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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

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...


Steven said...

Roger Cohen writes about "Crackberry addiction" --

"So you thought you had a communication device when in fact you have an ego-meter? That’s about the sum of it. Because let’s face it, e-mail is a bummer and addiction to it perverse."

Steven said...

I associate text-messaging with the first chakra's role of sending out the "here I am" call to the world. More and more studies of teen texting show that many SMS messages are geo-spatial: "where are you now? I am here at XX"

The MIT technology and society researcher, Dr. Sherry Terkel told of taking her daughter to Paris, but discovering that instead of "experiencing the city," she was responding to texts from back home in Boston! But her daughter’s friends didn’t even really want to talk. “They just want to know where you are,” Ms. Turkle said.


But her daughter’s friends didn’t even really want to talk. “They just want to know where you are,” Ms. Turkle said.

Steven said...

We are populating the planet with sensors that make every object "alive" -- in the depths of the ocean, in bridges and highways, in farm field. Our clothing will soon monitor our body's functioning -- a great boon to the elderly.

See, "My Life in a Video Game," NY Times, April 9, 2008, p. 6.