Feed on

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).

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
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
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

This is a guest post in Italian only. The English version will be available in the future.

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.

Order  The Digitally Divided Self on Amazon

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.

Read more

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.

Read more…

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.

We are all familiar with active music bands, politicians, and actors, but we know much less about them after they change or stop their careers, resign, or retire. Often, however, the most interesting stories happen after someone consciously chooses a new life path.

Similarly, while participating in Facebook, we know almost everything about the people who are active, but we do not know much about the people who have slowed down their participation or left the site. There are at least as many reasons to slow down our commitment to or leave Facebook altogether than to be part of it.

If you are one of those who have chosen to not participate, to step down or take the full exit route from Facebook, please share your experience. Why did you leave Facebook? What were your concerns? Did anything happen to trigger your decision? I am collecting such experiences for an e-book about Facebook and about people’s attitudes toward social networks.  The e-book will be free.

I am especially interested in exploring your story and the inner motivations that made you step away from Facebook. I will quote your words without exposing your name or email address. I only need to know your gender, approximate age, and nationality (which can be as generic as “Southeast Asian,” “South American,” “Northern European,” or “Middle Eastern”). Of course, you will receive a copy of the e-book. In some cases, I will edit your words for stylistic reasons, but will always respect your content.

Please send your experience to ivotoshan (at) yahoo (dot) it. It can be few lines or several pages long as you like. Anyway I will give it my full attention. In case I need greater clarification, I will ask you. Also, if you know somebody who might contribute to my research, please forward this message to them.

You can see my opinion about Facebook on the following articles,

Resisting Facebook

After a Few Months on Facebook

The Game of Facebook

Thanks for any help you might give to ths project.


Reading Aloud

“The printed or mass-produced book discouraged reading aloud, and reading aloud had been the practice of many centuries. Swift, silent scanning is a very different experience from manuscript perusal, with its acoustic invitation to savor words and phrases in many-leveled resonance. Silent reading has had many consequences for readers and writers alike, and it is a phase of print technology which may be disappearing” (Marshall McLuhan in a 1972 interview, from Understanding Me, MIT Press, 2005).

If nowadays we see somebody reading aloud, we may think that he is not fully literate. But we are not surprised to see people talking aloud on their mobile phones on the streets.

The advent of silent reading, according to McLuhan, had consequences both for privacy and for developing an individual point of view. Through Internet technology, we are back reading louder and louder. When we share our readings on social media, we read as loud as to the whole world, but what is weakening is the connection of words to our inner selves. It seems that, to hear our voices, we have to hear it in the echo of other people’s feedback through social media.

We no longer feel an inner resonance of what we read but need it to be bounced back to us by the infinite reverberations of the Net.

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

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.

Order  The Digitally Divided Self on Amazon

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

Order on Amazon.

“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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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.

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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


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.

Order on Amazon.

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