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Monday, September 14, 2009

Interview on "Spirit of Film"

I was recently interviewed by an Internet Radio service dedicated to "new consciousness" programming across multiple channels. The creator, Randall Libero, describes himself as "a pioneering media producer whose mission is to promote a new era of visionary entertainment, motion picture and internet media projects communicating ideas that move people to action by inspiring them to change the way they think and see themselves and the world." A great "Mission Statement," and I think a pretty good interview as well!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More on "telephone reality"

Here is a few paragraphs from Chapter Two of my book. I think it is relevant to today's discussion of the dangers of "cell-phoning while driving."

Talking on the phone invites second chakra emotional connection. Who hasn’t spent hours whispering their deepest secrets to a best friend or lover? Of course long-distance intimacy brings its own vulnerabilities, such as being secretly recorded or reaching for the phone and spilling out one’s most personal thoughts after a few too many drinks! The human brain’s operational mode while “on the phone” is closer to dreaming than its everyday state of navigating the stimuli of the external world. In a recent test, lab volunteers experienced a significant reduction in their ability to process visual stimuli while talking on cellphones. Other studies have reported that talking on a cellphone increased the risk of having an accident four-fold.[i]

Today, more than one hundred years after Alexander Graham Bell made what was essentially the first “911” call, the second chakra’s drive for authentic connection still underlies this technology. Lovers everywhere talk the night away; social networks of all kinds are supported by cell phone “link-ups,” conference call "phone bridges" provide group therapy on the most intimate topics. Numerous support groups for those facing grief, addictions and life-threatening diseases, quietly thrive on phone conferencing systems provided by universities, hospitals and social service agencies. Somehow, at times of crisis, the anonymous intimacy of phones allows for deep connection, even among strangers. Telephone counseling has been shown to improve recovery rates for patients taking anti-depressant drugs.[iii] After exchanging (1st chakra) emails, most computer daters rely on the (2nd chakra) telephone to “energetically check out” their potential partners before agreeing to meeting in person.

[i] Virgin Mobile of Australia has a “Dialing Under the Influence” call-blocking program, that for 20-cents a number prevents you from calling the boss or girlfriend before 6AM. New York Times Magazine, December 11, 2005, 66. "We found a 50 percent reduction in the processing of visual information when you are driving and talking on a cellphone," reported David Strayer of the University of Utah. "Cellphones Called Worse than Alcohol on Road," Newsday News Service, reprinted in The Capital Times (Madison, WI), July 23, 2003, 1. See also, ScienceCentral ”Driving While Distracted,”

'Hands-free' car phones, often touted as safer, appeared to be slightly more dangerous than hand-held terminals The first research into the effects of car phones took place at the University of Toronto in 1997. Published in New England Journal of Medicine (, it compared accident reports to phone billing records. See, Andy Dornan, "There Is No Information Superhighway," Network Magazine, Mar 5, 2003; Jeremy Peters, “Hands-Free Cellphone Devices Don't Aid Road Safety, Study Concludes,” New York Times, July 12, 2005. Online version at

[iii] Heather Horst, “From Kinship to Link-Up: Cell Phones and Social networking in Jamaica,” Current Anthropology, December 2005, Vol. 46#5; 755. “New Therapy on Depression Finds Phone is Effective,” New York Times, August 25, 2004, A20.

Another foreign edition!

Technika – Součást duchovního vývoje

Autor analyzuje náš technologický rozvoj jako psychospirituální proces. V moderních komunikačních technologiích vidí potenciální moudrost týkající se hlubších úrovní lidské komunikace.

Its from the Czech edition.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Every Object Getting a Voice

My piece on "Ambient Awareness" talks about how "our technologies are empowering physical locations to tell their stories." I cited examples such as "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; another uses stickers with text-messaging numbers to alert passer-bys that something of interest lies nearby."

Ian Frazier in the July 26th issues of The New Yorker tells the story of artist Katie Holten's "Tree Museum":
The Tree Museum-goer calls the number on a cell phone, punches in the tree’s extension, and hears a recording about the tree, or the neighborhood, or the Concourse, or the Bronx, or some larger concept like global warming. A visual artist named Katie Holten came up with the idea. Writer describes the experience of a Tree Museum-goer, noting several of the trees’ recordings and surroundings. Tree No. 1 is a London plane at East 138th Street. Dial the number and a poet named E. J. McAdams recites a haiku he has written about the grove. Tree No. 17, near 150th Street, is the stump of an elm that was cut down last year. Its recording is of Jon Pywell, a forester with the Department of Parks and Recreation. Tree No. 23 is a Callery pear at 162nd Street, across the Concourse from a large, two-towered brick building. The recording says that used to be the Concourse Plaza Hotel, where Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Whitey Ford lived sometimes. And at Tree No. 100, a cottonwood beside Mosholu Parkway, the recording tells how neighborhood activists saved this tree from destruction and created the little park around it.

I warned that cellphone danger is in the conversation itelf

This week's NY Times had a front-page story about the scores of tests that show that talking on the phone (any kind) takes the mind away from external processing (of cars or people on the road) and into an altered state. According to the Times, "Research shows that motorists talking on a phone are four times as likely to crash as other drivers, and are as likely to cause an accident as someone with a .08 blood alcohol content."

In Digital Dharma -- and on this blog, I wrote that cellphone use takes us deep into sec0nd chakra hunger for emotional connection, to the sounds of childhood lullabies and mothers cooing to their babies... how the telephone takes us to "dream space," where we create the image of our lover to go along with the "whisper in the ear." New research reported by the New York Times (6/6/08) confirms this model:
"It may be, the study said, that when people talk to someone who is not present, the visual-processing parts of their brain create a mental representation of where the other person might be."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Twitter, Ambient Awareness and Spiritual Practice

Our new IP-based communications systems and forms – the Internet, digital media, pervasive wireless networks and embedded communicating microprocessors – are not only changing our ways of seeing the world, they have pushed us, like it or not, into a new psychic environment of hyper-connectivity. The coupling of electricity with our nervous system over a century ago started the process of (in Marshal McLuhan’s words) "outering” our neurons. From the telephone to radio and television, and now from the internet to the distributed intelligence of peer-to-peer and social networks, we continue to grow more connected, more accessible, more stimulated.

From MySpace and Facebook, and the “twittered” thoughts that fly through one’s mind during the course of the day, our minds are always online, and our personal life is now part of the public record. On the web nothing is protected from our eyes and ears. We have opened every "closet," short-circuited all the old modes of denial. We are all “data naked” when every transaction, every credit card purchase, every trip through the grocery store, and every phone call (and its originating location) is now “on the record.” Even once-expunged court records (the “clean slate” granted by a judge for minor convictions years ago) are finding their way on to the Web, as records once held only in paper now routinely digitized.

Infection and contagion are the health metaphors of the day. Idea fragments flow from brain to brain, reproducing like viruses; the net's constant chatter perfectly reflecting the distraction of our planetary "monkey mind." Pushed into the Infosphere -- all of our secrets revealed, our every thought accessible, connected to the planet's very intelligence -- we are challenged to define our boundaries. Who am I and who do I pretend to be? Where am I, and where do I end and you begin? Who do I let into my space, and how can I trust that you say who you are? In critic John Lahr's words, "we know too much and too little; the world is at once too close and too far away." For many, addiction to email and texting, Twitter and the Blackberry, are all too real.

Much has been written about this new state of affairs – and much of it is deeply troubling! This wired distopia is a place where global corporations extend their control to the most remote corners of the planet; where the smallest personal action is tracked in giant marketing and “homeland security” databases; a world where physical nature and human love are replaced by computer simulations; where endless distractions keep us moving along, without ever being truly moved. However, while this future is indeed possible, I believe that the emerging metaphor of ambient awareness offers a way out of the shadow land and into deeper connection with our fellow beings and the very physical world that virtual reality seems to abandon.

As the internet exposed us to the dangers of connectivity without boundaries – exposure, infection, and false identities, it also gave us a new freedom to speak truth, to see beyond the masks of the ego-self, corporate and government posturing, and build our own “peer networks.” Social networking allows for addictive connection, personal posturing and closed-minded self-referential “friends circles.” It also offers the possibility of experiencing self as part of a larger web – of friends, of communities of interest and of place, of creation itself. The path of conscious web awareness is not a new invention. It is what all the great mystical traditions have been teaching for millennia. 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 reality comes into being based on what coding scheme is chosen, is at the core of shamanic journeying and magical sight. Perhaps it is time to take some of these esoteric practices into the real world challenges of living in the Infosphere.


In many ways the Infosphere is “placeless.” Our communities are defined by interest, not local geography. We email, text, talk and share video with friends anywhere and at any time: communications taking place without the need for transportation, communication without embodiment. Yet being disconnected from the physical solidity of the body, and from the grounding power of the earth, is something no shaman would allow. Even while traversing the astral realms, he or she maintains the silver cord anchored in this dimension, for without a reference ground, one has no way to decode binary information, to determine a one from a zero. All that remains is noise.

Without a connection to the earth and to the physical body, all signals become static.

We instinctively know this. So many of our technologies involve helping us find our location. Text messages and twits are often simply about place: where I am, what am I doing here, and where am I going. GPS-equipped phones can point the believer to Mecca or search the web for a nearby mosque, or on a more mundane plane, find a particular type of restaurant and tell you how to walk there. GPS tracking allows parents to keep an eye on their children’s driving habits or their pet’s whereabouts. Satellite images of any structure on the planet are now available for all to see – often over the objections of the building owner or the local government. Our technologies are empowering physical locations to tell their stories: 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; another uses stickers with text-messaging numbers to alert passer-bys that something of interest lies nearby.

But, beyond personal awareness of place, the web has given a voice to Gaia herself. We are building grids of network sensors that will crisscross our world. 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; from stress sensors embedded in roads and bridges, to the emergence of the “smart electrical grid,” data will be pouring in from so many places in our everyday environment: each sensor with its own IP address, each adding its own signal to our collective nervous system.

Like the incessant chatter of our Facebook news feeds and Twitter accounts, 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 tool – and a core metaphor – for coping with information overload. These devices track myriads of complex data inputs, synthesize their impact and display them in easy-to-understand interfaces such as a “personal dashboard” 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 and social environments through such intermediaries, we will be challenged to pick data 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?

And, just as we expand awareness to the outer reaches of our environment, we use our sensitized consciousness to tune inwards – to listen to the “cellular tweets” of our own bodies? Imagine receiving a twit from an “awareness partner” asking you to stop and center, to take a deep breath and reflect on one’s inner state. Imagine doing this four or five times a day!


In an environment where everyone is connected and sharing their every experience, learning how to observe incoming data without reacting to every stimulus is a critical cyber-survival tool. Too heavy a shield (firewall) is as bad as no shield at all. The challenge is to create and flex filters appropriate to the level of protection needed. Knowing whom to trust is the key, and the best filter is a trusted reference. We do this naturally when we decide whom we add to our social network – who will be an acquaintance, and who will be an intimate. Our web networks reflect the same levels of trust that we bring to face-to-face relationships: wide circles of loose friends, and tight sacred circles such as recovery groups, prayer and meditation sanghas, and ad-hoc dance and celebration communities.

Beyond conscious boundary setting, the other lesson of mystic practice that is embedded in digital life, is the recognition that our consciousness is shaped by how we choose to process the signals of our senses. Ambient awareness need not be unconscious. It is a skill that can be cultivated into a powerful tool for not only coping with electronic overload, but also a doorway to greater compassion, peace and personal power. Our flood of tweets and emails can inundate and overwhelm, or like the stick of the Zen master, invite us to pay attention to where we habitually put our attention. The shaman’s skill is in cultivating a wider-seeing vision that takes in all vibrations, and the shield of discernment, that allows her to know what signals require action, and which ones are part of the background symphony of existence.

The mystic sees all reality as a stream of compressed data that most of us decode using habitual, consensual algorithms. Many forms of spiritual practice involve stilling the busy mind and being present to, without being hooked by, these incoming data streams. Awareness meditation is, in effect, a process of observing the instruction codes of reality without processing them into thoughts, emotions and suffering. In Buddhism this is called mindfulness; in Sufi practice it is called Vairagya, watching the codes go by, “indifferent” to one story over another, but still very much connected to the experience of life. Sri Aurobindo called it “seeing with the eye of complete union” – seeing the point of view of each separate thing, while at the same time remembering that all the points are in fact the same – processing the reality of the outer world in full consciousness that one is in fact, data processing.


Without the cultivation of discernment (in whatever form), our technologies of connection will continue to overwhelm us with “data smog” – drawing our attention to every stimulus, resulting in either debilitating hypersensitivity or protective numbness. With practices that expand consciousness and teach appropriate filtering, we can extend the web metaphor into all dimensions, seeing in all of our tweets, texts, emails and videos, the raw data that we use to create personal and consensual "stories" through patterns of prediction based on (intentionally) limited data. Stopping the processor that Joseph Chilton Pearce calls our over-eager "reflective memory,” gives us a moment, however brief, to be in the Now.

I believe that the “ambient awareness” that is emerging within Twitter circles can be extended beyond the subconscious knowledge of what one’s friends are up to, into an actual mindfulness practice. Beyond receiving a tweet to “stop and center” and reflect on one’s inner state, one can set aside time to listen to (and write down or draw) the tweets of one’s heart, of one’s cells, of the water and the rocks, of the sun and stars that surround us – each sending us its own pulse of aliveness. We only need to commit to stop and listen.

As we become more adept at taking in all the signals of our various networks, we may find ourselves reaching beyond the equanimity that comes from awareness practice to something even more powerful: the “seeing-everything-all-at-once” consciousness where one is a node on the network, and simultaneously the entire web itself – an individual data packet traveling outward over a specific radio channel, and the entire spread spectrum symphony of frequencies, part of a joyously noisy communicating system.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Examples of RF-ID "Heneni" Calls

In an earlier post, I wrote about the growth of RF-ID, and how it mirrored our first-level hunger to announce our birth and call out our location.

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.
This month's Wired [March, 09; page 029] lists some new applications:
  • tagging endangered cacti and elephants
  • tracking surgical sponges -- and making sure none are left behind
  • tracking released parolees -- and alerting authorities when they go into forbidden locations
  • embedding the wealthy -- to track them in case of kidnapping (in Mexico)
The list keeps growing!

Sex, Water, and the Invention of the Telephone

Science Friday (on NPR) just had an interview with Seth Schulman, who discussed his book [The Telephone Gambit] on the hidden secret of Bell's theft of the "idea" of the telephone from his arch-rival Elisha Gray.

What struck me about this story is how deeply the "invention" of the phone is connected to the watery energy of the second chakra! In Digital Dharma, I talked about the impact of Bell's device on the sexual/gender relations of the late Victorian Age -- how the phone freed young women from the oversight of their fathers, gave them new employment opportunities, and liberated the farm wife from isolation; and later, how the phone was immediately associated with sexual power.

I retold (the now disproved) story of how the first phone call was a [second-level] cry for relationship -- "Mr. Watson come here I need you" -- and compared it to the first-level "birth announcement" associated with the telegraph: "What has God wrought?" [Numbers 23: 23].

In Mr. Shulman's investigative research, we learn that the device that Bell alledgedly copied from Gray's original patent filing was for a device that suspended a needle in liquid so that sound waves from the person talking into a transmitter would vary the resistance in the electrical circuit running to the receiver: analog waves from air pressure to metal plate to needle in water to electrical voltage!

The other thing that Shulman points out is how Bell was deeply in love with the daughter of his principal financial backer. And, how that passion fueled Bell's hunger to succeed at all costs -- even through chicanery!