I’ve just finished reading a book entitled “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier, and I highly recommend it. Yes, a real book. Not an e-book, or a Kindle book, or a downloadable .PDF book. A physical book made with physical paper, from physical trees (or recycled physical cardboard) and physical ink. Quaint, huh? It’s not exactly an enjoyable read, but it may be an important read. It’s about creativity, the Internet, social networking, and the question of personhood. Are we in charge of our technology, or is our technology now shaping us in ways we never imagined. And, is it healthy? Do those who are at the cutting edge of VR (virtual reality) and AI (artificial intelligence) sufficiently aware to be entrusted with the future of mankind? These are the sort of big questions the book poses, and, it was written by a Silicon Valley insider that has been at the forefront of the developing technological revolution known as the World Wide Web, and who is paradoxically one of its harshest critics.
Here are a couple of quotes to ponder on: “If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists and artists, then society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless”, and “Humans are free. We can commit suicide for the benefit of a Singularity (Web 2.0). We can engineer our genes to better support an imaginary hive mind. We can make culture and journalism into second-rate activities and spend centuries remixing the detritus of the 1960’s and other eras before individual creativity went out of fashion. Or we can believe in ourselves. By chance, it might turn out we are real”, and finally “The deep meaning of personhood is being reduced to an illusion of bits.”
My recent personal experiences with social networking and my forays into designing websites have brought me to a spiritual and intellectual impasse. When I am spending time in nature, or conversing with someone else while in their physical presence, compared with the experience of the immediacy of online sound-bites or artificial landscapes of Facebook, I am becoming more and more aware of a feeling of discontentedness with the noosphere and the hive mind, the proposed Singularity of digital self-images. I feel less like a person than I used to!
Years ago in the heyday of my channeling work, Archangel Ariel described the Internet as the ‘outernet’, an artificial construct of the human neural net and the collective unconscious. A little while later, I met a well-known astrologer and spiritual teacher who had published many ‘new age’ books, and was dumbfounded to discover that she refused to engage with the World Wide Web. She had no email address, and relied on others to publish and update her website. You want to contact her? Send a piece of mail via the post! Her explanation was that the Web was completely 4th Dimensional, or of the Astral realm, and as such was polluted with distortions, dramas, and manipulative influences. In short, to dive into the hive mind without taking into account the risks of exposure, one could become enamoured with the sense of ‘we-ness’ and lose track of the real WWW, the higher-order spiritual reality of which we are all a part. Obviously, it is paradoxical that I am presenting this perspective (and my own!) via an instrument of the Internet – the ubiquitous e-zine newsletter. [Personally speaking, I’d enjoy this interaction more if we could all be sitting together enjoying a drink and chatting.]
It is interesting to look at the language of Cyberspace for the clues. We’re so adept at naming things for what they are, then ignoring the consequences. In the past, the word ‘web’ was applied to the technology of spiders, or to denote a trap of some kind. Now we assume it describes a social and spiritual mechanism that frees humanity from many perceived constraints and limits. Perhaps the promise of the Singularity is a betrayal, and we would do well to heed the warnings of someone like Jaron Lanier. Trust your instincts, develop your discernment and delve into your Self. I suppose what I’m favouring here is organic realism versus digital copies of realism. Even though we have become all too familiar with Matrix-like themes about the nature of ‘organic’ models in the multiverses and our infantile understandings about the nature of Consciousness, we would do well to appreciate a natural flesh and blood humanity versus a cloned cyber-copy. I have no love of being inserted into any virtual reality, where my sense of self is embedded in an avatar. I say this not because I am a hater of technology, but because I love, and a chip of silicon circuitry does not.
I encourage you to consider that the promise of the web could easily be turned into a tyranny of sorts. Reducing ourselves to some common digital denominator for the sake of group consciousness/consensus can become such a tyranny. Individuation of Consciousness is the anti-thesis to what the progenitors of Singularity envision, and I celebrate that our spiritual potential is worth elevating above hive mindedness. An current example would be the real people occupying Wall Street, versus Tweeting about it on the Net. The street and the coffee shop will be where the r-evolution is played out, not in cyberspace. Welcome the Real.