text messages between themselves.

To me, these artists are using the tools of seventh-level telecommunications to show us in chips and wireless nodes a concrete expression of what Sri Aurobindo called the next stage of human development: “infinite consciousness throwing up forms of self-expression, but aware always of its unbound infinity and universality.” Our seventh level dharma: tikkun olam, repairing the net as “self-healing” nodes of intelligence fully engaged in the dance of human and planetary relationship.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Decoding Reality - From Chapter Six

The importance of the having the correct signal to unravel the abundant “data stream of reality” is the underlying truth of sixth-level dharma wisdom. This is reflected in our contemporary cultural fascination with codes – DaVinci or Matrix, genetic or security, and in the digital media tools of our age. The technologies of digital compression that reduce our music and video files to smaller and smaller sizes, all use hyper-fast signal processors to convert "real world" analog images (or in the case of audio, the sound), into numeric computer codes. These codes are in turn reduced in complexity, and sent on to control the manufacturing of an “acceptable proxy” of the original captured image. Digital “instruction-set” transmission is much more efficient and error-free than analog representation. Sending the recipe, not the cake, is what makes language more efficient than grunts and growls, written alphabets better than pictograms, and DNA able to perpetuate every living species.

Sixth-level digital dharma asks us to recognize that we are always processing codes of consensual reality, and pay attention to where we put our attention. Doing practices that open one to this stage of awareness is a form of “esoteric signal decompression,” allowing one to look beneath surface identities to decode richer and subtler dimensions. Without preloaded (habitual) coding schemes, the fully aware brain takes in each new signal with fresh wonder as a sacred surprise; each sensory stimulus is decoded in the immediacy of the Now, without reference to old memory patterns. At its best, unclouded sixth-level vision brings one closer to experiencing the unity of creation, seeing the underlying continuity and hearing the hidden harmonies behind humanity’s often painful apparent differences.

Long-zoom consciousness – reflected by our digital capability to “zoom out” from the scale of DNA through Google Earth’s satellite maps to the enormity of the cosmos – is emerging as contemporary culture’s defining way of seeing. It has created a new view of space – interconnected and multi-layered – that is as disruptive to our old ways of seeing as the earlier revolutions of Newton and Einstein.

Deeper-seeing is the core metaphor of sixth-level digital dharma; it encapsulates the wisdom taught by contemporary philosophers of consciousness and by the esoteric practices of many ancient traditions. It is from this “big picture” place of compassion, beyond the world of form, that one can watch the consensual codes of the “causal realm” unfold and become “real” in the ever-forming Now. From this viewpoint, our world is not a Matrix-like evil dream, but a constantly redefined universal Wikpedia – the sum total of our belief systems. In a few years our analog television sets will go dark unless we upgrade them to receive the new digital transmissions. I believe that this technology shift out in the Infosphere is also suggesting that it is now time for us to switch to a higher-definition way of seeing.


7/20/07 - The idea of holding "dual consciousness" -- of our individuality and of the group (or mass) consciousness, is referenced by NY Times columnist David Brooks, when he writes:"In the information age, it seems that we see people bonded by communication... a vast web of information -- some contained in genes, some in brain structure, some in the flow of dinner conversation -- that joins us to our ancestors..."

8/9/07 - Many "residents" of Second Life are busy constructing and decorating homes, shopping for furniture and electronics; all by manipulating the codes... See, Seth Kugel, "A House that's Just Unreal. "

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Television and the Broken Heart: Compassion, Codependence, and Consumption -- From Chapter Four

When cut-off from the grounding power of the lower centers, and uncertain of its relationship to the earth and to others, the heart center may respond by closing down in self-defense, “toughening its skin” and rejecting true intimacy in favor of the defensive strategies of intolerance and cynicism. When its response is over-active hypersensitivity, fourth-level emotional energy can easily turn to clinging codependence and the “victim syndrome.” The first focuses on meeting the needs of others, the second on one’s never-healed “inner child” or wounded and aggrieved identity group. More often, it is a combination of these responses: what Ken Wilber calls “boomeritis” – utopian dreaming and multicultural sympathies bordering on collective guilt for all the world’s victims, mixed together with non-acknowledged attachment to luxury material goods, the acting out of grand dramas, lack of discernment and self-discipline.

Out in the Infosphere, these are the same polarities held by the medium of television: the utopian dreams of a world community, and the sad depths of dysfunctional family life. Fourth-level digital dharma asks us to look at this medium as both a tool of addictive consumption, and the harbinger of the enlightened global village. Television reflects both a new compassionate consciousness - a projection of the world’s desire for reconciliation and understanding - as well as all of its materialism, over-stimulation, arrogance, greed and self-pity. TV addiction starts by transferring our deep fourth chakra needs for loving connection into over-consumption, and pleasure in the humiliation of others – sometimes the self-important and self-deluded, but often the hapless, helpless and weak. Seen through this filter, it is no surprise that critics have called TV a "plug-in drug" that “colonizes” our minds with lies and seduction. However, let us not forget that television is also the medium through which a generation discovered the “others” who share Spaceship Earth...

Television’s emotional hook however, has its downside. It can ignite compassion, but also seduce and beguile. It encourages us to cultivate the quality of empathy. Yet, at the same time, it taps our most base emotions, driving us in David Dark’s words, “to base our identity on what we able to purchase, hijacking our hopes with the emptiest of slogans and scenarios, and wasting our sympathies on tales that are devastatingly shallow and sentimental.”

Why is this? I believe that television is reflecting the heart’s challenge of responding to a world of limitation: of the frightened ego and its ever-present personal and global “pain body.” Yes, it offers us real emotional connection with the fellow inhabitants of our small planet, showcasing liberal values of tolerance and self-esteem; but it also enables us to avoid experiencing all of the consequences of our actions – the suffering we ourselves cause other humans, other species, and our environment. Clear television viewing demands that we look deeply into all of the pain we hold in our own energy field and in all of mass consciousnsks the heart to break open in compassion. But for most of us, this is too much to ask.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Radio: Projecting Power to the Universe -- From Chapter Three

"True Pioneers of Hip Hop," Groundswell Community Mural Project, Monroe HS, Bronx NY

Once turned on, the radio (as a physical device) in a sense dematerializes, becoming a magical portal into boundless primitive precognitive sound-space. Like the telephone, radio can sound personal and intimate, but unlike its original wireless telegraphy predecessor (whose inventors struggled for years to make it a directional, private point-to-point medium), this is a public one-to-many “broadcast” medium. It provides the experience of group belonging, sharing not the anonymous space of a crowd, but a “consociate” community of like-minded thinkers sitting at the feet of the tribal storyteller or musician, sharing an ongoing conversation: the everyday bits of gossip, news, chants and musical sounds that define a culture. Anyone can talk on the phone, but not everyone gets on the radio. Who does get to participate in radio's group talk and music making is an issue of great social consequence. The battle over whose voices we get to hear has been part of radio's history from its inception…

Marshall McLuhan understood that radio's effect is not between the ears, but in the gut. “It comes to us,” he wrote, “ostensibly with person-to-person directness that is private and intimate, while in more urgent fact, it is really a subliminal echo chamber of magical power to touch remote and forgotten chords.” He argued that it was radio that in his words, "hotted up," the wars for independence in Africa in the 1960's. Thirty years later, it was used to incite ultra-nationalism and eventually genocidal atrocities in Bosnia, Africa and India.

In 1994, over 800,000 defenseless Tutsi civilians were slaughtered in Rwanda. The killers were led to their victims by the Hutu-controlled Radio Machete, which broadcast not only calls for cleansing the country of "the cockroaches," but the locations, license plate numbers and addresses of those targeted for extermination. While satellite television and the web are full of fundamentalist content, it is radio that calls loudest for violent Jihad in the Middle East. Radio – both over-the-air and streamed over the Internet – remains the medium of choice for rallying the faithful of every faith, using the voice to cultivate and motivate unseen – and unseeing – audiences…

On a less painful note, even as television became the dominant medium, radio continues to play its role – albeit somewhat more muted, as reflector of the dance of social power and group acceptance. In the developed world, radio became a barometer of acceptance for racial and ethnic minorities. Since the Jazz Age, succeeding generations of youth have looked to radio programming to legitimatize their cultural rebellions...

Today in the age of CD’s MP3’s, pop music ring-tones, and hip-hop music made by 'scratching' old vinyl records and “sampling” other’s songs, the power of shared sound to create group identity endures. It is this sense of belonging and oppositional autonomy that makes radio such a "hot" medium. Hip-hop emerged from the slums of the South Bronx as the voice of the dispossessed youth. Repeating “sampled” snippets of other artists' work backed up by scratches of other musicians' recording tracks played back and forth, the DJ’s background sounds played on aural media technology itself. Literally “claiming power” by stealing electricity from urban streetlights and housing project lobbies, the music culture took over the streets. These are all examples of third-chakra identity struggles: the yearning for recognition and liberation, and the tension between those in power who cherish order and discipline, and the dispossessed forces that demand to be heard.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reach Out and Touch - From Chapter Two

Relationship is the core communications issue associated with the second chakra: the transponder of attraction and the center of one’s creativity. From here, one radiates the primordial drive for union embedded in our very protons and electrons, seeking on the physical plane to “reach out and touch someone.” In the spiritual domain this energy at its simplest fuels the hunger to connect with powerful nature spirits, and at a more “sophisticated” level, to merge with one’s vision of the Divine Beloved.

The quality of our inner “analog relationships” is reflected in how we use the most familiar external extension of our nervous system into the Infosphere: the telephone. A ringing telephone demands our attention not only with its sweet siren ring, promises to have a live person on the other end.

From Cyclopedia of Telephony (1919)

Indeed, a quality of intense longing permeates the social history of telephony. In 1876, the first words heard through a working telephone were that famous cry for help, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you!” After Alexander Graham Bell, spilled battery acid on himself; so unlike the declarative, “What hath God wrought,” clicked out by Samuel F. B. Morse to announce the birth of the telegraph. Bell’s urgent plea (on a device he intended for the transmission of multiple "harmonic telegraph" messages, each carried on a different tone) - really heralded the coming technology of feelings, of want and desire: the creation of what Erik Davis calls “the ultimate animist technology ... an inert thing full of voices.”

To many, talking on the phone is virtually synonymous with love. Behavior over the phone also reflects the consequences of injury to this desire. A person with an overcompensating second chakra is often emotionally codependent, bouncing from the highs and lows on the waveform of emotional communications, needing to be connected at all times. Such a person has a hard time recognizing boundaries, and if their first chakra has been compromised, they are usually afraid of standing alone in their own psychological space. In an often-alienating urban landscape, it is not surprising to find every roof and hill topped with a cell tower. Telecom moguls may have erected them for profit, but it is the universal human need for connection and validation from the other that makes the technology inevitable and successful. As the late columnist Herbert Stein wrote, most of us say that we’re using our cellphones to keep in touch with family, friends or business associates, but could we really be calling out to be reassured us that we’re not alone? “You may think you are checking on your portfolio, but deep down you are checking on your existence.”

Signals of Aliveness -- From Chapter One

First-level digital dharma is about mastering how we send out and respond to each other’s rudimentary signals of aliveness that encode the most basic rudimentary message: I am here. Is anyone else out there? In the Infosphere, this “Here I Am” messaging is built on binary signaling technologies, the on-off pulses of the first electrical telegraph through the digital bits that encode text messaging and radio frequency identification (RFID), and power all of cyberspace. Our challenge is to honor and reflect these messages from a fully grounded place…

We can see many of these developmental issues reflected in our “on-off” digital signaling technologies, the ones and zeros that drive our computers, our digital phones and televisions, and of course the Internet. But first, we will begin with the telegraph – the first technology to extend our nervous system into the “electrical domain.” Its dots and dashes represented the first transformation of information to energy: the transmission of thought itself across “lines of lightning” as the electrical energy from one “station” pulsed across the wires to the electromagnetic coils of the receiving “sounder” miles away...

Telegraph Sounder, from Cyclopedia of Telegraphy

The electrical mirroring of first chakra signaling into the Infosphere will become nearly universal with the explosion of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) devices. As this technology gets cheaper and smaller, it is likely that our physical environment will be flooded with millions of these “calling out” radio transmissions. Tiny, silently signaling tags – often as small as a grain of sand – are already riding in bulk shipping containers, wholesale pharmaceutical cartons, warehouse inventories, and soon in airline baggage tags and in consumer packaging to prevent fraud, track deliveries and provide accurate, near real-time inventory control. Some schools are experimenting with student RFID necklaces for security and tracking attendance (with mixed initial responses), and RFID bracelets are available for rent at an increasing number of large amusement parks. Our currency too may someday have embedded signaling to track money laundering and foil counterfeiting. RFID is helping nursing homes automatically track elderly residents who also have a “help alert” button on their badge.

Adding a Global-Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver chip to an RFID transmitter will allow any object, person or animal to broadcast their location as well as their identity. GPS-RFID will help soldiers locate friend or foe even in the dark of night. Pet owners will be able to set the boundaries for their pet’s travels. A radio collar GPS receiver will constantly track the animal’s position, and when it crosses outside of the set safety area, the collar will send a message to a tracking service, which will in turn send an email or SMS text message with a map of the animal’s exact location.

These same features are coming to our cellphones as well. A federal mandate required that by the end of 2005, all cellphones display their location during a 911 call. As a result, all of the U.S. carriers put GPS chips in their cell phones. Soon our cellphones will tell us with digital precision: “you are here,” and for anxious parents, just like the aforementioned pet-owners, these phones can send a text message saying, “your child has just left school.” For the parents of teenagers, these phones can tell not only where their owner is, but also if they are in a vehicle, how fast they are traveling.


8/16/07 VERLYN KLINKENBORG, in the NY Times, "Wiring the Frog, or Personal Tales From the Electronic Present" discusses his recent experiences with text-messaging and IM:

So why does I.M. seem so radical? I think it’s the slight delay built into the system — the pause when the software indicates that the other person is typing. On the telephone, that would sound like the awkwardness of dead air. In I.M., it sounds like thinking...

The "Yoga ofthe Infosphere" -- from the Introduction

I have appropriated a number of yoga metaphors throughout my book. My primary organizing principle is the seven-step “chakra ladder” of communications centers associated with the human energy field: a parallel system of communicating networks, information fields and reception and transmission devices. This ancient healing tradition believes that a subtle energy field surrounds the human body. The transponders (transmitter-responders) that connect this field inwards to the physical body and outwards to the greater field of consciousness are the chakras (Sanskrit for “wheels”). Each chakra aligns with a specific set of nerve clusters along the spinal column; each is associated with a different set of organs, and each has its own emotional-developmental resonance.

I believe that at a minimum, each of these developmental themes is being played out in how we use our different communications technologies, and thus each chakra can be said to have its corresponding communications theme. Different media stimulate different energy centers, and at the same time they mirror the spiritual-emotional challenge associated with the different chakra levels...

By connecting the technologies of the Infosphere to their corresponding chakras, we discover that much of the debate over “media impacts” is really about the shadow side of our interior communications. We see in each of our external telecommunications networks not only a reflection of the state of our socio-cultural development, but also the core inner challenge each of us must overcome to move up the ladder of conscious communications. From this perspective, our media become our guides to advancement: our virtual ankle weights, barbells and yoga stretches in our electronic ashram!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Photo collection

Introduction to the Blog

This blog will serve two purposes: (1) to host discussions about my book, Digital Dharma: A Users Guide to Expanding Consciousness in the Age of the Infosphere, and (2) to continue my project of finding metaphors out in the Infosphere for the challenges we face on the path of evolving consciousness.

The Digital Dharma links will start with short book excerpts, and provide a space for your feedback and your links to parallel blogs working in the same domain. And, each week I will link to and comment on news articles that offer us an opportunity to look at the Infosphere not as a force outside of ourselves, but a mirror of the light and shadow of consciousness. I will also keep the site updated with scheduled workshops and talks, as well as seminar proposals and articles -- both completed and those still in development.

Information about my book talks and seminars, as well as press releases and photos, is on my business website:

Steven Vedro
July 10, 2007