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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Twitter, Ambient Awareness, and Mindfulness

Clive Thompson, writing in the New York Times Magazine, describes the growth of “ambient awareness” as groups of friends forming Twitter circles to keep each other constantly updated as to their experiences, moods, and occasionally, the state of their inner life.

I believe that what we are seeing in this phenomena is a continuation of the externalization of the nervous system into the Infosphere, and along with it, the development of what I call teleconsciousness. Just as radio externalized third-level issues of power and group identity, and television reflected the light and shadow of the heart center – compassion and community versus codependence, consumption and “boomeritis,” the internet and social networking technologies offer us a window on the work of experiencing self as part of the larger web of creation. The internet exposed us to the dangers of connectivity without boundaries – exposure, infection, and false identities, and also the freedom to speak our truth, see beyond the masks of the ego-self, corporate and government posturing, and build our own “peer networks.”

The Twitter networks described by Thompson bring into left-brain awareness what right-brain mystical practice has known for millennia: that we are all-connected, and that from a place of trusted intimacy, with the appropriate filters in place, we can open to receiving the messages of all creation. “Filtering” social network sites to one’s trusted friends is no different from what we do in recovery circles and other support groups: revealing all of one’s “shadow and gold” in a place of non-judgment.

The spiritual opportunity reflected in the technologies of social networking is to move from personal “story sharing,” to the transpersonal work of being present to, without being hooked by, all the incoming data of life. In Buddhism this is called mindfulness. As I wrote in Digital Dharma about the metaphor of deep seeing present in all digital representations of “reality":

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.

Sixth level teleconsciousness requires one to widen their reception channels, to take in more frequencies, to consider other “truths” than those one is most attached to. This is the practice of “turning” from the limited data of the ego-self to something much bigger. Seeing the world through what Indian sage Sri Aurobindo(1) called “the eye of complete union.” Seeing the point of view of each separate thing while at the same time "remembering itself totally." Twitter “awareness circles” could offer such an opportunity. Imagine receiving a “Twit” to “stop and center,” to take a deep breath and reflect on one’s inner state. Better yet, to take a moment and join in a group intention of healing the planet, of sending happiness to all beings.

Ambient awareness can also extend beyond taking note of your friends’ cyber-presence; it can include taking a few moments each day to consider the “twits” of one’s heart, of one’s cells, of the water and the rocks, of the sun and stars? Networked grids of sensors will soon cover the Earth, extending our collective electronic nervous system to new realms. What if we insisted that we use this new awareness to reveal the planet’s physical health: to electronically track and share the conditions of the planet’s crust, the condition of its forests, lakes and streams, the encroachment of the deserts, the thinning of the Ozone Layer, the decline of the ocean’s diversity? What if society used these signaling technologies to monitor and display in real-time not just our personal wealth, but also our energy consumption or the number of malnourished children in the world? The technology is available. The choice is ours.

(1) Satprem, Sri Aurobindo, or The Adventure of Consciousness, New York: Institute for Evolutionary Research (1984), p.168, 66.