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Category Archive for 'The Digitally Divided Self'

Derrick De Kerckhove and Maria Pia Rossignaud on the digital persona

Derrick De Kerckhove and Maria Pia Rossignaud added a valuable contribution to the subject of identity and technology in their article “The digital persona” in Papers of Dialogue n.2-2013. I am also grateful for their quotes from The Digitally Divided Self 

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Internet e l’Io diviso. La consapevolezza di sé nel mondo digitale

Internet e l'Io diviso“The Digitally Divided Self” is out in Italian as “Internet e l’Io diviso. La consapevolezza di sé nel mondo digitale” by Bollati Boringhieri. Click on the Italian flag for the Italian introduction and table of contents.

Internet e l’Io diviso. La consapevolezza di sé nel mondo digitale è disponibile in libreria. Di nuovo, grazie a Stefano Mauri, Michele Luzzatto, Bernardo Parrella e ai collaboratori di Bollati-Boringhieri che hanno reso possibile l’edizione Italiana. La versione italiana per l’introduzione e l’indice.

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Upgrading to Heaven

Through technological achievements we try to compensate for our inner deficiencies. Unconsciously we even attempt to emulate advanced psychological and spiritual levels of human development, levels which can’t be reached by the conceptual mind. Technology is the contemporary method for the will to infinity. Quoting Alan Watts:

The sense of isolation and loneliness of the ego is one of deep insecurity, manifesting itself in a hunger to possess the infinite. . . . This will take the form of trying to make the finite infinite through technology, by abolishing the limitations of space, time and pain. In terms of philosophy it involves giving the human ego the value of God. . . . By the exercise of his brilliant reason he will abolish the painful finitude of being an ego. He will forget his loneliness in crowded urban life, in an orgy of superfluous communication and social agitation (Watts, Alan, The Supreme Identity, New York: Pantheon Books, 1950. pp. 101–3).

And in the ’50s the amount of superfluous communication was just beginning! We want to render the finite infinite because we believe we are separate from the infinite and from the divine. We’ve been told that human beings can’t reach the divine, at least in their earthly lifetime. Technology, then, promises redemption from limitation, imperfection and the original sin, fixing what has gone “wrong.”

Ken Wilber (1980) wrote:

Every individual correctly intuits that he is of one nature with Atman, but he distorts that intuition by applying it to his separate self. He feels his separate self is immortal, all-embracing, central to the cosmos, all-significant. That is, he substitutes his ego for Atman. Then, instead of finding actual and timeless wholeness, he merely substitutes the wish to live forever; instead of being one with the cosmos, he substitutes the desire to possess the cosmos; instead of being one with God, he tries himself to play God (Wilber, Ken, The Atman Project, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing, 1980. p. 120).

And Aurobindo: “Every finite being strives to express an infinite which is perceived as being its real truth” (Satprem, 1974). Through technological advancement we try to grasp the infinite with the mind, then download the mind’s contents to the Net. Technology simulates the drive toward the spiritual plane, stepping beyond identification with the body – but prematurely, and in a withdrawn, schizoid way. It achieves the opposite result, however, of inhibiting the soul’s evolution. We cannot go beyond the body by bypassing full engagement with our body.

The body, being body-mind, holds our mental conditioning as much as the mind does. There is nothing like pure mind. Every belief, emotion, and conditioning is as much in the body as in the mind. Freedom from the identification with and limitations of body and mind begins with becoming aware of and inquiring into both.

excerpt from Chapter 13 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

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Online Commoditizing and Monetizing

excerpt from Chapter 6 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

“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 alienates people through a mediated and commoditized social environment. 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 they are acceptable as long as they are associated with a market product, channeled through and stimulated by the media.

The 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.

The market product now is us. We are being sold as targets to advertisers, according to the contents we view and produce on the Net. 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 blatant Debord’s words about becoming consumers of illusions.

Replacing the Real

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, 1964, p. 68).

Even babies now are deprived of bodily contact – for various reasons. Parents have little time and, even when they are with their kids, their hands and eyes are on their gadgets. There are no longer large or extended families. Adults are sometimes scared to cuddle kids for fear of accusations of pedophilia. Yet body touch is important for a balanced emotional and neurological life.

Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter. Apart from its well-known role in facilitating childbirth, recent research points to its absence in autism, personality disorders, depression, social phobias, psychosis and sexual disorders. Oxytocin is released during bodily contact, stimulating a sense of bonding, well-being and social participation. Some doctors promote the start of oxytocin treatment early in a child’s life to improve her social skills. This paints the picture of our situation: first, the real (contact) is taken away, then to reclaim the emotions (bonding) a substitute is offered (drug) – in the form of market products.

The need for human connection now feeds a huge industry of mobile phones and social networks. Once the Net becomes indispensable, we buy whatever is required to keep our connection active. The idea of falling out of the flow is too scary. But then we can buy apps for our iPhone or iPad which provide the same data easily available on the Net. Since we can’t sever the umbilical cord, we gladly pay for the nourishment it provides.

Brave New World

In Brave New World, every discomfort of old age was abolished. The character remained the same as a 17-year-old. People never stopped to reflect, always busy at pleasure and at work. Whenever a phase of reflection would emerge, the perfect drug – soma – was available in appropriate doses (Huxley, 1932). Eighty years after Huxley’s novel, we witness life extension therapies, antidepressants to feed desire, Viagra to renew sexual vigor, commoditized entertainment in every moment of our lives. All of these militate against the growth of the soul.
In the preface of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman (1985) wrote that, “In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us”.

The move of marketing into the digital realm creates an infinite marketplace where needs are replaced by desires. Desires, fed by the mind rather than by finite biological needs like food and shelter, are endless. The digital world, qualitatively closer to the mind and its incessant cravings, is profoundly non-sustainable. The Internet, as it replaces TV, is ripe for social control of a class of the population that might start to question the whole system. It promises to be the new soma for a society experiencing economic and environmental decay.

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Publishing News

I am delighted to receive the IndieReader Discovery Award in the psychology category for The Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing Our Awareness to the Internet. The winners, judged by top industry professionals, were announced at Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City.

In addition, I announce that The Digitally Divided Self will be translated into Italian by Bollati Boringhieri. I am honored to be published by such a prestigious publishing house so rich in history.

Special thanks to Stefano Mauri, chairman of GeMS, who in the last twenty years has tirelessly sustained the independence and high quality of Italian publishing. He has also strengthened the dissemination of book culture and the defense of the freedom of the press in Italy. I would like to say an additional thank you to Michele Luzzatto of Bollati Boringhieri for believing in The Digitally Divided Self and for helping with the structure of the Italian edition.

Finally, for several weeks in April and May, my free ebooklet titled Facebook Logout: Experiences and Reasons to Leave It was the number-one free bestseller in the General Technology & Reference area of Amazon’s Kindle Store. For reasons beyond my understanding, in some countries Amazon charges a VAT tax (a bit less than one Euro) on my “free” ebook while on Smashwords is completely free.

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The Digitization of Reality

excerpt from Chapter 4 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

The technological society increasingly permeates more segments of our life. Social connections, finance, work, research, news, dating, entertainment, shopping are some of the activities that have moved massively to the Net. These call out different qualities of our soul that have functioned in vastly different external settings.

Our inner attitude shifts as we work, shop, talk to a friend, or communicating with someone we are intimately attracted to. Different archetypes, muses, and aspects of our psyche activate us as we move from offices and laboratories to homes, nature, shops, and beds.

As different parts of ourself are drawn on, inner qualities, mind, and body can remain integrated. However, when we engage in this variety of activities in front of a screen, our setting is constant – and our mind utilizes a limited set of skills (speed, efficiency, rationality), while our body remains mostly in the background.

Regardless of what we are doing online, we use predominantly the same mind channels to interact with the computer, and there is no substantial difference whether we operate on Windows, Mac or Linux. Using the same modality for dating, shopping, communicating with friends, sexual arousal and scientific research impoverishes most of these activities.

Separation of the immortal mind from the mortal body by religions and philosophies formed the basis for representing intelligence and life in digital terms. Despite our neurophysiology telling us that our reason is embodied, this separation goes on. Our mind can’t function separated from our body. There is no “pure mind.” Concepts and reason are as much embodied processes as the digestion of food.

Yet because of the separation, how we interact with the computer is fertile territory for psychological ego defense mechanisms – in particular rationalization, dissociation, and splitting. These defenses are activated when the ego is feeling threatened – and are a protection against the re-emergence of the irrational states experienced during adolescence and difficult stages of adult life (Zanarini, 1985). Digital media can reassure us with their (supposed) predictability – we can feel in charge of a situation with just a click or a touch to the screen.

Mathematicians, engineers, logicians, and philosophers have all contributed to understanding the mind in terms of its mechanical operation. George Boole, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and Bertrand Russell created the bases for representing the thinking process in such mathematical terms that it could be replicated by a machine. Postman (1997) looking at Babbage’s realization of mechanically manipulating non-numeric symbols, compared it to the third century Greek discovery that each letter of the alphabet had not only a unique sound, but that they could be grouped together into written words. They could then be used for the classification, storage and retrieval of information.

Measurements and numbers are the essential components of the digitization of reality. The philosopher Comte, the father of positivism, regarded anything which could not be measured as unreal. Measurement of matter could be applied to human beings, establishing an equivalence between people and objects. Without numbers and quantitative values, the “exact” sciences would be lost – but so, then, would the humanistic disciplines like sociology and psychology.

We grade students with numbers (or substitutes for numbers). We calculate intelligence with an IQ index. Most of medical science is about numerical values related to physiological parameters. I recently saw an advertisement for a toothbrush bragging that it “enters 50% deeper between teeth and removes 25% more bacteria.” That information – numeric – we can trust.

Consciousness, however, cannot be measured – much less any subjective inner state or ethical behavior. Thus human values lie beyond the purview of the information society. Magatti (2009) concluded that in techno-functional systems, the world is seen as a calculable objectivity, and its measurement is equivalent to truth. This way a chronic discrepancy has been created – in that whatever is outside technical modalities, like non-scientific language, can never be elevated to “real” or “truth.”

Paradoxically, calculations and mathematical models of reality – considered the ultimate objectivity and understanding of reality – create, instead, space for illusion and unreality. Building models of reality based on the manipulation of data detached from the organic, ethical and spiritual levels, can easily create models which only apparently match what is authentic. One example is the financial bubble which continued inflating, with few people warning about its divergence from the reality of true value.

Rationality itself, efficient in manipulating views and data to stake a logical claim, can deceive us as much as irrationality.

Data is King

The power of data is manifest in the massive data centers that major IT companies have built. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo, Facebook, all have hundreds of thousands of servers, working in parallel and managing huge volumes of data on the order of petabytes (a million billion bytes). (Those data centers, which allow us to work more efficiently, coincidentally consume increasing amounts of energy, despite more efficient microprocessors.)

Chris Anderson (2008), in an article for Wired, wrote that with the amount of information available for processing nowadays, theory and models are no longer needed to make sense of the world – statistics and mathematical analysis are enough. He points specifically to Google, which does not fret about models. Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, said it clearly: “All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them.”

This attitude appeals both to people who perceive the limits of models and even paradigms, as well as to people who just don’t care about models and complex thought. Models have been mauled in the last century and certainties have been demolished by both philosophers and quantum scientists, so that we are losing the ground beneath our feet.

The last centuries have seen the melting of our accurately-erected certainties. From Kant, who saw the limits of the mind in understanding the “thing in itself,” through Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which demonstrated the inherent limitations in formal systems, to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, we have been thrown into doubt about the possibility of knowing physical reality. This is what Edgar Morin (1986) meant about there being no certainty base, no founding truth – that the very idea of a foundation is collapsing along with the idea of ultimate analysis, ultimate cause, and primary explanation. The terrain we are left to live in is data. Looking for truth, on the other hand, is both an inner activity for our soul and an outer exploration of external and objective – historical and psychological – material.

Even though we cannot arrive at the ultimate truth through models created by the mind, we can reach ever-more refined approximations of truth. However, Anderson pointed out the impossibility of using the scientific method with such enormous quantities of data available. Hypothesizing, experimenting, and data analysis are now unwieldy. His attitude means that what works is being promoted as “true.” Yet it is consciousness that gives meaning to information.

In fact, giving data so much importance is its own ideological model, born from the belief that through digital data we can understand, reproduce, and process reality. The way IT companies organize and interpret data is also a model in itself. In Postman’s (1993) opinion, though Technopoly’s experts are experts only in their specialized fields, they still claim knowledge of all other matters as well. When data is allowed to rule, it can be regarded as a tool for understanding, and then acting upon, any aspect of our human canvas. It becomes a totalitarian model to which reality must be made to fit. So we find our culture in the situation, to use Postman’s example, where it is not enough to stand up for desegregating schools, but it must be proven with standard tests that reveal that segregated blacks score worse and feel humiliated.

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Review of “The Digitally Divided Self” by Self-Publishing Review

Henry Baum wrote a review of The Digitally Divided Self on Self-Publishing Review with some interesting considerations about the mind, technology and drugs:

This book begins with blurbs from some very heavy hitters, and some of my favorite writers, on the subject of new media – writers like Douglas Rushkoff and Erik Davis.  Erik Davis, in particular, writes on the more-esoteric take on the rise of technology, in books like Techgnosis.  It could help to have some familiarity with esoteric spirituality before approaching this book.  It would also help to keep a very open mind. The basic premise is that by having our heads lodged in the materialist world of the web and the tech we use to navigate the web, we are becoming increasingly led astray from true human and spiritual connection. If you’re an atheist, you might stop right there – but you shouldn’t. Because the implications of our attachment to the web is a vital subject, even if you’re not particularly spiritual.

If people are being honest, they’ll admit just how dependent on the web they’ve become.  People may joke about being Facebook addicts or, in the old days, the Crackberry, but it’s an important issue. I speak from experience.  There is something dangerously pleasant about that red “like” or new message on Facebook.

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Review of “The Digitally Divided Self” by Semiotico blog

Chris Arning wrote a thoughtful review of The Digitally Divided Self on his Semiotico blog:

If I had to sum up this book I might say “Marshall McLuhan meets the Dalai Lama”, but this is too trite, simplistic a verdict for what is an important and erudite text which covers a lot of ground and alerts us to a surreptitious peril.

There have been several minatory counter blasts about the Internet published recently. Perhaps you have come across The Net Delusion. Well, this book provides a similarly sobering view on the internet but from the spiritual perspective rather than the political one. Where Morozov points to the stultifying nature of the internet, Mr Ivo Quartiroli highlights the effect of the internet on our psyches and our well being. What makes this an important book is that, whether you subscribe to the broadly mindfulness-based substrate of the thesis, it critically evaluates the internet from a genuinely humanist perspective asking how it affects our state of mind. Quartiroli seems genuinely concerned by the narcosis into which we may be falling as we rush headlong into the dubious embrace of digital media.

Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows warned us of a rewiring of our brains and the engendering of shallow, distracted thinking patterns through heavy internet use. Eli Pariser’s Filter Bubble highlights how – through the offices of customizing algorithms – search engines sequester us in walled gardens and render our Internet search experiences much more parochial than we’d imagine. This book is a more ambitious enterprise, with more far reaching ramifications, in the sense that it suggests that the internet is in the process of altering our very states of consciousness in ways we are not aware of. This is certainly not the first book on this broad topic. Sherry Turkle in her latest book Alone Together reveals research into the deleterious effects of Internet and mobile phone usage on families and how it erodes emotional closeness and intimacy amongst young Millenials.

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Needless to say, I am very grateful to Chris for taking the time to share his deep insights about IT, the soul and The Digitally Divided Self.

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The Roots of Information Technology

excerpt from Chapter 3 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

In the West there are layers of deep conviction that keep us bound to the idea that everything good will come from economic and technological development. Despite a few doubting voices, those beliefs have been part of our society for so long that they’ve become taken for granted, part of the collective unconscious. The forces behind the “will to produce” can be seen as a self-reinforcing loop.

1) The expectation of a better world (social welfare, peace, justice, democracy, rights) through production, distribution and consumption of goods and technologies.

2) The necessity to intervene in the entire world to achieve such goals. Exploitation of natural resources is essential to grease the machinery of production. Easy access to the earth’s resources requires the consent of governments. The consequence is the exportation of economic, political and cultural systems – a phenomenon known as globalization.

3) All actions are carried out compulsively and in a rush, a crucial factor which hinders the ability to be aware of the social and environmental consequences that will be wrought in the middle/long run. It also hinders our capacity as individuals to slow down and reflect.

4) The radiant future envisioned never arrives, despite what has been achieved up to that point. The only solution is to increase production. There is never “enough.”

5) We are back at point 1. This mechanism looks much like the vicious cycle typical of drug addiction.

Although this vision of the world is predominant in ideologies such as “democratic market economics,” the Western world is entirely permeated by it. The roots of this thinking are more ancient than the political/social divisions that have emerged with the industrial revolution.

While the basic Western ideas seem to belong exclusively to the political system we call capitalism, even its historical antagonist, Marxism, envisages a similar heavenly condition for mankind. Marx thought that by reappropriating the means of production – machines – people would be freed from exploitation, bringing equality, peace, and progress.

The mythological communist cycle is essentially similar to the capitalist one:

1) There’s the vision of a better world through access to the instruments of production.

2) The need to act on a worldwide scale (the Communist International, “workers of the world unite”).

3) There is compulsion and rush in the race against capitalism.

4) Work is for a bright future that never comes – every communist society has been in a perennial “transition to communism.”

IT was Started by the Bible

The deep roots of the idea that technology will bring a better world come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible says that God created humankind at the very end of creation. The world and everything in it existed before human beings – and it is all fundamentally different from mankind which was created in God’s image and likeness. That leaves the rest of the universe as something objective, “out there,” devoid of the divine element. Having souls, consciousness, and free will are what make human beings unique and superior.

Alan Wallace in The Taboo of Subjectivity (2000) analyzed how Western inquiry and research have been directed only at the “objective” side of creation, rather than at human subjectivity:

In order for man to comprehend God’s creation, he must divest his modes of inquiry of all that is merely human, which, after all, came at the very end of creation. Man must explore the universe in ways that approximate God’s own perspective on creation. He must seek to view the world beyond the confines of his own subjectivity, just as God transcends the natural world. In short, he must seek a purely objective (divine) God’s-eye view and banish all subjective (profane) influences from his empirical and analytical research into the objective universe. In this way, the seeds of objectivism were introduced into Mediterranean thought by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theology.(p. 41).

The scriptures say that only human beings were created in God’s own image and likeness. However, according to this tradition, humankind will never be able to completely reach the divine in this earthly life, with one exception: Jesus Christ. The Bible also says that nature was created so that human beings could make use of it for their own benefit. Man, therefore, has the right, bestowed on him by a superior authority, to use creation for his goals.

Christianity adds the concepts of sin and free will. Human beings, although born into original sin, are also given free will – therefore, they can decide whether to act for good rather than evil, and thus redeem themselves. These messages have been essential for the technological and social development of the West.

In the ancient Taoist culture, tools were known but intentionally discarded. In classical Greece, the massive development in art and philosophy did not arise with any big technical development. “They could not even devise ways of using horsepower efficiently. Both Plato and Aristotle scorned the ‘base mechanic arts,’ probably in the belief that nobility of mind was not enhanced by efforts to increase efficiency or productivity” (Postman, 1993, p. 25).

Technology as Returning to the Lost Perfection

David F. Noble (1997) analyzed the events that led to the current relationship man has with technology in the Christian world. He concluded that the dynamism of Western technology has its actual roots and spirit in the Middle Ages. In classic Christianity, manual activities were disregarded, but in the early Middle Ages technology began to be identified with transcendence, linked to the Christian concept of redemption from sin.

As time went on, technology became more clearly identified with the possibility of renewing human perfection after the Fall. Erigena, one of the most important forces in medieval Christian Scholastic philosophy, affirmed that knowledge of the arts, innate in the perfect man, was in time clouded by the Fall. However, its recovery, through study and hard work, could help restore man, at least partially, to his pristine state. Progress in the “useful arts” became the identification mark of the divine image in mankind. Learning the useful arts was preparation for redemption.

Technology as a route to transcendence was particularly strong during the later puritan revolution – which shaped the beginning of capitalism with its colonial aims by linking “faith” and “useful arts” with “the glory of God” and the recovery of control over nature. New scientific ventures of that time widened the fields of human intervention.

Recovering our lost perfection was no longer enough. Science was progressively expanding toward divine knowledge. And action – no longer limited to the original creation –was moving toward a new creation. The Christian project of redemption through practical actions started to slip out of hand, however, as scientists began to consider themselves creators.

Francis Bacon foresaw that mankind one day would create new species and become like gods, because “the footsteps of the Creator [were] imprinted on his creatures” (Noble, 1997, p. 67). Science has carried on the work of giving man dominion over nature, as originally bestowed by the Bible. In so doing, it has also demonstrated that man is created in God’s image and likeness through divine acts.

To recapitulate the messages that Christians have received: Human beings should consider themselves special within creation, though basically they are sinners. They have the chance to redeem themselves through good deeds, which include technological creations. To do this, nature is at their disposal.

But there is a problem. Good deeds will not bear fruit during the earthly life of doers. In fact, according to the scriptures, eternal life and happiness belong only to the kingdom of heaven. All we can do in this lifetime is prepare to deserve our future afterlife by our virtuous actions.

However, one could argue, a man has existed who was joined with the divine while in human form: Jesus. The Bible, though, considers Jesus God’s only son, and no one else can ever aspire to such a state. All we can do is imitate his example. We cannot meet the divine in this life – at best we can only deserve that in the future.

In scriptural truth, there is another way to reach the divine: salvation at the end of time, after a phase of calamity and destruction: the Apocalypse.

New recap: human beings have a special place in creation, but they were born in sin. Using their free will, they can redeem themselves through their actions, emphasizing creation to this end – but they cannot expect to meet the divine in this lifetime, because that was exclusively for Jesus. They have the chance to enter the kingdom of heaven in the future, presumably after death (if they have behaved well enough), unless they live during apocalyptic times.

In contrast to those religions which contemplate reincarnation, Christianity clearly states that we live only one life on Earth. Therefore, there is no second chance. Redemption from sin must be attained in this lifetime. Which demands another ingredient: haste. If we are in a rush to act for “good,” our lack of responsibility in preventing the future consequences of our actions is inevitable. And if we stop producing, developing, expanding our interventions in the world, we will feel lost and our lives will lack meaning.

God can give us signals to guide our choices toward redemption. But since we have free will, the act of redemption depends entirely on us. If we behave badly, we will wind up in eternal damnation. However, even if we do good in the world, we won’t benefit from it in this lifetime.

Contradictory Messages Short Circuit the Psyche

After receiving such messages, human beings find themselves trapped in a series of double binds – which were defined by Gregory Bateson (1972) as contradictory messages with a highly emotional content, lacking both an exit route and a clear interpretation of the messages themselves. For instance, someone asking for a hug, but then becoming cold and stiff when approached. Bateson conjectured that such double binds could lead to schizophrenia.

Here are the double binds of life in the West:

– We were born in the image of God and must imitate the virtuous actions of Jesus, but we are never able to reach his connection with God.

– We have to redeem ourself through doing good deeds, but have no certainty of attaining salvation.

– We are separate from the world and special, and are to exploit nature for our own aims, but since in reality human beings – both environmentally and spiritually – are not separate from the world, the attempt to relate to nature as a separate entity will necessarily lead to alienation and to digging our own graves through environmental disaster.

– We are to work for eternal salvation and a bright future, but it will never come in this lifetime.

Confused and anxious to free ourself from the labyrinths of double binds, we try to resolve them by creating heaven on Earth – by using technology for our salvation. We feel fine when our conscience is clear because we perform virtuous actions, however separate they are from the integrated world. But despite virtuous action, we can never be like Jesus, as we are unsure of achieving salvation.

Therefore, technology leads to the search for a pseudo-salvation within this earthly life – such as using biotechnologies to operate on the divine plane of creation and immortality. The same culture that has considered miracles as proof of the existence of God has now developed technologies that resemble the miraculous.

To abandon the drive toward production with its search for miraculous technologies would also mean abandoning hope of redemption and salvation. We must also then let go of the idea that mankind has a special place in creation, concomitantly releasing the individual identity built on what we have “done” in life. Individual action can lead to redemption on Earth, but without being able to act on nature, human beings would feel lost, crushed by guilt feelings.

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“It’s Only a Tool”?

excerpt from Chapter 2 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

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“It’s Only a Tool”

If there were a law stating that “people should stay in front of a screen for most of their waking time, both indoors and out, avoiding real-life meetings as much as possible, shop without touching or seeing the product, find their soulmates through Internet announcements, consume an average of 34 gigabytes of information daily” (University of California, 2009), there would be a revolution. But if it’s seen as our “freedom,” then it’s fine. Technology can do this because it acts on a higher level than laws, rules or impositions. As Neil Postman (1993) wrote, “Technology imperiously commandeers our most important terminology. It redefines ‘freedom’ ‘truth,’ ‘intelligence,’ ‘fact,’ ‘wisdom,’ ‘memory,’ ‘history’ – all the words we live by” (p. 8). Facebook now has even transformed the meaning of “friend” and “like.”

For most of us, technology acts deeply in moving awareness away from the connection with our inner world – powerfully redefining both our inner and outer life. Sustained attention, awareness and introspection—the qualities needed to break out of the automated mind – become especially difficult when we are drowning in information, mostly brief and directed to the latest news.

Joseph Weizenbaum (1976), exploring the character of compulsive programmers as early as 1976, found them disinterested in their bodily needs and detached from the world around them. We are not surprised to meet such figures in countries where advanced technologies are part of everyday life.

Cubans I met traveling there in 2000 were usually lively people, with direct personal contact, sensual, relating to immediate reality. It was striking to see two computer technicians, on the contrary, detached, immersed in their own worlds, neglecting themselves, communicating with few words. I realized how daily contact with a tool – in this case computers and programming (tools which had been available there for only a few years) – can have a stronger impact on social attitude and personality than the collective conditioning of society.

There is probably a mutual feedback between personality and life choices, but without doubt technology also shapes psyches. Even early in history, Taoists observed that the use of instruments carries the risk of becoming mechanical ourself. Today – from Hong Kong to Brazil, from Lithuania to South Africa, from Egypt to New Zealand – wherever people use the Internet, they 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 mind.

Technology is not Questionable

Mark Slouka, in War of the Worlds (1995), conveyed how eerie it is to be permeated by the digital revolution, with no or little reflection about what it really means, “where the only concern heard in the land, by and large, is that some of us may be left behind” (p. 9).

In the history of media, there has never been much reflection about the impact on human psyches. The few who reflected negatively on it were considered against progress and innovation.

The technological person doesn’t believe he can be transformed by technology. In fact, he has been persuaded that he is the master of technology. He believes that his inner life (actually as unknown to him today as it was before Freud) cannot be modified by any tool. His mind is supposed to rise above all else; tools can at most extend the possibilities of his mind, but can never influence his choices. While this wasn’t even true for mechanical tools, it is even less true for information technologies.

The technological person is subject to the Cartesian separation between the world of matter and the world of ideas – and considers the latter superior. Much before Descartes, the Bible assigned us the role of masters of matter and God’s terrain. This unconscious belief that our mind is superior to everything else has contributed to the lack of debate about the transformation of our psyches by technology.

Knowing through the Body                            

Birds build their nests instinctively, and many animals “know” how to hunt or find food, but humans have been dispensed a limited set of instincts, such as sucking and grabbing. Everything else derives from learning – which is very much an embodied process. Despite emphasis on the 3Rs in kindergarten, the factors most likely to lead to later academic success are play and social skills. Research shows that young children learn through their bodies. For example, the child’s early understanding of geometric relationships and physics is almost physical.

A study published in Nature by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz demonstrated that as animals learn motor tasks, connections between brain cells begin to form almost immediately and become permanently consolidated in the brain. We all know that when we learn something involving the body, like riding a bicycle, this knowledge stays with us.

Along the evolutionary trail, we first see muscles appearing, then motor function as consequence of interacting with a certain habitat, and later the associated neurophysiological functions. Motor activity acts on the brain, which in turn acts back on the body to perfect an action. Engels (1985) perceived that 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 activity that altered the brain, and not vice versa. This was later confirmed by the fossil record.

The hand especially, with its sophisticated movements, shaped our nervous systems. The “technologies” of body movement and of manual labor shaped and developed our human brain from earliest times. In mutual feedback, our brain shaped our tools with growing complexity – until we arrived at contemporary tools. These interact almost exclusively with our minds and shape our nervous system.

In a famous experiment by University College London in 2008, researchers used magnetic scanners to read the brain activity of twenty taxi drivers while they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London’s streets. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, they obtained detailed brain images as taxi drivers delivered customers to their destinations.

Different brain regions were activated as they were planning their routes, spotting familiar landmarks, or thinking about their customers. Brain areas were activated and grew by building information needed to find the right way around complicated London streets. Earlier studies found that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – an area of the brain important in navigational abilities – than most of us.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

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