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Monday, September 5, 2011

Reflections on James Gleick's "The Information"

In Digital Dharma I argued that as we moved into the Internet Age, our spiritual work would shift to the light and shadow of the core metaphors associated with the “second tier” technologies of the Internet (truth versus falsehood, contagion and connection, firewalls and other rigid “boundaries” versus “smart filtering”), digital compression (coding schemes, consensual reality, mindfulness), and the “cloud” (the universe as intelligent processor and humans as part of a large “grid computing” experiment with the Divine).

These are the same metaphors explored in great detail, and without their spiritual associations, in James Gleick’s book, The Information. He writes about the shift from metaphors of “energy” to “information” in describing the vastness of the universe [as a “cosmic information processing machine… the universe computes its own destiny”] and the microscopic world of our cells [where genes “encapsulate information and enable procedures for reading it in and writing it out… Life spreads by networking”]. I described these functions – and the fascination with the metaphor of “the codes” – in Chapter Six, a look at the spiritual challenges of the technologies of digital representation, and their metaphoric association with the opening of the esoteric “third eye.”

I described the value of “attention” (when information becomes cheap), and the importance of “smart filtering” in dealing with the glut of data connections made possible by the Internet in my discussion of spiritual impact of “actually being connected to ‘the other’ versus the earlier moral crisis of seeing the other’s face brought by television into our living room in the 1960’s and 70’s. And finally, in Chapter Seven, I too found hope in the evolution of the cloud, where our true work is that of tikun olam, repairing the world.

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