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Category Archive for 'Media'

The Situationists Still Enlighten Us

“All that once was directly lived has become representation. . . . The real consumer has become a consumer of illusions” (Guy Debord, 1967).

The Situationists, an international revolutionary group of the ’50s critical of capitalist culture, spoke of “The Society of the Spectacle” – which alienated people through a mediated and commoditized social envinroment.

Media and products, in the Situationists’ view, dull the audience and control desire. Half a century later,  we have newly created media with greatly expanded scope –which reinforce the Situationists’ principles. In the new digital millennium it seems that desires are not controlled, yet are accepted as long as there is a market product associated with it, channeled through and stimulated by the media.

Situationists perceived that in capitalism, emotions become transmuted into market products – and we have to pay up to redeem our emotions. The market, as they saw it, first takes away our real needs for connection and authenticity, then offers a pale reflection of the real – making us always thirsty for a real which will never come.

The need for connection today is expressed through social networks which appear free and democratic. Yes, many Internet services are free of charge, but if we calculate hardware, software, the Internet connection – plus our time and attention – the cost must be reconsidered.

Moreover, the Situationists observed that people in our society are programmed to live a life that is merely a representation of a real life. Through technology needs have been created in order to sell solutions. And the hi-tech market doesn’t even require much in the way of commodities any more, since it is represented digitally – making Debord’s words about becoming consumers of illusions blatant.

“Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left” (McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964).

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Soma for the Globalized Minds

The world over, people using the Internet click on the same icons, use the same shortcuts in email and chats, connect with people through the same Facebook modalities. This is the globalization of minds. In the process of the digitalization of reality, regardless of content, we use predominantly the same limited mental channels and interact with the same tools.

We bring the same attitudes, gestures and procedures to working, dating, shopping, communicating with friends, sexual arousal, and scientific research. And most of these activities are impoverished by this phenomenon. Everything is seen as an information system, from the digitalization of territory (like Google Earth and augmented realities software) to our biology.

Judæo-Christian culture places nature and the world of matter at man’s disposal. Acting on them is a way to garner good deeds and regain the lost perfection of Eden. In this culture that has considered miracles as proof of the existence of God, we have developed technologies that resemble the miraculous and the divine. We are compelled to welcome the advent of new technological tools with the rhetoric of peace, progress, prosperity and mutual understanding.

The telegraph, telephone, radio, TV and other media have been regarded as tools for democracy, world peace, understanding and freedom of expression. The Internet is just the latest in a succession of promising messiahs. Yet we don’t have more democracy in the world. In fact, big media and big powers are even stronger, while freedom of expression has ceded to control by corporations and governmental agencies.

The Internet, like TV, is entertaining, dumbing people in their own separate homes where they will be unable to question the system. More than TV whose attractions are framed between the beginning and ending time of a show, the Internet, video games and smartphones have no structural pauses or endings. Hooked on a “real-time” stream of information, they take us farther away from both the real and the appropriate time frames.

The Internet might already be the new soma for a society experiencing economic and environmental degradation. But with the huge economic and psychological interests connected to it, criticizing its effect is akin to cursing God.

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Pink Floyd Wins Court Battle

The New York Times: Pink Floyd Wins Court Battle With EMI Over Downloads

The British rock band Pink Floyd won its court battle with EMI on Thursday, with a ruling that prevents the record company from selling single downloads on the Internet from the group’s concept albums… The judge said the purpose of a clause in the contract, drawn up more than a decade ago, was to “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums.”

Parts of tracks were even sold as ringtones for mobile phones. This court’s sentence is a small but significant achievement toward appreciating longer narratives instead of the “now, new and brief”.

See also: Maybe I would Not Appreciate Pink Floyd’s Music if it was Digital

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Technology “Does“ Us

Birds build their nests instinctively and many animals “know” how to hunt or find food, but human beings have a very simple set of instincts, such as those for suction and for grabbing. Everything else comes from a process of learning, which is very much an embodied process. As Alliance for Childhood writes in Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood:

In kindergarten, therefore, an emphasis on play and social skills – not premature pressure to master reading and arithmetic – seems most likely to prepare children for later academic success. Researchers have documented how much young children learn intuitively through their bodies, and how this lays a critical foundation for later conscious comprehension of the world. The child’s first experience of geometric relationships and physics, for example, is literally a visceral one.

A study published in Nature by the University of California at Santa Cruz’s researchers demonstrated that while animals learn a new task involving motor learning, new connections begin to form between brain cells almost immediately and they become consolidated in a permanent way in the brain. We all know that when we learn something involving the body, as in driving a bicycle, this knowledge stays with us.

On the evolutionary route, we first see the muscles appearing, and then motor functions, as consequences of living in a certain habitat, and later the associated neuro-physiological functions. The motor activity acts on the brain which in turn acts back on the body allowing a more perfected action. The opposability of the thumb and the erect position of human beings came millions of years before the further development of the brain. It was the work that altered the brain, and not vice versa, as Engels perceived what has been later confirmed by fossils (see Genesi dell’uomo-industria for a longer explanation in Italian).

The hand especially, with its subtle movements, shaped our nervous systems more than any other motor activity of the body. The “technologies” of body movements and of manual labor shaped and developed our brains since primitive times. In mutual feedback, our brains shaped our tools in growing complexity until we arrived at contemporary tools which interact almost exclusively with our minds.

In an experiment, researchers used magnetic scanners to read the brain activity of taxi drivers while they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London’s streets. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning, they obtained detailed brain images of 20 taxi drivers as they delivered customers to their destinations. Different brain regions were activated as they were planning their routes, spotting familiar landmarks, or thinking about their customers. The BBC article says that:

Their brains even “grow on the job” as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London’s labyrinth of streets…earlier studies had shown that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – a region of the brain that plays an important role in navigation.

Technologies which interact primarily with our minds have an immediate effect on our neurophysiology. Gary Small writes in Ibrain:

Functional MRI studies of young adults ages eighteen to twenty-six years who average fourteen hours a week playing video games have found that computer games depicting violent scenes activate the amygdala. It is perhaps no accident that many autistic individuals, with their small amygdalas and poor eye contact, are almost compulsively drawn to and mesmerized by television, videos, and computer games (p. 73).

The amygdala is an almond-shaped part of the brain located in the temporal region, considered part of the limbic system, where our emotional reactions take place. It modulates our reactions to threats as well. It could be considered a part of the ancient reptile brain, connected to survival, fear, and aggression.

Other experiments demonstrated that only five days of searching with Google by computer-naive subjects were enough to change their neural circuits, in particular, activating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain has an important role in our short-term memory and in the integration of sensory and mnemonic information.

Whether we use IT which interact primarily with our minds or mechanical technologies mainly through our bodies, they affect our body/mind even in permanent ways.

In astrological symbolism, the planet Uranus is associated with the hand, with technology, and with the nervous system in its capacity to transmit information. The symbolical–analogical knowledge of Uranus seems to connect all pieces together in a whole. The human nervous system developed from the subtle movements allowed by the human hand, which in turn developed tools and technology.

Technology, even in our hi-tech era, is still something which keeps a connection, though faint, to our hand. The only body movements we do when we use hi-tech tools are by our hands and fingers, through the mouse, the keyboard or a touch screen. Research published in 2009 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) demonstrated that hand gestures activate the same brain region of language (the inferior frontal and posterior temporal areas), something which any gesticulating Italian can easily agree with.

Ritual gestures (i.e. of the hands) have always been connected with the activation of inner states of the mind. Hinduism’s mudras are a whole discipline of spiritual gestures formed by the hands and fingers. Ancient disciplines such as the tea ceremony or tai-chi which involve many gestures are visible arts as much as an inner development.

The wider neural connections are between the hand and the brain. Handwriting itself, with its subtle and highly personalized movements, can even give a glimpse of our personality through graphology.

What happens when we use technologies which interact almost exclusively with our minds with no or mininal involvement of the body, apart from the obvious cardio-vascular and obesity risks in sitting for a long time in front of a screen?

We’ve seen that even pure IT in terms of searching with Google’s mold our brains, but is the activation of certain areas of the brain the whole story about the potential of human evolution? Can  it be that our cognitive capacities are as much in our brains and nervous systems as much as in every organ and cell of our bodies, and perhaps even beyond our bodies? Consciousness itself cannot be inferred by neuroimaging, much less locate wisdom or ethics.

As a culture, we didn’t investigate what happens when we substitute all manual with mental labor, which tends to have direct contact between our minds and the instrument. For instance, if London’s taxi drivers develop a part of the brain according to their navigational efforts through London’s streets, what happens when we rely on GPS for our navigation? As a personal anecdote, one of my acquaintances drove his car from the south to the north of Italy. When I asked him which route he took and whether he passed one town I named or another, he answered that he didn’t notice because he just followed GPS indications. Is there a possibility the same brain areas atrophy which become developed in taxi drivers?

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The depth and limits of words

In my opinion, words are the best “technology” for becoming aware of inner states and communicating them. Words are worth a thousand images. They can be like bridges to our inner world. The Net, for different reasons, discourages prolonged reading and introspection, directing our (scattered) attention toward external inputs only.

Words can bring us a long way toward the expansion of our awareness: however, they are slippery and can’t bring one up to the most elevated levels of consciousness. Furthermore, when words are communicated, they are heavily influenced by the interpretations we superimpose on them, by our cultural beliefs and our individual neuroticisms and conditionings.

Much of the communication industry – the Net included – is based on the rationale that more communication equals more understanding which equals a better world.  This comes from the assumption that ideas, concepts, meanings and feelings can be expressed and transferred by language. This is what has been called “the conduit metaphor” by Michael J. Reddy. According to the conduit metaphor:

Ideas are objects that you can put into words, so that language is seen as a container for ideas, and you send ideas over a conduit, a channel of communication to someone else who then extracts the ideas from the words… One entailment of the conduit metaphor is that the meaning, the ideas, can be extracted and can exist independently of people. Moreover, that in communication, when communication occurs, what happens is that somebody extracts the same object, the same idea, from the language that the speaker put into it. So the conduit metaphor suggests that meaning is a thing and that the hearer pulls out the same meaning from the words and that it can exist independently of beings who understand words (George Lakoff, interviewed by Iain A. Boal, “The Conduit Metaphor,” in James Brook and Iain A. Boal, eds., Resisting the Virtual Life, San Francisco: City Lights, 1995, p. 115).

The reality is that for the conduit metaphor to work we would need to share a very wide set of attributes: the same language, the same interpretation of words, a compatible level of culture, a similar background, a similar kind of sensitivity. So similar that perhaps the real point of communicating by words is actually to get closer to our self-understanding.

The conduit metaphor is what makes us write in blogs and social networks, thinking our message can be sent and “uploaded” to other human beings and will reach them in the way we intended. We don’t actually know about how this message will be interpreted, then we become surprised when there are misunderstandings and when wars get ignited.

The fathers of the digital revolution believed in the power of electronic communication and feedback as a tool for expanding participation and even consciousness. The origins of the conduit metaphor lie in the belief that we can separate information from the person who receives it. We consider “pure” information as something we can separate from the “noise” of our interpretations and feelings. It is the Cartesian dream of separating pure thoughts from the person in his wholeness, misplacing knowledge and information for the transformation of human qualities for the better.

As far as day-to-day work is concerned, language is useful, but you cannot move into the deeper realms with it, because these realms are nonverbal. Language is just a game…The meaning of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel is that the moment you speak, you are divided. The story is not that people began to speak different languages but, that they began to speak at all. The moment you speak, there is confusion. The moment you utter something, you are divided. Only silence is one. (Osho, The Psychology of the Esoteric, Cologne: Rebel Publishing House, pp. 57 and 60).

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You Can Tell What Somebody is Like by the Company They Keep

At the end of September 2009, an experiment done at MIT on social network analysis could identify which students are gay just by considering the data available on their Facebook pages. Through analyzing their online friends and the connections between them they could infer their gender preferences with a degree of accuracy. This raises more questions about online privacy.

I wrote in Google, Privacy and the Need to be Seen that we are apt at showing ourselves online in trying to fulfill the natural human need for mirroring, to be seen and understood, which probably hasn’t been actualized in the proper way at the proper time in our lives. Also, our skills for self-recognition and inner mirroring is becoming weaker and weaker because of the growing pressure from external inputs, mostly by the Net. No time for reflection and no empty space.

Social network analysis can infer much more about us than our sexual preferences. The ordinary mind in itself, as most spiritual teachers say, is quite mechanical in its behavior. Joining this mechanistic nature of the mind with the amount of available data which most people spontaneously show on the Net is such that a well-written software could guess many of our ideas, opinions, tastes and, most important for marketers, which products we’ll be willing to buy.

Psychoanalysis, neuro-linguistic programming and any other science of the inner being knows well that our beliefs and ideas are for the most part created by the conditioning acquired during our lives, especially in childhood.

Marketers have a special aptitude for cataloging people on the basis of their personalities, attitudes, lifestyles and preferences. But they aren’t interested in understanding the roots of those attitudes or in going beyond them. More than anything else, marketers are interested in the conditionings which have been created through a compensation for an undeveloped inner quality.

For instance, we might “need” some sort of external appearance (goods, clothes, gadgets, make-up, muscles or a slim figure) to compensate for a weak sense of self-worth, or we could need to connect frequently with people online because we aren’t able to keep in touch with our inner self and for the lack of authentic real-life relationships, thus needing computers, connections, smartphones and such gizmos.

Marketers, as well as psychoanalysts or spiritual teachers, are interested in knowing us and our conditionings, but the former are interested in making them stronger, reinforcing our “needs” instead of liberating us from them.

The understanding of marketers of the human soul is quite superficial since they don’t really need to go into the depths of people’s souls to exploit their weaknesses commercially, as much as a pusher doesn’t need to know the reasons why his client needs drugs.

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Close, Closer, Closest to the Screen

Everybody can remember when, as a child, our parents told us not to get too close to the TV. That was “close.” Then the personal computer came and we got closer. Even closer with laptops. Then we went closest with smartphones.

The information which appears on a screen almost compels us in following it with our eyes. Giving attention to visual novelties activates the ancient neurophysiological system which rewards us with a pleasurable dopamine release. In ancient times, paying attention to a visual stimulus gave more chances for survival, so it was rewarded in pleasurable ways. Since any visual novelty was potentially a predator or a prey, our neurophysiological system developed reward systems to give us more chances of survival.

One of the causes of the Internet, videogames and in general addiction to electronic gadgets, could be this need to follow the many external visual stimuli. What happens on the screen brings our attention to what’s going on, thus activating our reward system based on dopamine.

Even though we look at many inputs in fast sequence, our field of vision and the movements of the eyes are very limited, and in many cases we end up staring blankly at the screen. Many years ago, an artist friend of mine, knowing I was spending much time on a computer, gave me a small painting depicting a landscape where the eye could relax in an unfocused way. Very kind and useful, but I didn’t really use it since the pressures of the external inputs were stronger.

This act of staring brings both a limited eye movement and the slowing down of the frequency of blinking. When we spend many hours every day staring at a screen, something is probably going to change on a neurophysiological level.

We know that moving the eyes in different directions can improve memory and the communications between the brain hemispheres. The article of the British Psychological Society says:

One hundred and two participants listened to 150 words, organized into 10 themes (e.g. types of vehicle), read by a male voice. Next, 34 of these participants moved their eyes left and right in time with a horizontal target for 30 seconds (saccadic eye movements); 34 participants moved their eyes up and down in time with a vertical target; the remaining participants stared straight ahead, focussed on a stationary target.
After the eye movements, all the participants listened to a mixture of words: 40 they’d heard before, 40 completely unrelated new words, and 10 words that were new but which matched one of the original themes. In each case the participants had to say which words they’d heard before, and which were new.
The participants who’d performed sideways eye movements performed better in all respects than the others: they correctly recognised more of the old words as old, and more of the new words as new. Crucially, they were fooled less often by the new words whose meaning matched one of the original themes – that is they correctly recognised more of them as new. This is important because mistakenly identifying one of these ‘lures’ as an old word is taken as a laboratory measure of false memory.

Eye movements improve creativity as well as the resolution of problems. Science Blogs describe eye-tracking research by Grant and Spivey (2003). They showed that people solved a medical problem spontaneously without any hints when they looked at a picture depicting a human body through moving the eyes in and out of the pictured body. This is called “embodied cognition,” meaning that some parts of the body reflect an internal mental process externally.

There are also hypotheses which say that the communication between the cerebral hemispheres is improved by moving the eyes in different directions and that could be a support to psychological therapy.
So we know that rotating the eyes leads to an improvement of memory, an increase of creativity, and a greater exchange of information between the brain hemispheres. Information overload, little movement of the eyes, and decreased creative and memory capacities join in mutual feedback. In this respect, I sometimes practice a light neurophysiological exercise by rotating the ocular globes in each direction for several minutes.

I also noted that maintaining the gaze on a near object for a long period of time decreased my ability to see things in a wide perspective and to observe the correlation between information distant from each other. I tend to see details but less the broader perspective. I find it fundamental to take the gaze to a distance in moments of reflection, in a relaxed and unfocused mode. Everywhere I am I tend to stay on high floors with a wide view. Further, keeping the visual focus always at the same distance and at the same angle diminishes the blinking, symbolically bringing fixation of even a thought.

If this fixation is bad enough for adults, it can be even worse for children. There’s strong pressure in prematurely developing the intellectual aspects of children, but much research has demonstrated that children learn mainly through their bodies and how that will give them academic success later. So give your child an early exposure to computers and you’ll most probably make him dumber instead of more intelligent and creative.

Furthermore, close contact with a screen at an early age could even interfere with some neurophysiological development. Alliance for Childhood published Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood (College Park, 2001). On page 22, they write:

Infants and toddlers develop their visual-spatial awareness first through cross-movements in space, such as crawling, and then by gradually fine-tuning their hand-eye coordinations, until their eyes become adept not only at following their hands, but at leading their hands in finer and finer motions. Finally, after many integrated experiences of seeing, touching, and moving their hands and the rest of their bodies in three-dimensional space, young children develop an appreciation of visual forms as real objects, and the capacity to visualize objects without actually seeing them. Too much time spent in passively looking at two-dimensional representations of objects on a computer screen – or a television set – may interfere with this developing capacity.

Then, at page 23:

Grade school children need even more frequent breaks from close computer work than adults do. That’s because their muscular and nervous systems are still developing. It’s not until about the age of 11 or 12 that their capacity to balance and coordinate the movement and the focusing of both eyes together is fully mature.

At that age most kids in Western countries were already familiar with screens for years through videogames, gadgets and computers. First, we give them screens to “enhance” their minds, then we give them Ritalin to “fix” them neurophysiologically.

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E-clipsed Books

Ebook readers and announcements of titles are multiplying. After at least 15 years of false starts, this time it looks like ebooks are going to take over, driven by products like Amazon Kindle ebook reader.

When I was a book publisher I used to go to the Frankfurt Buchmesse. It was around 1993 when there were big announcements about “The Year of the E-book” (it was spelled with a hyphen then), which would soon replace paper books.

The ground floor of the book fair was dedicated to ebooks, but publishers didn’t really rush to convert their titles into a digital format. At that time, as a young publisher of computer science books, I blamed the conservative nature of the traditional publishing industry and experimented with digital formats. As it happened with other digital publishers, the market didn’t answer positively. So I blamed the conservative nature of the reader instead and kept publishing paper books, which were successful.

There were more waves of the craze for ebooks, a bigger one a few years later. We tried to believe in that second wave as well, but even this time there wasn’t much interest. In the meanwhile the Internet came into our lives and I noticed, starting from the US, that something was changing in the traditional book publishing industry.

Books were becoming smaller and the writing style more journalistic. Some publisher colleagues told me that “the reader doesn’t have much time any more to read complicated and big books, as they are used to Web pages,” or that “the writing style should be more catchy and entertaining.”

I won’t blame the Internet for this per se, but for sure it represented the low point of the prolongued attention capacity, already weakened by fast TV edits, by the remote control and the number of available channels and overall by the information overload industry.

The new generations of ebook readers improved much on readability and it seems that this new wave is the one which is finally about to grow in popularity. The thing is, it won’t be the same thing about books any more. Even though ebooks won’t substitute paper books, they will get an important share of the traditional book market, which will probably reduce – as we have already seen about the traditional newspaper market.

But…things just change and we shouldn’t be afraid of that, right? We shouldn’t be overly attached to the traditional media but be open to technological advances, as the techno-enthusiasts (and the ones who have direct economic interests in it) tell us.

True, but it could anyway be interesting to know what’s going to change in our inner reading experience through ebook technology. Ebooks will probably set different standards about length and writing style, and much time won’t pass before they will “open” to links and to connecting with other people who read the same book, making the reading experience more social and shared. Maybe videos will be available when the ebook readers technology will improve. Advertisement will come too. Ebook readers and publishers are going to compete for developing more and more features, “enhancing” the experience.

Wonderful, but some things give their best with less instead of more. For instance, organic food is healthier because there are no preservatives, no chemicals, no GMO, no colorants.

Ebooks won’t make books extinct: they will just eclipse the inner experience of reading books, in spite of what tech people say that supports don’t matter. What are usually taken into consideration are the technical issues around clarity of the screen, available memory, and the facility of reading in different light conditions. But since many technologically-oriented people don’t give much attention to the subtle inner changes, for many of them it’s probably the same. What matters for them is what we can do, not what is being done on us by technology.

Being alone with a book, electronic or paper or whatever, with no Internet, no links, no videos, no electronics and nothing and nobody else popping up on the screen while we read, will probably become rare, but it is that very solitude which can give non-interrupted mutual feedback between the words, as the semantic bricks of our awareness, and the depths of the soul.

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Spinning the Net Out

Pew Internet released a report on Social Isolation and New Technology contradicting previous studies on the subject:

This Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community survey finds that Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. People’s use of the mobile phone and the internet is associated with larger and more diverse discussion networks. And, when we examine people’s full personal network – their strong and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with more diverse social networks.

I also think that Facebook users have real-life connections as well, but since Facebook has spread massively, my feeling is that the pre-existing real-life relationships are being sucked into Facebook too.

In the beginning, TV used to show and describe reality, and people would talk about what happened on TV. Starting around 20 years ago, I noticed that TV talked more and more about what happened on TV itself in a self-referencing way. I saw that mostly through other peoples’ TV sets since I don’t own a set myself. Seeing TV only rarely makes me more aware of the macro-changes. At a certain point, TV didn’t just show and talk about reality any more, but made reality itself, which was then commented upon by TV itself and by other media.

The Net followed a similar but slightly different path. A few years ago, the Net was limited to a small percentage of the population and it was immediately self-referential, encouraged by the easy mechanism of the link system.

Then, as social networks spread, people populated Facebook and similar sites. Recently, I noticed that real-life conversations got more into “what happened on Facebook” and this in itself fuelled the growth of the social network itself. People didn’t want to feel “left out” so they flocked to Facebook. Suddenly, people would feel left out if they weren’t present on the Net and in its happenings, more than if they weren’t present in face-to-face meetings.

The Net got priority. Without it, many real meetings can’t happen anymore as they are organized as Facebook events. Since we spend more and more time online, without the Net, we could even become short of arguments in our real-life conversations.

Many people into technology welcome the interaction between the Net and real life, seeing that as something which balances both and which takes the Net out of a cage. The problem is that the process of digitalization of reality is quite greedy and tends to incorporate every aspect of reality, absorbing the wholeness of reality starting from the mental level, representing it digitally as if everything could be translated into bytes. So in the end, reality becomes sucked into the Net, which has to be lifestreamed or lifelogged in order to become realized. Reality can be considered real only when can become digitalized.

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The Digitally Divided Self

There’s an unusual but apparent alliance between two philosophies which are barely aware of and rarely come into contact each other, which conjure against the physical reality and the body. The first “philosophy” is represented by what have variously been called Cyberspace, Technopoly, Cyburbia and other names.

I prefer to define it as “The Digitalization of Reality,” wherein more and more human activities are being translated into bytes. Work, communication, media, entertainment, friends, dating, sexuality, culture, shopping, politics and causes are among the growing number of human needs that have gone digital.

While the Internet was something which earlier we mostly visited, now we are inhabiting the virtual worlds full-time and engineer them according to our mental projections. The Cartesian dream of a mind without a body has almost been fulfilled (even though in his old age Descartes, in Passions of the Soul, affirmed that “the soul is jointly united to all the parts of the body”).

This separation has a long history of Western thought starting from the Judeo-Christian separation between body and soul up to people like the transhumanist Hans Moravec, the artificial intelligence researcher Marvin Minsky, or the singularity guru Raymond Kurzweil who want to download the biological human mind to a safer mechanical medium in order to achieve nothing less than immortality.


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Mother Google

This is an updated article of an older post. Some time ago, Gmail added another “much-needed” feature we all were waiting to see (italics mine).

How often do you try to chat with somebody and they don’t respond because they just walked away from their computer? Or maybe you’re in the middle of chatting with them just as they need to leave. But you still need to tell them something – something really important like you’ve moved, where you’re meeting…or ice cream! We need ice cream! This is why we built a way to chat with your friends even when they’re away from their computers. Now you can keep the conversations going with a new Labs feature that lets you send SMS text messages right from Gmail. It combines the best parts of IM and texting: you chat from the comfort of your computer, and your friends can peck out replies on their little keyboards.

It is quite amazing to read so many words in a single paragraph which convey the meaning of need, abandonment, attachment, nourishment. The whole passage reminds one of a baby who doesn’t want to get detached from the  person who provides care and attention. Our primary object-relationships are being transferred to technology and, Mother Google provides us her umbilical cord and the milk to nourish us.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories and I don’t think that those words have been chosen carefully to manipulate people’s psyches. The digitalization of reality has gone so far that we are now substituting every human need, even the most basic ones, with technology. So those words are just the natural outcome of our intimate relationship with technology.

This feature of Google will be a panacea for anxious people who can’t detach themselves from the machine and the people whom they chat with and need to keep the connection.

Of course, people can block or stop the SMS messages at any time, but the silence of becoming isolated from the Net could become too eerie to bear. The pressures of the unknown neglected inner self asking for attention will probably be pacified again with some gadget connected to the big mama-net with its sweet bytes flowing down reminding us that we aren’t isolated anymore.

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Maybe I would Not Appreciate Pink Floyd’s Music if it was Digital


The digitalization of reality, in its race toward incorporating more and more of human life, is  well advanced in the area of the media, probably because the media are already a mental construction, a half-way between a direct approach to reality and a mental interpretation.

The media had their physical counterparts and supports which, in time, became less and less “embodied.” Music production – and especially music reproduction, for instance – went from heavy equipment to small MP3 readers. Now we have virtually no physical equipment any more for music, nor for movies and, books themselves are going digital, being contained in small memory chips.

Damasio demonstrated that the brain can’t be understood without the body and the emotions which inform thought and decisions. Analogously, a piece of information without a physical support misses something. As with thoughts, we can’t really detach the media from their physical counterparts. Our relationship with music, for instance, is a multi-sensorial one, being not only auditory, but tactile and visual as well. Beside that, music is a social experience too. And we should not forget that we can feel an attachment to the physical support of music (in the form of LPs or, less, CDs) and paper books or magazines.

The New York Times recently published an article, “Serendipity, Lost in the Digital Deluge”, saying, “there is just too much information. We can have thousands of people sending us suggestions each day – some useful, some not. We have to read them, sort them and act upon them.”

I wrote in “Does the Internet Really Broaden Minds?” how the variety of sources available on the Net bring traffic only to a very restricted set of websites instead of broadening the scope of our search. The same applies to references to scientific papers and music where just 0.4 percent of tracks account for 80 percent of downloads. Researchers have found that when people are more connected to each other on the Net, they tend to concentrate on an even smaller number of sources.


La digitalizzazione della realtà, nella sua corsa ad incorporare sempre più aspetti dell’umano, è particolarmente avanzata nell’area dei media, probabilmente perché questi sono già una costruzione mentale, una via di mezzo tra un contatto diretto con la realtà e un’interpretazione mentale.

I media hanno avuto i loro equivalenti fisici e i loro supporti i quali, nel tempo, sono diventati sempre meno “incarnati”. La produzione musicale, ad esempio, e in particolare la riproduzione della musica, è passata da pesanti attrezzature a minuscoli lettori MP3. Ora praticamente non abbiamo quasi più alcun supporto fisico per la musica, per i film e anche i libri stanno andando verso il digitale.

Damasio ha dimostrato che il cervello non può essere compreso senza il corpo e le emozioni che informano i pensieri e le decisioni. Analogamente, un frammento informativo senza un supporto fisico manca di qualcosa. Come per il pensiiero, non possiamo veramente separare i media dalle loro corrispondenze fisiche. La nostra relazione con la musica, ad esempio, è multi-sensoriale, non solamente uditiva, ma anche tattile e visiva. A parte ciò, la musica è un’esperienza sociale. E non va dimenticato che possiamo sviluppare un attaccamento anche per il supporto fisico della musica (nella forma di LP o, in misura minore, di CD), dei libri e delle riviste.

Recentemente, il New York Times ha pubblicato l’articolo “Serendipity, Lost in the Digital Deluge”  (La serendipità persa nell’inondazione digitale), scrivendo “c’è troppa informazione. Possiamo avere migliaia di persone che ogni giorno ci mandano dei suggerimenti, alcuni utili, altri no. Dobbiamo leggerli, selezionarli, smistarli e agire su di essi”.

Nell’articolo “Internet ci porta all’apertura mentale?” ho scritto di come la varietà di fonti disponibili nella Rete porta traffico solamente ad un insieme molto ristretto di siti web, invece di espandere la portata della nostra ricerca. Lo stesso fenomeno si applica alle citazioni verso gli articoli scientifici e alla musica, dove solamente lo 0,4 percento dei brani rappresenta l’80 percento dei download. I ricercatori hanno scoperto che quando le persone sono più connesse tra di loro in Rete, tendono a concentrarsi su un numero di fonti ancora più ristretto.



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