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Monday, June 25, 2012



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 realities comes into being based on what decoding scheme we chose, is truly a mythic challenge. Without proper tools and spiritual preparation, hyper-connectivity can be an endless hall of mirrors, trapping us in the morass of our electronically magnified addictions and fears.
Perhaps it is from the inner world of myth and archetype that we can find the wisdom to live and thrive in this new environment? Each archetype has its “gold” -- its power and its gift to connect us with our deepest aspirations for our soul, and its “shadow” -- its immature manifestation that tricks us with false promises (of safety, of power, of love, of spiritual connection), and leads us further into isolation.

Traversing this new world we can draw upon the deep wisdom of the protector archetypes: the Warrior, whose work it is to set and protect boundaries from a deeply grounded place; the Lover, who can establish clean connections with "the other;" the Magician, who is able to discern shadow from light, and recognize the larger patterns; and the Elder/Sovereign, who through the act of blessing and generosity, can not only see, but change, the codes of reality, healing the web of creation. We can see the light and shadow side of these archetypes at play within each of the current strategies we have embraced to guide us through the world of the cloud.

The Magician

Out in cyberspace, where every digital bit effects all others, and where each bit brings forth a slightly different “reality,” having a guide that can see through the “data smog” and recognize the underlying patterns -- the meta-information -- is critical. This is the domain of the Magician -- one who is comfortable in the shadow places, one who is a systems-seer, capable of finding their way in a sea of conflicting signals. The Magician is comfortable walking in the world of the manifest, and in the worlds of potential form. It sees beyond habitual concepts to the underlying patterns that modulate all reality. And, because it can past the illusion, it is not seduced by every immediate stimuli. “Spend time pondering not what you see, but why you see it,” Merlin tells the young Arthur in Depak Chopra’s The Way of the Wizard. ‘Look at the carpets rising and the straw blowing about; branches, leaves and trees dancing; the pond wearing rippled armor,’ all these things look different, Rumi tells us, but “in root and reality, they‘re one: the wind.”

At its best, this archetype can help us distinguish between all the potential tricksters and false signs that we meet on the journey; at its worst, in its “shadow” manifestation, it is itself the great manipulator, the promoter of false insights and dreams that pass for reality -- the land of the Matrix movies. More often, the Magician gets carried away with her mental abilities, becomes detached from the earth, and loses touch with her heart. Google’s reliance on its data-mining processes has much Magician energy about it: wonderful results can come forth, but sometimes it provides results that are completely disconnected from life as we live it!

Men and women following the Magician in cyberspace must be alert for the intoxication of data-gathering, for the delusion that “only the right algorithm can find the truth,” for the temptation to “just play one more level” or download “just one more app.” But, at its best, the Magician reminds us to venture past our fear of the unknown, to widen our reception channels, to take in more frequencies, until we can see with what Sri Aurobindo called “the eye of complete union,” finding, as poet William Blake saw, “a world in a grain of sand.”

The Lover

The Lover seeks connection, sparks our creativity, and holds all beings out in the web in its heart center. Relationship and reciprocity is the core communications focus of this archetype, its greatest desire is to reveal our dreams and joys, our innermost desires, to a trusting circle of friends. When in shadow mode, the Lover can lead us into obsessive concern about not being connected, and lead us to engage in compensatory over-communications to the point of drowning out the truly important signals all around us. It often mistakes codependency for compassionate listening, getting hooked into other’s stories as if they were “real.”

This guide is an important friend, as it pulls us back from the Magician’s conjured dreamspace and abstractions into the domain of feelings and the safety of trusted circles of friends. The Lover is a strong advocate of “crowd sourcing” and open-systems, freeware and shared content. It must be alert however, to the seduction of self-promotion, group-think and mutual ego inflation, that flows like a dark current through much of today’s social media networks. When disconnected from the intelligence of the Magician, and vulnerable without the protection of the Warrior, the Shadow-Lover may “spill its secrets” on to all and everyone with the click of a mouse regardless of the impact (some would see this “na├»ve openness” shadow in WikiLeaks).

A wounded lover can respond be becoming “thick-skinned” and cynical as a way of self-defense, eagerly awaiting another scandal or embarrassing video thrown up on to the web for all to see. At the other extreme, the shadow can take the form of hyper-sensitivity and the “victim syndrome,” compulsively finding more reasons for their own loneliness in every friend’s Facebook status update or Twitter post.

The Lover understands that a trusted friend is a much greater security check than layers of complex passwords and firewalls, that a referral from within one’s circle of intimates is going to carry much more weight that a data-driven recommendation protocol. The explosive growth of Facebook and social search, the flood of heart-tugging “cute animal videos” on YouTube, and the success of viral campaigns for human rights that continues today, reminds us that the Lover has never been banished by the geek Magicians of cyberspace. For this we can be thankful, for it will be the Lover responding to these calls for environmental sanity, that keeps us from destroying our spaceship Earth.

The Warrior

If we use the Magician to help us see the underlying data patterns within the cloud, the Warrior archetype gives us the power to move through this hall of mirrors towards our true goals. It gives us a shield to protect us from the constant bombardment of data distractions in our hyper-connected world. The Warrior is protective of boundaries, defending our personal information from expropriation by those that may want to harm us or use our data for inappropriate purposes.

The Warrior is not tricked by appearances (the Lover’s weakness) or seduced (as is the Magician) by the complexity of near-infinite choice. Warrior energy fuels the use of the internet and social media for justice and civil rights, for calls to live a life of mission and service. Listening to the cries of the Lover, this archetype takes on the responsibility of using technology for the care the earth, pushing the Magician to simplify and clarify (through careful design and presentation) the complex data patterns about global warming, population growth, pandemic outbreaks, etc., in such a way that individuals and groups can take specific action.

We are all too familiar with the Warrior’s shadow. Violence and aggression against projected demons and external enemies, rigidity and attachment to rules and procedures, distrust and distance from the messiness of life, are all signs of the wounded or immature Warrior archetype. We see these behaviors all over the web. On the aggressive side, flaming wars, scattershot spam, hate speech and “trolls” set out to destroy the infrastructure of the network itself. In its passive form, hierarchical systems of control that stifle others creativity and sharing.

In so many ways, Steven Jobs and Apple personified these positive and negative Warrior traits -- from elegant simplified design strategies and top-to-bottom responsibility for its products, to the rigidity of locked battery cases and non-interchangeable cables, to exclusive smart phone “apps” and cellphone contracts that trap its customers in a “follow the leader” relationship. In its quest for just-in-time streamlined manufacturing processes, Apple has been accused of forgetting the Lover’s core values in terms of worker health and safety.

Tapping the power of the Warrior allows us to navigate the cloud from a place of personal safety. And from this place, tap our power of creativity, whether it is the making of new programs and applications, to playing with our online identities and finding our personal expressive voice. 

The Sovereign

The Sovereign [Wise Elder/Crone] operates from a place of blessing and generosity. Closer to death than any of the other archetypes, she is no longer caught up in her own ego defense. She has no fear of the transpersonal realms, but her stance is not to “understand it” [as a Magician] or “change it” [as a Warrior], but to observe it with love and compassion, watching the flow of information as it traverses the cloud from a place of non-attachment. This distancing from the “hooks of attachment and attention” allows the Elder to offer unconditional love for the entire human experience. The shadow danger is here is one of inflation and narcissism, mistaking one’s “big picture understanding” for that of the Divine mind.

Healthy Sovereign energy fuels our efforts to heal the web of life. It is the underlying ethos of the internet itself -- openness, trust, the free flow of packets across multiple paths, all finding their way to the final destination through the “goodwill” of router devices that read the packet’s destination and generously forward it on to next node that is either closer to its goal or relatively free of competing traffic. The Sovereign understands that each packet has its own destiny and path, but that once assembled in the proper order, the true meaning of the message is revealed. Its job is to keep the network itself, and all of its potential paths and routers, as strong as possible.

When we tap this archetype, we are empowered to commit acts of kindness without attribution. Performing the ancient Jewish moral commandment of Tikkun Olam, the Sovereign calls upon all the other archetypical energies to guide its stewardship of the planet, and its electronic nervous system. It means staying fully conscious of our operating systems, and like the self-healing “mesh networks” we are building out in the Infosphere, downloading new applications that are in greater alignment with our inner work: stepping into the Cloud not as dependent children, or dangerously independent adolescents, but as “inter-dependent” adults, bringing forth a transformation of human consciousness.

From the Web to the Cloud

The coupling of electricity with our nervous system over a century-and-a half ago started the process of what the prescient media sage Marshal McLuhan’s called, “the outering our nervous system.” From the one-to-one communications technologies of the telegraph and telephone, to the inter-personal one-to-many forms of broadcast radio and television, and the all-to-all global grids of the internet and the emerging distributed intelligence of peer-to-peer and social networks, we continue to grow more connected, more accessible, more stimulated. Each technological stretching of our communications matrix has an impact on our emotional and spiritual life, on our language, and on the myths we live by.

Our technologies are the products of our evolving consciousness, and they also change our consciousness. Yet, it is from the deep well of consciousness -- myth and metaphor -- that we may draw the wisdom to guide us through this transformative shift. Our communications structures are moving from interconnected networks to entire environments of distributed intelligence. With that change comes the challenge of moving from focusing on “how do I relate to the other beings in this world”, to the transpersonal question of “what is it that we are all co-creating in every moment of that connection?” 

In the Internet world we are all connected. Boundaries mean little when all knowledge, both public and private, is available to anyone. On the internet nothing is protected from our eyes and ears: from leaked reports of government and corporate malfeasance, to all levels of violence and pornography. Once-hidden religious doctrines, mystical texts, and secret practices from Scientology to staged wrestling matches, are now available to all to see. Every person with a cellphone camera is a threat to the old order of secrecy and control. Even online bookies are finding that their clients now know more about the odds than they do!
Our Internet-connected computers have opened every "closet," short-circuited old modes of denial - for wayward spouses and for Presidents and Presidential candidates. We have become “data naked” -- 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, are now are routinely digitized.

In this hyper-connected environment, “boundary control” becomes a full-time job. We are all conscious of our vulnerability, and the weakness of our carefully maintained public self. “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?” Our networks are interconnected across the old boundaries of public and private, nation to nation, time and space, no one processor stands alone. With this new vulnerability has come fears of “information infection” and contagion. Is it no wonder that in our physical world we use the same metaphors? We fear viruses and foreign terrorist infiltrators, and we worry about the modification of our core operating systems, our food and our very DNA.

In the recent years we’ve seen the image of the internet morph from a two-dimensional ““grid” to three-dimensional pervasive “cloud.”  What Wired contributing editor Steven Johnson has called "long-zoom consciousness"- reflected by our digital capability to "zoom out" from the scale of DNA up through “Google Earth” photos and on satellite images of the earth and beyond to deep-space imaging of the enormity of the cosmos - is emerging as contemporary culture's defining way of seeing. According to Johnson, this has created a new view of information space - interconnected and multi-layered - that is as disruptive to our old ways of thinking as the earlier revolutions of Newton and Einstein.

Today, our computers are no longer discreet systems sitting at the desktop, but are all around us in “smart handheld devices” that combine mobile phones, music and game players, GPS locators, and dozens of other applications. Networked processors  are everywhere: in our appliances, on the street, at the market, and soon in our clothing and eyeglasses. Our technologies are even empowering physical locations to tell their stories: one New York artist has recruited his neighbors to record stories about the love life in their building, while another tells the stories of a grove of trees in an urban park.

But, beyond personal awareness of place, the web has metaphorically 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 and deep in the forest; from stress sensors embedded deep in the earth and 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 (internet protocol) address, each adding its own signal to our collective nervous system. Each aware of its location, each reacting to new data, monitoring its internal processes, receiving updates from, and sharing new information with, its peers.

Distributed processing technology allows for data storage, software and computing technology to reside out on the network in large interconnected data centers far removed from the local user. “Grid” computing distributes these resources not in central locations, but in small pieces across all the computers sharing the same network. Using these networks and remote data centers, extremely large-scale computing projects can now be shared across millions of independent loosely-coupled smaller processors worldwide, each "donating" its spare computing cycles to the functioning of the whole. Cloud-based shared computing networks are already tackling the modeling of new cancer-fighting drugs, the mapping of the universe, and the tracking of the smallest quantum interactions. In its shadow form, computer criminals have captured thousands of computers (by infecting them with “botnet” viruses and malware) turning them into giant “spamming engines” -- all without the knowledge of the computer’s owners!

On the net, our social challenge is to negotiate with all the “others“ out in the universe, conscious of our need for appropriate boundaries, but understanding that like it or not, we are now all connected. In the cloud, we assume this connection and our shared use of common resources and intelligence, and are challenged to take what we need and use it to create value for the whole community -- whether by offering spare computing cycles in a grid project, uploading environmental observations to a shared database, forwarding cellphone videos and tweets of street protesters fighting repressive regimes, contributing dollars to an online social cause, or engaging in other acts of “digital generosity.” New forms of collaboration are emerging as people engage in multi-user gaming, music and visual arts creation, creating new “mashups” from these aggregated offerings.

On the net, our content is locally-stored (on our personal hard drives); in the cloud, we store our files and programs across the network (in remote data centers), with only snippets of code (apps) residing on the local machines. We draw from these external repositories as needed, downloading content to our lighter, streamlined tablets and smart devices.  Indeed, the cloud is now the "place" where we store more and more of our cumulative human intelligence. In addition to shared processing cycles and web applications, eventually every book written, every recording, every webpage, every film and television program -- the entire works of humankind, will find its way to the cloud, while we rely on ever-more-powerful search engines, "data mining" algorithms and crowd-sourcing to make sense of this overflowing abundance -- the unleashed outpouring of the new, and the taking from and recreating of the old: the mash-ups, meshes, mixes and remixes of our evolving culture, that populates the "long-tail" graph of network destinations.

This scenario has of course, a frightening side - in the service of our "lower selves" these technologies can lead us to a beehive-like world devoid of quiet personal space; where global corporations extend their control to the most remote corners of the planet; where the smallest personal action is tracked in giant marketing databases; a world where physical nature and even human love are replaced by computer simulations. But when seen through the lens of metaphor, the very structure of the cloud offers us a path to a very different outcome. Cloud technologies show how people can be more than individual transmitters and receivers, not the infinite but separate reflecting jewels on Indra’s web, but part of a joyously, noisily communicating, system. And with that system awareness, comes the chance to see in the Cloud beginnings of the paradigm shift in human consciousness: the modeling of a world where we connect not only with every other being, but through that interconnection, simultaneously with something greater then ourselves.

Archetypes of the Cloud: Adventures in Cyberspace” was first published in the June 2012 issue of Noetic Now, the online journal of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, located at With permission from the publisher. ©2012