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Category Archive for 'Mind'

Attention is the Foundation of Awareness

In any single moment of awareness, which may be as brief as one millisecond, attention is focused in only one sense field. But during the course of these momentary pulses of consciousness, attention jumps rapidly from one sense field to another, like a chimpanzee on amphetamines. In the blur of these shifts among the sense fields, the mind “makes sense” of the world by superimposing familiar conceptual grids on our perceptions. In this way our experience of the world is structured and appears familiar to us (Wallace, 2006, p. 37).

The mind compensates for the gaps in continuity by mechanically recalling our previous experience and conditioning. Spiritual teachers speak of this in various phrases: that we create reality; we are asleep; we do not see things as they are in their essence. The more the inputs we receive without attention from our part, the more the structures of our mind are unconsciously activated to make sense of the world.

Attention is one of the foundations of awareness. Without it, we have no protection against information which is poured into us. Without attention our real identities and human values have no role in transforming information into wisdom. Then without choice we ingest whatever is put in front of us.

Without attention we risk becoming servomechanisms of technology, clicking compulsively with no direction. An open mind without goals is very different from the lack of direction of a mind frenzied with the longing to be filled. Lacking attention we have no control over our intentions nor critical perspective for interpreting information.

Attention is an ingredient of mindfulness – the awareness of our inner state which includes our body, feelings, and sensations. Meditation techniques begin with focused attention and concentration.

With attention, awareness, mindfulness, “presence” and a quiet mind, we are nourished by our interiority instead of force fed by external stimuli. As attention is connected to our identity, weak attention produces a weak identity. A scientist of the Rational Psychology Association, studying changes in the brain from over-stimulation, defined “the new indifference” as the capacity to cope with contradictory stimuli without being concerned (Talbott, 1997).

If we add to this the pervasive difficulties with prolonged attention, the lack of inner awareness, the weakening of literacy, and the absence of strong ethical and ideological ground, we are easily manipulated by messages which simplify the world. We are then prey to fundamentalisms and populisms with their promise of rapid solutions and return to the “certainties” of the past. Without attention nothing makes sense and there’s no motivation to delve deeper.

“It is worth noting that Ted Nelson, the maverick who first coined the term ‘hypertext’ to describe our ability to navigate our own path through electronic information in 1965, has suffered since childhood from what later became known as ADD” (Harkin, 2009, p. 135). Attention disorders are expanding parallel to the expansion of information, leaving us vulnerable to unbalanced external guidance. Short attention span and lack of inner guidance work together to create a weak identity.

excerpt from Chapter 12 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

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Lost in the Current

excerpt from Chapter 11 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

Human beings evolved with a terror of predators, so that visual or audio signals are associated with something potentially dangerous. When threatened, the instinctual brain mechanisms, located especially in the amygdala, become activated.

First described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, the “orienting response” is our instinctive reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus, visual or auditory. This ancient survival mechanism is one of the reasons why it’s difficult to sit in front of a TV and ignore the moving images. Each time we attend to a new stimulus, the mechanism of reward is activated. On the neurophysiological level, dopamine is released, leading to a sense of well-being and euphoria – thus reinforcing our reaction and improving our chances of staying alive. Though we rarely encounter predators any more, the mechanisms remain in the brain. Whatever facilitates survival of the species is gratifying – like the pleasure of sexual engagement.

Attend to This!

The events on the Net which anticipate and activate the reward system are numerous: new email announcements, instant messages, Twitter or Facebook updates, new articles in blogs, video games, news. The amygdala is stimulated by all the media. And the Internet has multiplied the stimuli by concentrating the textual, visual, auditory, and interactive channels in a single medium.

The inner reward system makes us attend to information. By interacting with it we produce new information ourself. The reward system is activated even when we anticipate a reward. So a simple sound that signals an incoming email or IM text releases dopamine – even when a spam message is delivered.

A research presented to the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology Conference in January 2012 found that some people are so obsessed about checking their email and social networks that they experience “phantom” vibrations of their phones when no message had actually been received.

Any action that activates the reward mechanism also activates another mechanism: that of addiction. Even if they are not badly addicted, many people – myself included – experience difficulty stopping online activity. Stimuli which previously evoked a certain neural response, over time produce less effect. So, it’s necessary to have more stimuli that are more intense, more varied, and more frequently.

To achieve this, we need more computing power and faster Internet to manage the increasing number of events running simultaneously on the screen. Technological development is pushed by the greed for “more” and “faster.” The brain, particularly the amygdala and the hippocampus, mistakes the continuous stimuli with survival, so it becomes difficult to turn away from the source of stimulation.

While it’s difficult to ignore a nearby TV, the computer is even more powerful and complex, because it adds the frenzied activity of chasing and producing information to the passive staring at a screen. Besides the neurological triggering of the survival mechanism, much web content actually relates to survival – being sexual or financial, including online gambling, auctions and stock investing – which activates the dopamine shots.

Seeking social stimulation is not traditionally considered compulsive or addictive, but as technology co-opts social life as one more window present on the screen, it is possible to become a Facebook addict because of the dopamine reaction.

Fundamentally, both TV and computer screens are about moving images. Seeing something new moving activates the orienting response. While TV editors increase the number of cuts and effects in order to hold attention, the Internet generates an even larger number of interruptions as we open multiple windows, run several programs simultaneously, and communicate by instant messaging.

Since it would be nonsense to react physically to an image on a screen as if a beast were threatening us, like we did in ancient times when a potentially threatening change took place in our surrounding, we have learned to suppress emotions and inhibit our reactions. But they aren’t really gone, building up as tension in the nervous system. In bioenergetic terms, there’s a charge but no discharge. In other words, stress and frustration build, even though it’s often not perceived consciously.

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Technology is Natural for the Mind

Some may be surprised to read such a statement. Technology is natural in the sense that it amplifies the natural tendency of the mind to be continuously stimulated by external events. Introspection, meditation, and the silence of the mind are the most unnatural experiences for the ego-mind.

The “natural” evolution of the psyche creates, at best, a healthy and strong ego. Going beyond this stage requires a lot of “unnatural” work, mostly by developing an observing attitude called meditation. The tools of technology are more congenial for our minds than meditation. Through technology, we can even write about meditation in our blogs (as I also do, and yes I am aware of the paradox) and on social networks (which I avoid). By feeding the mind through every means we never risk abandoning our cherished identification with the mind’s contents.

Disengaging from the chatter of our minds is one of the most unnatural activities that humans can do. Information technology feeds our mind with information, a product that the mind loves to crunch on, and also with ideas, concepts, emotions, and beliefs, keeping the ego-mind at the center of the show.

Technology is natural for the ego-mind, the level with which humanity currently identifies. The digital-binary technology reflects perfectly the duality of the mind, where the either-or modality is reflected even in the inner functioning of computers.

The information society, as the peak of an historical process, will probably last for a shorter amount of time than the industrial one. If we follow the esoteric system of the seven bodies, the next step after the mental plane would be the awareness one, in which the mind is observed, known, and explored from the inside.

The semantic web, sometimes called Web 3.0, is the first step toward meta-information, toward a self-awareness of information that simulates, though limited on the mental plane, the observing attitude of inner exploration.

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Melatonin, screen media, light and sexuality

Melatonin is a very important hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain (the seat of the soul, according to Descartes).  Since melatonin controls nearly every other hormone produced by the body, it is often defined as the master hormone.

Melatonin is involved in many physiological functions and has varied therapeutic applications: It acts as a neuroprotective; improves headache, bipolar disorders and ADHD symptoms; protects against Alzheimer’s disease; offers antioxidant properties; strengthens memory; improves cancer survival; protects from radiation; improves autism, and much more.

A 2012 study on obesity and diabets concludes that “epidemiological studies link short sleep duration and circadian disruption with higher risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes” and “prolonged sleep restriction with concurrent circadian disruption alters metabolism and could increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.” (Buxton, 2012).

The popular use of melatonin supplements is for jet-lag symptoms, promoting sleep. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in darkness; thus, production takes place at night and is more pronounced in winter than in summer.

Being continually exposed to screen media and the light associated with it makes our brains believe it is still daytime.  Being exposed to such light during nighttime can disturb sleep patterns and trigger insomnia. While modern civilization has always used artificial light, the introduction of light-emitting laptops, tablet computers and smartphones created what Mercola (2011) defines on his website as “a state of permanent jet-lag.”  The light emitted by gadgets is much closer to us than ambient lights, which makes their melatonin-inhibiting action stronger.

Also, the type of light the screens emit makes a difference: Screen media mostly emit blue light, covering only a portion of the visible spectrum.  Our eyes are especially sensitive to blue light because it is the type of light normally found outdoors.  That way, gadgets can stop the production of melatonin needed for sleeping and for other health functions.  Among other risks, prolonged exposure to light can increase the risk of cancer.

Melatonin is also essential for healthy brain function, being one of the main endogenous brain antioxidants protecting the brain from free radicals.  Furthermore, there are connections between melatonin production and cognitive capabilities. Technology use, other than subtly affecting our psyches, has a direct physiological impact on our bodies, which, in turn, leads to changes in our inner attitudes.

Melatonin also has a strong connection with sexuality and sexual hormones. When melatonin levels rise in the body, usually in winter, testosterone levels drop, reducing sexual desire and frequency of mating.  For females, estrogen is also reduced. Just before puberty, melatonin levels drop suddenly by 75%, giving strong hints about the involvement of the hormone in the onset of puberty.

The last couple of decades saw a significant growth of precocious puberty, which, considering the concomitant massive use of screen media (video games, computers, Internet) by kids, can lead us to wonder whether there is a correlation between melatonin-inhibition by screen light and hormonal changes triggering early puberty.

Melatonin levels are inversely proportional to sexual desire and to the levels of sexual hormones.  Less melatonin, as when the production is inhibited by natural or screen light, increases sexual desire.  That’s probably good news for porn producers.

References

Mercola, F. (2011, January 10). The “sleep mistake” which boosts your risk of cancer.

Buxton, O.M., S. W. Cain, S. P. O’Connor, J. H. Porter, J. F. Duffy, W. Wang, C. A. Czeisler, S. A. Shea, Adverse Metabolic Consequences in Humans of Prolonged Sleep Restriction Combined with Circadian Disruption. Sci. Transl. Med. 4, 129ra43 (2012).

See also:

Close, Closer, Closest to the Screen

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TV and the Internet: Dullness and Restless

Attention is one of the foundations of awareness. Without it, we have no protection against information which is poured into us. Without attention we cannot transform information into wisdom. Then without choice we ingest whatever is put in front of us.

Without attention we risk becoming servomechanisms of technology, clicking compulsively with no clear direction. An open mind without goals is very different from the lack of direction of a mind frenzied with the longing to be filled. Lacking attention we have no control over our intentions nor critical perspective for interpreting information.

Attention is an ingredient of mindfulness – the awareness of our inner state which includes our body, feelings, and sensations. Meditation techniques begin with focused attention and concentration.

With attention, awareness, mindfulness, “presence” and a quiet mind, we are nourished by our interiority instead of force fed by external stimuli. As attention is connected to our identity, weak attention produces a weak identity.

B. Alan Wallace, on page 6 of The Attention Revolution (Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2006) writes that “One progresses through each stage by rooting out progressively more subtle forms of the two obstacles: mental agitation and dullness.”

The strenghtening of the inner attention and concentration is a requisite for the progress toward an expanded awareness, which, in turn, “being lucid harmony (sattva) in action, dissolves dullness and quietens the restlessness of the mind and gently, but steadily changes its very substance. This change need not be spectacular; it may be hardly noticeable; yet it is a deep and fundamental shift from darkness to light, from inadvertence to awareness” (Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That, Acorn Press, Durham, 1982, p. 271).

TV definitely tends toward dulling the mind, as documented by Jerry Mander and many others. TV keeps the viewer glued to the screen both by giving a linear narrative and by quick edits and visual stimulation that leverage our ancient instinct. We can’t help but attend to any changes in our visual space, which in ancient times gave better chances of survival against predators. This mechanism of mental stimulation is even more present on the Internet than on TV because of its multitasking possibilities.

Also, the Internet, being composed mostly of small pieces of information competing for our attention, has a less linear narrative. Furthermore, the Internet, smartphones, and videogames don’t have a temporal structure; thus, there is no clear “beginning” or “end,” as in traditional media such as TV, where programs start and stop on a schedule. Thus, there’s no inherent end to online interaction. Online, we expect answers immediately, and with that expectation reinforced, our endlessly curious mind is pulled further into the current.

The positive side of dullness is relaxation and the positive side of mental agitation is a curious, active mind. A relaxed though active mind is a marker of a receptive, creative, and balanced mind. TV and the Internet seduce us by simulating those states.

For some time, I thought that TV promoted mostly dullness while the Internet causes mental restlessness, but those states are complementary and support each other. The two media are coming closer to each other. TV is presenting more “multitasking” capabilities by running text on the screen and by using quick cuts and edits, while the Internet is becoming more passive due to the presence of videos and an endless “real-time” stream of information (news sites, blog entries, Twitter, Facebook, Google+) that we browse mostly in a passive way. A great majority of people are lurkers and don’t contribute to the user-generated content, and even the active ones spend more time in a passive state rather than commenting or writing their own entries.

Also, TV programs have now less temporal structure. Shows and news morph into each other in a continuous stream, where there’s no more “end.” Jerry Mander, considering an increase in hyperactivity among children due to TV, writes in In the Absence of the Sacred (Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1991) that “television viewing, if it can be compared to a drug experience, seems to have many of the characteristics of Valium and other tranquilizers. But that is only half of the story. Actually, if television is a drug, it is not really Valium; it is speed” (p. 66).

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Facebook Logout: Experiences and Reasons to Leave it

Ivo Quartiroli - facebook logoutFacebook Logout: Experiences and Reasons to Leave it is available to download as a free eBooklet in different formats at Smashwords. Also is available at different ebook stores as Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

A special thank you to the contributors.

This is the Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Musings about Facebook
The Quality of Relationships
Privacy Issues
Children
Facebook Changes the Concept of Friendship
The Inner Reasons to Leave
The Logout Process
Chapter 2: Logout Experiences
All Your Time or Nothing
This Time I Really Want to Leave it for Good
Bad Energy
Amplifier of an Inner Discomfort
Looking Through the Keyhole
An Affection-Compensating Tool
Boring to Death
Obsessive-Compulsive
From Village to Global Village
Reliving my Earlier Nightmares
Political Control
Not a Broad Communication
You Always Have to Feed the Beast
A Narrowed Down Tunnel-Vision Style of Contact
References

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The game of Facebook

In one of my rare Facebook appearances, I mumbled about the absurdity of spending more than an hour to carefully read (as it should be with people we care about) a friend’s updates of the last hour.

The last comment I received on my note (in Italian) was, “If you don’t like the game, just don’t play it.”  This friend is very active on Facebook, sharing words, videos, links, and whatever.  He is an artist and a spiritual researcher, a real friend with whom I have shared deep talks, meditation practices and fun, not a typical “friend” the way Facebook has redefined this word.  I feel he has a big heart.

After a few days, I realized that I had often heard people who are in spiritual work say that Facebook is just a game, and you can play it, enjoy it, but you can keep detached, knowing that it is a game of the mind that can be enjoyed, but we do not have to become attached to it, much as an enlightened being who could see the activity of his mind just as ripples on the surface of his consciousness.  Under this line of reasoning, consciousness is unaffected by those ripples.

I think there’s a deep misunderstanding under this assumption.  As long as is true that an enlightened being is beyond the hiccups of the mind and can observe them as a witness rather than a participant, for the rest of us, being involved repetitively with a tool is going to affect our relationship to the tool itself, as well as to the people on the other side of the screen.

Despite the confidence that we can be stronger than whatever activity we do for many hours a day, the reality is that we can and often actually do become attached to the tool and to the repetitive tasks connected.  Even spiritual researchers do.  If we feed the body continuously with unhealthy food or chemicals, chances are that we are going to feel the consequences.  This applies even to spiritually advanced people, since the body responds at least as much to mechanical stimuli as to a higher awareness.  A higher consciousness is not a guarantee of long life or health on the physical level.

Many spiritual teachers say that the mind also is a mechanism, and that the body and mind are actually a body-mind pair, in which the mind isn’t any less mechanical than the body.  Every spiritual researcher knows how the mind can be heavily conditioned by early experiences, external messages received, and even by the thoughts we produce.  Those conditionings cloud our awareness and don’t allow our lives to flow freely.
One of the classic teachings for the liberation of the mind is not to be dragged by the never-ending chatter of the mind, which is a source of distraction, a barrier to inner exploration, and the silence from which insights and depth come.

Why shouldn’t the mind also be conditioned by Facebook, not only in terms of the content seen there, but especially by the way we interact, by the interface itself?  While I have heard some people say that they look at Facebook’s messages in a “meditative way,” looking at the flow without becoming attached (and I wonder, anyway, if that is the non-attached view of a meditative mind or just plain indifference and boredom?), the interface and the way we communicate through Facebook is going to affect us more deeply than the actual content posted.  We know since McLuhan’s time that “the medium is the message.”

The very way we communicate, through scrolling and clicking the mouse (or the touch screen), by having windows on the screen, by associating friends with small icons, and communicating basically on a mental level with no embodied presence while being distracted by other events on the same screen, is going to morph our inner meaning of friendship and communication.  For younger people, this modality could even represent an inner imprinting.

Sites like Facebook tend to suck out our time and attention; they feed on our user-generated content, analyzing our words, messages, links, profiles, and friends for the sake of selling our data and attention to advertisers.  We can for sure play such a  “game,” but I would check first if I am the player or the one being played.

See also Resisting Facebook

After a Few Months on Facebook

The Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet is on Amazon

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The Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

The Digitally Divided SelfThe Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet is on Amazon.

ISBN 9788897233008
274 Pages – Format: 6″ x 9″ – $17.90 (discounted on Amazon)

It is nearly half a century since Marshall McLuhan pointed out that the medium is the message. In the interim, digital technologies have found an irresistible hook on our minds. With the soul’s quest for the infinite usurped by the ego’s desire for unlimited power, the Internet and social media have stepped in to fill our deepest needs for communication, knowledge and creativity – even intimacy and sexuality. Without being grounded in those human qualities which are established through experience and inner exploration, we are vulnerable to being seduced into outsourcing our minds and our fragile identities.

Intersecting media studies, psychology and spirituality, The Digitally Divided Self exposes the nature of the malleable mind and explores the religious and philosophical influences which leave it obsessed with the incessant flow of information.

I am deeply touched and extremely grateful to the people who took the time to read, support and endorse The Digitally Divided Self. Being my first English book, and basically self-published, I didn’t expect to receive many reviews, much less from such leading thinkers and writers – nor such positive responses.

It was also a surprise to find common interests around eastern spirituality with so many people into technology and media. This makes me hopeful for an evolution of the information society – from chasing external stimulation to inner explorations and silence.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

Praise for Digitally Divided Self

 “Quartiroli’s The Digitally Divided Self is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the ever-increasing hegemony of the digital world in the individual psyche. Drawing on diverse fields and traditions, the author analyzes numerous mechanisms by which IT separates us from ourselves. Readers stand to benefit from such an understanding that is a prerequisite for mounting a defense of one’s individuality.” —Len Bracken, author of several novels and the biography Guy Debord—Revolutionary

 ­“With great insight, Ivo Quartiroli captures the subtle as well as the gross impact that media use has on our individual and collective psyches. The challenge before all of us is how to adapt to the new technology in a healthy way that allows us to retain our essential humanity. He offers us a solution born of his experience and confirmed by neuroscience. This is a must read.” —Hilarie Cash, PhD, co-founder of reSTART: Internet Addiction Recovery Program

 “It is difficult to offer a spiritually based critique of today’s network culture without sounding like a nostalgic Luddite crank. Immersed in the tech, but also in various meditative traditions, Ivo Quartiroli is the perfect person to offer integral wisdom-tech with clarity and bite.” —Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica.

  “Aware of the profound and rapid psychological and social metamorphosis we are going through as we ‘go digital’ without paying attention, Ivo Quartiroli is telling us very precisely what we are gaining and what we are losing of the qualities and privileges that, glued as we are to one screen or another, we take for granted in our emotional, cognitive and spiritual life. This book is a wake-up call. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates should read it.” —Derrick de Kerckhove, Professor, Facoltà di sociologia, Università Federico II, Naples, former Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology.

 “The Digitally Divided Self alerts us about the insidious dangers of our growing dependence on Information Technology. Ivo Quartiroli warns us that Internet can easily develop into an addiction that undercuts our connections with nature, with other people, and with our deeper inner reality. The spiritual nourishment coming from genuine relationships is then replaced by the empty calories of fake relationships, with the resulting deterioration of our personal and social lives. Using an incisive style, Ivo Quartiroli can be provocative, iconoclastic, at times exaggerated, but never boring. Behind each observation there are pearls of wisdom that are guaranteed to make you think.” Federico Faggin, designer of the microprocessor.

 “Global culture is not only the latest step in the human evolutionary journey. It is also, as Ivo Quartiroli shows in The Digitally Divided Self, a critical opportunity to apply non-Western techniques of awareness to ensure healthy survival in the 21st century.” —Michael Heim, author of The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Virtual Realism, and Electric Language.

 “Question the merits of technology in the past and you’d be called a Luddite. But now technologists are leading the way toward a new, more balanced view of our gadget-driven lives. Drawing from his fascinating expertise in computer science and spirituality, Ivo Quartiroli presents a compelling critique of the corrosive impact of the Net on our humanity. It’s a warning we must heed.” —Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.

“A profoundly premonitory vision of the future of the 21st century, The Digitally Divided Self unlocks the great codes of technological society, namely that the very same digital forces that effectively control the shape and direction of the human destiny are also the founding powers of a new revolution of the human spirit.” —Arthur Kroker, author of The Will to Technology and Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory.

 “People today, especially young people, live more on the Internet than in the real world. This has subtle and not-so-subtle effects on their thinking and personality. It is high time to review these effects, to see whether they are a smooth highway to a bright interconnected future, or possibly a deviation that could endanger health and wellbeing for the individual as well as for society. Ivo Quartiroli undertakes to produce this review and does so with deep understanding and dedicated humanism. His book should be read by everyone, whether he or she is addicted to the Internet or has second thoughts about it.” —Ervin Laszlo, President, the Club of Budapest, and Chancellor, the Giordano Bruno Globalshift University.

 “The Mind-Body Split is a pervasive condition/affliction in the developed world, wholly un-recognized; yet fundamental to the great worldwide problems of health, environment, and economic inequity. Ivo Quartiroli’s Digitally Divided Self masterfully examines the effects of the insulated digital experience on the mind and the body self: exacerbating illusions and the Mind-Body Split; and contrasts it to the processes of self-discovery, growth, and healing: true inter-connectedness with nature, each other, and our selves. If the digital age is to solve our real problems, rather than create them, it will be with the knowledge contained in The Digitally Divided Self. Well done!” —Frederic Lowen, son of Alexander Lowen, Executive Director, The Alexander Lowen Foundation

 “Ivo Quartiroli here addresses one of the most pressing questions forced upon us by our latest technologies. In disturbing the deepest relations between the user’s faculties and the surrounding world, our electric media, all of them without exception, create profound disorientation and subsequent discord, personal and cultural. Few subjects today demand greater scrutiny.” — Dr. Eric McLuhan, Author and Lecturer

 “The internet is an extension of our central nervous system. When you operate a computer, you are extending yourself, through its interface, potentially all over the world, instantaneously. Extending yourself in such a disembodied, discarnate fashion only further entrenches your separateness, your ego self. In contrast, the introspective freeing from the physical through meditation also has the effect of creating a discarnate, disembodied state. That state is one that is progressively less identified with the ego self. This is the dichotomy that Ivo Quartiroli explores in The Digitally Divided Self. This book is well worth investigating.” —Michael McLuhan

 “We should all be asking the questions Ivo Quartiroli asks in this bold and provocative book. Whatever you think right now about technology, The Digitally Divided Self will challenge you to think again.” —William Powers, author of the New York Times bestseller Hamlet’s BlackBerry

 “It isn’t easy to find an informed and critical look at the impact of digital media practices on human lives and minds. Ivo Quartiroli offers an informed critique based in both an understanding of technology and of human consciousness.” —Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs.

 “Ivo Quartiroli is mining the rich liminal territory between humans and their networks. With the integrity of a scientist and the passion of artist, he forces us to reconsider where we end and technology begins. Or when.” —Douglas Rushkoff, Media Theorist and author of Cyberia, Media Virus, Life, Inc. and Program or Be Programmed.

 “You might find what he writes to be challenging, irritating, even blasphemous and sacrilegious. If so, he has proven his point. The Internet, Ivo suggests, might just be the new opium of the masses. Agree with him or not, no other book to date brings together the multitude of issues related to how the seductions of technology impinge upon and affect the development of the self and soul.” —Michael Wesch, Associate Professor of Digital Ethnography, Kansas State University

 The Digitally Divided Self is a refreshing look at technology that goes beyond the standard, well-worn critiques. Ivo Quartiroli charts new territory with a series of profound reflections on the intersections of computer science, psychology and spirituality.” —Micah White, Senior Editor at Adbusters magazine.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: From Awareness of technology to technologies of Awareness .. 1
Chapter 2:“It’s only a tool” .. 17
Chapter 3: The Roots of It .. 39
Chapter 4: The Digitization of Reality .. 53
Chapter 5: Intimacy and Sexuality.. 73
Chapter 6: Commoditizing and Monetizing.. 89
Chapter 7: Politics, Participation and Control .. 97
Chapter 8: Come together: the Rise of Social networks.. 115
Chapter 9: Digital Kids ..125
Chapter 10: Literacy and the Analytical Mind.. 133
Chapter 11: Lost in the Current .. 143
Chapter 12: The Digitally Divided Self.. 165
Chapter 13: The Process of Knowledge .. 189
Chapter 14: Upgrading to Heaven .. 205
Chapter 15: Biting the Snake.. 223
Appendix: The People of Contemporary It and what Drives them.. 233

Introduction

Like many people nowadays, much of my personal and professional life is related to technology: I use the Internet for keeping the connection with my work projects and friends wherever I am in the world. I published the first book in Italy about the Internet. I run a blog and a Web magazine, do my investments online, shop on the Net, do interviews by email and Skype, and have even indulged in cybersex. Right now I’m in Asia developing this book – which is full of references to Web articles, blogs and material found only on the Internet – with online support: an editor and writing coach in California, copy editor in India, book designer in Italy, and a printing and distribution service with multiple locations in USA. My life is immersed in the digital loop.

I have been involved in IT since I was a student. As I learned meditation and explored spiritual paths, I developed an inner observer and discovered states beyond the mind. Thus, I found myself going back and forth between processing consciousness and information. Slowly my focus has shifted from what we can do with technology to what technology does to us. As a first-hand explorer, I’ve observed the subtle changes of our massive use of the Net.

Just as a spiritual researcher can go beyond the mind only after having observed and mastered it, it is necessary to enter the digital world to step beyond it. We can’t become aware of its effects without being engaged in it. Since digital technology is unavoidable now, we need to master it without becoming lost in it, using its tools with our full awareness.

In this time, the intensification of mental inputs is a phenomenon that must be kept in balance. Our contemporary culture does not acknowledge anything beyond the mind, but in other traditions the mental world is just one of the aspects of our wholeness. In the West a sort of Cartesian “pure thinking” has been given priority. Although the mind is the best-known organ of thought, it is not the only cognitive modality. Nervous systems have been discovered both in the heart and in the belly, and the global awareness that can be accessed by spiritual practitioners is pervasive and non-localized. Yet these modalities cannot be represented digitally, so they are relegated to the sidelines.

Our technological society militates against uninterrupted conscious attention. Several authors have documented the effects of IT on attention, literacy and intellectual skills. It also intrudes on the silent time needed to be aware of inner transformations. We don’t realize we have become servomechanisms of IT – precisely because IT has weakened the inner skills of self-understanding. Shrinking of the rich range of human qualities to privilege only those which can be represented and operated digitally arises from the nature of the ego-mind and our particular Western history which has engendered – then valued – mental representations of reality. My focus here is to understand why the mind can be lured by the magic of the tools, while forgetting the person who is using them.

We believe we are empowered individually and politically as we post articles on our blogs and participate in social networks. In actuality, we feed the machine with our “user-generated content” which becomes candy for advertisers who then design ads based on what we say on Twitter, Facebook, and even our emails.

Jumping from information to self-understanding is necessary if we are to regain real freedom, a freedom from conditioning of our mind and the manipulation by information – whether self-created or from external sources. We mistake the transmission of gigabytes of data for freedom.

In our advanced technological society there is a reticence to acknowledge the inner, spiritual or metaphysical dimensions of life. What cannot be calculated – which is, thereby, “not objective” – is considered unworthy of investigation. Even more strongly denied is the relationship between technology and the impact on our psyche. Technophiles declare that it’s only a tool, as if our psyche could remain untouched by continuous interaction with digital media, and as if we could control its impact on us. We can indeed be in control of digital media – but only after we become fluent in those cognitive modalities which can’t be reached by such media.

To be unaffected by digital media, we need a Buddha-like awareness with sustained attention, mindfulness and introspection. Yet these very qualities which are needed to break out of the automated mind are especially difficult to access when we are drowning in information – information that is predominantly ephemeral and transient, and which lacks a broader narrative. Awareness is what gives meaning and depth to information, but for awareness to expand we need to empty our mind. A story will illustrate this. A university professor approached a master to learn about Zen. Tea was served, but when the cup was full, the master did not stop pouring. The cup, like the professor’s mind with its concepts and positions, was full. It must first be emptied to understand Zen. So, too, for the digital world.

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 digitization 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 digitization of territory (like Google Earth and augmented realities software) to our biology.

Judeo-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, will be entertaining, dumbing people in their own separate homes where they will be unable to question the system. The Internet might already be the new soma for a society experiencing economic and environmental degradation. But with the huge economic interests connected to it, criticizing its effect is akin to cursing God.

Many technological developments appeal to people because they answer psychological and even spiritual needs – like the quests for understanding and connection with others. Already digital technology has taken charge of truth and love – the drives which are distinctly human. Those primordial needs have been addressed, on the mental level, with information. Reflected only at that level, our soul is left empty with craving for the real qualities, and our mind is left restless, craving more information and chasing after satisfaction in vain.

The need to extend our possibilities through technology derives from the need to recover parts of ourself that were lost during the development of our soul – the states of sharp perception, fulfillment, and peace. Information technology (IT) also satisfies our ancient drives for power and control, even giving us several options with a simple click or touch of a finger.

The endless multiplication of information can keep the ego-mind busy – and thus at the center of the show. IT is the most powerful mental “pusher” ever created, feeding the duality of the ego-mind (which is symbolically mirrored by binary technology). 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 computer charms us by reflecting our mind on the Net. Like Narcissus, we mistake the reflected image and enter a closed loop, charmed by our reflection. The Internet, since the beginning, has been considered a technology which could crumble central governments and organizations. Perhaps that forecast was an external projection of what can happen inside us: disturbance of the integration of our psyches.

Meditation helps us recognize that we construct reality and that the mind leads us astray. Meditation is a path back to reality, to truth, to knowing and mastering our minds – instead of mastering the computer as a way to outsource our mind’s skills. It is a way to expand our awareness and join the other global “Net” – of awareness that permeates everything.

Though I am Italian, I am publishing this book for the English market because it is a post-digital book which can be better appreciated in countries where digital culture has spread throughout society. In Italy, one politically powerful tycoon owns most of the media, and uses it to demonize the Net. In that setting, being critical of the Net invokes the accusation of aligning with power to castrate freedom of expression, which is the polar opposite of my intention.

I welcome every medium which expands our chances of expressing ourselves, but I am aware that true self-expression can happen only when there’s a true self, which can hardly be shaped by screen media.

I am grateful to my spiritual teachers who opened new dimensions for my soul in my journey toward awareness, especially the intensity of Osho and the brilliant clarity of A. H. Almaas. I thank my copy editor Dhiren Bahl (www.WordsWay-Copyediting.com) for his painstaking corrections of my English text and my editor David Carr (www.MovingWords.us) for his clarifications and stylistic improvements. I’m grateful to my friends, too many to list here, for the numerous talks bringing together heart and mind in sharing our passion for truth.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

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The Digitally Divided Self. Table of Contents, Introduction and Chapter 1

The Digitally Divided Self

Order on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: From Awareness of technology to technologies of Awareness .. 1
The Limits of Technology.. 3
What’s Not Computable Isn’t Real .. 4
The Promises of the Early Internet .. 5
From Information Processing to Consciousness Processing.. 6
All in the Digital Mincer .. 7
Technology Can’t be Challenged.. 8
Technology Uses Us .. 10
Feeding the Soul with Bytes .. 11
The Immortal Mind .. 12
Inner Prostheses and Amputations through Technology .. 13
Beyond the Mind.. 14
The Fragility of Beliefs and Information Technology.. 15

Chapter 2:“It’s only a tool” .. 17
Technology is not Questionable .. 18
Knowing through the Body .. 18
Technology “Does” Us .. 19
Technology is a Matter of Life and Death.. 21
Binary and Inner Duality.. 21
Knowing through the Heart.. 22
Our Identity With Tools – from Chimps to Chips .. 25
Reconnecting with the Inner Flow.. 26
From Spectator to Witness .. 28
Inner Holes and Techno-Fills .. 28
Pure Thinking Without the Body.. 30
Tools for Inner Growth.. 31
The Mind Itself is a Medium.. 34
IT Weakens Our Presence .. 36
Constrained to Produce .. 39 (more…)

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Thinking Like Software

The chess master Garry Kasparov wrote a review for the New York Review of Books (note 1) saying that everybody can now have a chess program that will crush most grandmasters. But those programs work on the brute force of calculation, rather than style, patterns, theory or creativity.

“Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.” He points out that new and innovative ideas in chess software are not needed, since brute-force programs are efficient enough for the goal of winning.

While chess software has become less creative with the strong computing power now available, chess players has adopted this same attitude of merely looking for “what works.” There is undoubtedly a mutual feedback between the digital representations of reality and the way we approach those aspects of reality. Musician friends have told me that since the advent of software for composing music, their creative attitude has changed along with the mechanisms of musical software production.

Graphics, video production, architecture, music and countless creative activities are now being aided by software. And algorithms and the programming attitude extend from computers to real life. Losing weight, talking to an audience, finding the right partner, keeping her/him, having great sex, improving our self-esteem has became a “how-to” problem. With the right instructions and following the right procedures we believe we can master anything in life.

Yet computers still can’t do many things which are easy for humans – so we must adapt human work to the machine’s needs. Amazon Mechanical Turk service thus describes precisely how it supports creation of the human servomechanism:

Developers can leverage this service to build human intelligence directly into their applications. While computing technology continues to improve, there are still many things that human beings can do much more effectively than computers, such as identifying objects in a photo or video, performing data de-duplication, transcribing audio recordings or researching data details (http://aws.amazon.com/mturk/).

Human history is full of connections between humans and technological instruments. And the use of tools to extend our possibilities has been a big step in human development. But what we are facing now is something different. With Mechanical Turk, all human activities are first converted into digital ones, even those requiring imagination and intuition which lie beyond the ability of computers. Then human brain resources are used to decode actions that the machine is incapable of performing well. It is a kind of modern assembly line where, in place of physical and manual repetition, we find the repetition of a banal mental activity ‑ such as recognizing an image and classifying it, or transcribing a spoken text.

As more and more human activities are being translated into digital form, we need to supply the computer with the broader mind power of the human. We participate in order for the tool itself to expand its possibilities, no longer just to expand human capacities. It can be said that in the end it’s humans who take advantage of the human-computer interaction, and it is still humans who decide what to process and elaborate. This is true in a way, but in the movement to digitize even non-computable aspects that require massive human intervention, humans are becoming servomechanisms of technology as they feed the machine.

Among the many and enormous advantages of efficient automatic machinery is this: it is completely fool-proof. But every gain has to be paid for. The automatic machine is fool-proof; but just because it is fool-proof it is also grace-proof. The man who tends such a machine is impervious to every form of esthetic inspiration, whether of human or of genuinely spiritual origin (Huxley, Aldous, The Perennial Philosophy, New York: Harper & Row, 1945. p. 171).

(1) Kasparov, Garry, “The Chess Master and the Computer,” New York Review of Books, Feb 2010. <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/feb/11/the-chess-master-and-the-computer/>

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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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Google Life Navigator

At the Techonomy conference in August 2010, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said that through artificial intelligence Google can predict human behavior and that if we show Google 14 pictures of ourselves, it can even identify who we are—a boastful statement, but not far from the truth.

The ordinary human mind works mostly as a mechanism based on past conditionings. And it becomes even more mechanical through interacting continuously with machines. So there’s little surprise that some well-written software can infer with good accuracy who we are, what we want, which website we will visit, where we will go next while on the street. Google knows of every Web page we visit, every advertisement we click on and probably—with their mathematical and analytical tools that can interpret location, web navigation, connections with people, and email messages—much more than we can imagine.

In case our behaviour can’t be predicted, Google can always tell us what we should do, because, in Schmidt’s words, people “want Google to tell them what they should be doing next”, as reported by Nicholas Carr1. As much as his words are unnerving, there’s, again, more than a hint of truth in them. Our will and inner direction are activated by the connection with our “belly center”—that place which any martial arts practitioner moves from.

This center is weakened by overusing the mind without a felt, alive and aware connection with the body, which is the ground for our search for truth. Lacking this connection, we seek guidance from technology even for the most basic decisions, just as we ask Google for anything which could be retrieved with a little effort by our memories.

This transforms all of us into helpless babies needing suggestions or confirmation from Mother Google for all our activities. Or at best into rebellious teenagers ignoring her hints, but showing up at dinner time.

Possessive mothers want their children to be dependent on them, not wanting them to grow up, seducing them with their tastiest dishes (free and entertaining software tools) and providing for all of their needs—while resisting their children’s every effort to go out from home unsupervised. Anywhere we go we leave a trace for Google. The children, then, will never face the real world—nor their real selves.

1. Brave New Google.

See also:  Mail Goggles
Mother Google
The Tao of Google Ranking
Google, Privacy and the Need to be Seen

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