In the Introduction to Digital Dharma, I wrote:
An electronic web surrounds the planet. Our ideas travel instantaneously to all points of the globe on electromagnetic waves and pulses of light. In the last decade communications networks have advanced from wires to fiber optics, from interconnected radio and television grids to a world of billions of wirelessly communicating sensory devices — each with its own address in cyberspace… the Infosphere is now a field that engulfs our physical, mental and etheric bodies; it affects our dreaming and our cultural life. Our evolving nervous system has been extended, as media sage Marshal McLuhan predicted in the early 1960's, into a global embrace.
My focus was on looking at our outer communications networks as metaphors for the inner communications challenges held for us at each of the body's chakra centers: to look at each media form that we are creating in silicon chips, RF spectrum, and fiberoptics, as reflecting a new turn on the spiral of consciousness. At the base, we have the emergence of differentiated self-awareness — and the concerns for safety and identity — represented by the on-off pulses of the electric telegraph and its successor technologies of wireless, "IM" and text messaging. The light and shadow of "relationship" was magnified by how we use the telephone, while radio amplified the "mental-egoic" realm of personal and state power — in determining who gets to speak and who can only listen. Television, I wrote in an earlier RS post, gives us the opportunity of seeing the "threatening other" in compassion versus retreating into hard-heartedness, or in counter-response to the pain of recognition, emotional addiction, codependence and consumption.
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 [what Marc Pesce calls] hyper-connectivity. Our nervous system has not only been "outered" as McLuhan warned us, but it has been evolving into its next stage of development. Social networks, Twitters, geospatial mashups and reveal-all blogs, are the rehearsal halls in silicon and copper and light and magnetism, for the distributed human intelligence predicted by such sages as Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo. In this new networked domain:
- All persons and objects have a voice
- All things can be found, and all that was hidden will be seen
- All are connected, at multiple levels of coded reality; and
- What is real depends on how we interpret or manipulate these codes.
Like any evolutionary stress, there is no guarantee that our species will emerge successful. Over-stimulated by our extended neurons, we can shut down or get lost in the sea of incoming data. With our psychic barriers down, we have been booted into what mystics have called the etheric realms: a domain of thought-forms, tricksters and jinns, angels and guides. Without proper tools and spiritual preparation, this place can be an endless hall of mirrors, trapping us in the morass of our electronically magnified addictions and fears. Pushed into the Infosphere — all of our secrets revealed, our every thought accessible, connected to the planet's very intelligence — we must draw upon the deep wisdom of the protector archetypes as we embark on our cyber-shamanic initiation: the Warrior (establishing boundaries, expressing power), the Lover (establishing clean connections, building online community), the Magician (able to discern shadow from light, create simulations and recognize the larger patterns), and the Elder/Crone/King (able to hold both virtual and concrete identities, able to not only see, but change the codes, and heal the web).
There are those that argue that our networks have so altered our consciousness that we have destroyed this plane of our karmic enfolding; that our attention has been so ripped from our self-control, that we can no longer imagine a world beyond iconic representation, and addictive consumption of manufactured stories. I don't challenge these warnings, but my spiritual path encourages looking the demons in the eye. I am willing to keep staring, knowing that the way to the light is often through the darkness. I want to hear from those who have lost countless hours and dollars in the dark alleys of internet porn, gaming, and inappropriate online relationships; and from those who just can't stop talking — whether on the phone, at the computer, or bent over the keys of a PDA or cellphone. But, even more importantly, I want to open a dialog with those who are forging new social networks to care for the planet, their local communities, to celebrate joy or share their painful moments.
I propose that over the next two months I post a short essay on each of the following above topics and invite your responses and comments:
- 1. Boundaries and the Other: Who Am I, Where Am I? [How do we express the need for acknowledgement of self as expressed in Caller-ID, Texting and SMS, ringtones, and MySpace?]
- 2. Relationships and Nourishment: Negotiating Connection with Others [What is the quality of our connections to internet chats, internet sex and gambling, online support communities, etc.?]
- 3. Showing My Face(s): Finding My Voice, Expressing My Power [How do we express identity, from aliases and avatars, gaming behaviors, blogging identities, online political organizing?]
- 4. Building Community: Compassion versus Codependence, Who can visit My Space? [How do we define our "tribe" and its relations with the "others" online, via video journalism, social networks, and alternative worlds?]
- 5. Living in the Matrix: Confronting the Long Zoom to the Astral [How do we remain "authentic" when traversing Indra's Web – the world of videogames, Pervasive Computing and immersive data clouds?]
- 6. Capturing the Gift or Becoming the Demon: Can We Live in the Infosphere Without Abandoning the Embodied Ecosphere? [Is networked consciousness antithetical to living in the body in the here and now presence? Is Twitter a precursor to telepathy, or just global brain chatter? Can Flash Mobs and Meet-Ups bring us back to joyous appreciation of being on the planet together, or are they empty spectacle?]
It is my hope that the RS discussions will generate some good conversations about coping with the insatiable pull of mediated connectivity. Beyond this, we can share our esoteric tools and practices that will help heal the entire communications grid of the planet. And, should this discussion really take off, hopefully it may lead to a new book that will be a follow-up to my more-structured Digital Dharma. Are you willing to start the conversation?
Image by LightSpectral, courtesy of Creative Commons license.