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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Knowing

Edge asked The Edge Annual Question 2010 to 170 scientists, philosophers, artists and authors. This year question was “How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think“? Interesting question with several intesting answers as well as some which looked like “Oh no, my literary agent wants me to answer another question, let’s just write something down”.

Among the ones who grabbed my attention was Anthony Aguirre’s (Associate Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Cruz) answer “The Enemy of Insight?” which reverberates with my reflections on knowledge and the inner mechanisms which insights are based on.

A passages from Anthony Aguirre’s answer:

I, like most of my colleagues, spend a lot of time connected to the Internet. It is a central tool in my research life. Yet when I think of what I do that is most valuable — to me at least — it is the occasional generation of genuine creative insights into the world. And looking at some of those insights, I realized that essentially none of them have happened in connection with the Internet…
I’ve come think that it is important to cultivate a ‘don’t know’ mind: one that perceives a real and interesting enigma, and is willing to dwell in that perplexity and confusion. A sense of playful delight in that confusion, and a willingness to make mistakes — many mistakes — while floundering about, is a key part of what makes insight possible for me. And the Internet? The Internet does not like this sort of mind. The Internet wants us to know, and it wants us to know RIGHT NOW: its essential structure is to produce knowing on demand. I don’t just worry that the Internet goads us to trade understanding for information (it surely does), but that it makes us too accustomed to to instant informational gratification. Its bright light deprives us of spending any time in the fertile mystery of the dark.

The attitude of not-knowing is been shared by good science and by spiritual researchers as well, two worlds who usually tend te be considered far apart. Descartes itself is his Discourse on the Method started his philosophical investigation with a not-knowing attitude which made him find his first principle of the philosophy “I think, therefore I am”.

Let’s see what the spiritual teachers say about not-knowing. Sri Aurobindo said, regarding the enlightened mind: “One is in an unutterable state of truth without understanding anything about it – simply, it is.” (Satprem. Sri Aurobindo, or the Adventure of Consciousness. Harper & Row. New York. 1974.)

Nisargadatta Maharaj:

When consciousness mixes with itself, that is samadhi. When one doesn’t know anything – and doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know anything – that is samadhi. (Nisargadatta Maharaj. Prior to Consciousness. Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Acorn Press. Durham. 1985. p. 6)

Then Osho:

This is the the ultimate paradox of mysticism: with not-knowing you can reach knowing and through knowing yiu lose it. Not-knowing is superior to any knowledge. Universities make you learned but when you enter the Buddhafield of a spiritual Master you enter in an anti-university. In the university you harvest more and more knowledge, information and you accumulate. In the anti-university of a Master you unlearn more and more… until the moment you don’t know anything anymore. (Osho. Theologia Mystica. Rebel Publishing House. 1983)

And Almaas:

Why am I here? Where am I going? We need to see how honest we can be with ourselves when trying to answer these questions. These two questions are related; that is, most people think they are here because there is a goal, they want to go somewhere. Where do you want to go? You probably think you know; do you? Do you think I know where you should go? If you think I know, can I tell you? And if I tell you, will you follow? Can you follow? These are questions that you cannot answer with your mind. These are questions that should remain questions. Do not try to simply answer them mentally. These questions are like a flame. If you answer them with your mind, you will put out the flame, because the mind doesn’t, the mind can’t know the answers to these questions. When you answer them with your mind and you think you know, the question is gone. When you believe you have answered such questions, the flame is gone and there is no more enquiry. (A.H. Almaas. Being and the Meaning of Life (Diamond Heart Book Three). Diamond Books. Berkeley. 1990. p. 1)

Even neurophysiologically a stage of not-knowing is needed for getting the “Eureka effect”. Being in the unknown is uncomfortable for the mind, our ego identifies mostly with what we know. Knowing reassures us too.

So whenever we have an itch to know anything we can search for it on google and quench our thirsts. However, this way, as Almaas say, “the flame is gone” and good meals sometimes require a slow long cooking, better if on flames rather than electricity.

But Google works hard for avoiding any darkness and delays in his answers, wanting to “help” computers understand language.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, at page 23:

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

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

E-clipsed Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivo Quartiroli: Prof. Magatti, how would you define techno-nihilistic capitalism, the subject of your book, Libertà immaginaria: Le illusioni del capitalismo tecno-nichilista (Imaginary freedom: The illusions of techno-nihilistic capitalism), and what are the differences with the previous stages of capitalism?

Prof. Mauro Magatti: The idea is to give a complete picture of the last 30 years which began with the coming of so-called neo-liberalism in the Anglo-Saxon countries. My book traces and develops the hypothesis of authoritative colleagues, especially the works of Boltanski in France, Bauman in England and Beck in Germany.

The idea is that those 30 years represent something as unitarian, which is detached from the previous stages (which I call “societal capitalism”), and is based not only on the nation state, but on the social and economic effects which the nation state is not able to load and which are usually referred to as “the welfare society.” The fundamental peculiarity of techno-nihilistic capitalism is a kind of new vision of the world, a new weltenshaung, which makes nihilism, traditionally a philosophy which expresses itself in stages of decadence when the established values had to be destroyed, a useful vision for accelerating both economic and technological growth on a planetary scale.

There’s a capitalism which tries to free itself from the cultural background which the national state established. This capitalism defines itself in an alliance between a technique which is supposed to be intangible, in a very thin cultural setting, or even when it is absent and, on the other side, a full availability, a full manipulability of every cultural meaning, which has to be continuously redefined, transformed, and overcome.

Quartiroli: You affirm that technology gives an imaginary freedom, yet many people, based on this very interview, could well say the opposite. I came to know about your book on the Net, sent you an email and you graciously agreed to be interviewed by me. We use Skype for the interview and then I will publish it in my blogs. This gives us a broad freedom. We don’t have any editorial limitation regarding space or length and we don’t have a director to approve our conversation. Online, we don’t even need to publish it before a certain date. And even better, we can reach hundreds or maybe thousands of readers in every corner of the world directly.

Kevin Kelly, one of the most passionate supporters of technology, in his recent article “Expansion of Free Will” says that, “Technology wants choices. The internet, to a greater degree than any technology before it, offers choices and options.” And more, “the technium continues to expand free will as it unrolls into the future. What technology wants is more freedom, expanded free will.” The idea of freedom and expansion of our possibilities is chased by every technological gadget and by every software which interacts with us. All seems very pleasurable, free and fulfilling, so what’s wrong in this expansion of our options?

Magatti: Kelly’s quote is excellent and gets to the point. Techno-nihilistic capitalism, passing the previous stage of societal capitalism, legitimates itself through this increasing of possibilities, which then is connected to the expansion of choices.

Nobody can deny that, in general terms, to go from a condition where we have less opportunities and choices to one where, instead we have the possibility of expanding our doings, in a way expands our freedom. For instance, when we can move easily and quickly from one part of the planet to the other, we get more chances to “do.”

The point is, what happens in a world where the freedom of choices, where this increase of opportunities is being produced with the speed we experience in our personal and collective lives? We should ask ourselves whether this increase has any effect on the very freedom we want to achieve.

A tangible example to make the point: freedom is somehow like the eye. The eye opens to what is in front, is a sense organ somehow indeterminate since it is connected to what is being seen. The fast-increasing choices in the individual experience give us an excess of things we can see, as fundamental changes in our way of seeing, and we are even subject to the powerful systems which are there to put things in front of our eyes.

This brings the risk of becoming people who are driven from the outside: something is being presented as a choice, which is pleasurable and which increases our power and our fulfillment, but with the risk that freedom implodes on itself and that will deliver us completely to something which is external of ourselves.

To this first problem there’s a second one: all of those opportunities presented to us aren’t as real for most people as they are supposed to be. Therefore, the opportunities in front of us are kept only in an illusory and fantasized state and we withdraw them in. To give a banal example, miraculous or even magical solutions, as would be winning 130 million euro on the Lotto which would allow us to do anything we wanted to, at least in our fantasy.

Because of those two reasons, that world with expanded possibilities which is theoretically associated with an increased freedom, then carries the risk of encaging freedom again. In the book I don’t envision a world where we go back in limiting our opportunities, but to ask ourselves about our freedom and understanding if we are as free as we think we are.

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

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

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

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

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Mother Google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Low Tech Magazine presented the article titled “The monster footprint of digital technology” in which they show how the power consumption of our high-tech machines and devices is hugely underestimated:

When we talk about energy consumption, all attention goes to the electricity use of a device or a machine while in operation. A 30 watt laptop is considered more energy efficient than a 300 watt refrigerator. This may sound logical, but this kind of comparison does not make much sense if you don’t also consider the energy that was required to manufacture the devices you compare. This is especially true for high-tech products, which are produced by means of extremely material- and energy-intensive manufacturing processes… The energy consumption of electronic devices is skyrocketing…There are multiple reasons for the growing energy consumption of electronic equipment; more and more people can buy gadgets, more and more gadgets appear, and existing gadgets use more and more energy (in spite of more energy efficient technology – the energy efficiency paradox described here before).

However, most of the energy involved in electronics is not much about their use. Larger amounts of energy are being used for the production of the technology, the embodied energy.

The energy used to produce electronic gadgets is considerably higher than the energy used during their operation. For most of the 20th century, this was different; manufacturing methods were not so energy-intensive…Advanced digital technology has turned this relationship upside down. A handful of microchips can have as much embodied energy as a car… The embodied energy of the memory chip (of a computer) alone already exceeds the energy consumption of the laptop during its life expectancy of 3 years.

The trend in the manufacture of electronics is going toward more energy-intensive processes and heavier costs in terms of raw materials and resources. Did the fast development in computer processing speed and memory, coupled with the huge amount of energy needed for manufacturing them make them faster and more productive? Every Windows user knows that after one or two years of use the operating system becomes cluttered and slows down considerably.

Defragmenting the hard disk, cleaning the registry and uninstalling applications have little effect. The cooling fan runs often, often the hard disk works like hell with no apparent reason, operations get slower and slower. This can be blamed on the poorly-engineered Windows operating system, but even alternatives like Apple or Linux, though better, don’t come any closer to match the development in hardware at the software level

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I support the call by Diritto alla Rete against Alfano’s proposed law which would silence Italian Internet.

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