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The Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

Praise for Digitally Divided Self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

Table of Contents

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world over, people using the Internet click on the same icons, use the same shortcuts in email and chats, connect with people through the same Facebook modalities. This is the globalization of minds. In the process of the digitization of reality, regardless of content, we use predominantly the same limited mental channels and interact with the same tools. We bring the same attitudes, gestures and procedures to working, dating, shopping, communicating with friends, sexual arousal, and scientific research. And most of these activities are impoverished by this phenomenon. Everything is seen as an information system, from the digitization of territory (like Google Earth and augmented realities software) to our biology.

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

The telegraph, telephone, radio, TV and other media have been regarded as tools for democracy, world peace, understanding and freedom of expression. The Internet is just the latest in a succession of promising messiahs. Yet we don’t have more democracy in the world. In fact, big media and big powers are even stronger, while freedom of expression has ceded to control by corporations and governmental agencies. The Internet, like TV, will be entertaining, dumbing people in their own separate homes where they will be unable to question the system. The Internet might already be the new soma for a society experiencing economic and environmental degradation. But with the huge economic interests connected to it, criticizing its effect is akin to cursing God.

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

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

The endless multiplication of information can keep the ego-mind busy – and thus at the center of the show. IT is the most powerful mental “pusher” ever created, feeding the duality of the ego-mind (which is symbolically mirrored by binary technology). More than TV whose attractions are framed between the beginning and ending time of a show, the Internet, video games, and smartphones have no structural pauses or endings. Hooked on a “real-time” stream of information, they take us farther away from both the real and the appropriate time frames.

The computer charms us by reflecting our mind on the Net. Like Narcissus, we mistake the reflected image and enter a closed loop, charmed by our reflection. The Internet, since the beginning, has been considered a technology which could crumble central governments and organizations. Perhaps that forecast was an external projection of what can happen inside us: disturbance of the integration of our psyches.

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

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

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

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

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

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Google Life Navigator

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Brave New Google.

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

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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.

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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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Does the Internet Really Broaden Minds?

Ever since the Internet came into our lives it has been regarded as the medium supposed to stimulate a positive meeting between cultures and to ease the spread of information neglected by the traditional media. While it is true that everybody can set up a blog or a website with a small technical and financial investment and share their writings, music or videos for the whole world, it seems that the big media are even bigger on the Net and that the understanding between cultures didn’t improve much even 15 years after the mass diffusion of the Internet.

If we look at the academic level, the Economist published an article titled “Great minds think (too much) alike” where research by James Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, is introduced, whose work has been published in Science. The conclusion of his work says that, “as more journals become available online, fewer articles are being cited in the reference lists of the research papers published within them. Moreover, those articles that do get a mention tend to have been recently published themselves. Far from growing longer, the long tail is being docked.” The long tail is a term coined by Chris Anderson in 2004 to define the niche markets which the Web can approach, where unique products take an important commercial value.

Evans discovered instead that the great variety of papers available on the Net, far from widening the range of quoted sources, actually gave privilege to the ones already well known and even more to the most recent ones, probably the easiest to find searching in Google.

On the commercial level, New Scientist published the article “Online shopping and the Harry Potter effect” writing that “big sellers have never been bigger… Andrew Bud from the cellphone software company mBlox have analysed a year’s worth of downloads from a well-known internet music store. They found that of the 13 million tracks available, 52,000 – just 0.4 per cent – accounted for 80 per cent of downloads”.

New Scientist explains the phenomenon as, “easy digital replication and efficient communication through cellphones, email and social networking sites encourage fast-moving, fast-changing fads. The result is a homogenisation of tastes that boosts the chances of popular things becoming blockbusters, making the already successful even more successful.”

This has been confirmed experimentally by Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Columbia University, New York.

Together with his colleagues Matthew Salganik and Peter Dodds, he tested the effect of communication and peer approval on the musical tastes of 14,000 teenage volunteers recruited online (Science, vol. 311, p. 854;). A set of 48 songs was made available to all the volunteers, who could download whichever songs they wanted. The researchers split the volunteers into eight groups; in some, group members could see what their peers were downloading, but in others they had no such knowledge. In the socially connected groups, the winner took all: popular songs became more popular, unpopular songs more unpopular. This effect was much less pronounced in the socially isolated groups.

Watts thinks that information overload makes us more dependent on other people’s opinions to find out what we like. Then New Scientist asks, “why, when we have so much information at our fingertips, are we so concerned with what our peers like? Don’t we trust our own judgement?”

In another article, a psychologist finds Wikipedians grumpy and close-minded. In a psychological test, Wikipedians, as expected, “were more comfortable online than in the real world” but they, surprisingly, scored low even on agreeableness and openness.

During an Italian conference dedicated to music on the Net, one boy asked the speaker, “We can download the complete discography of any artist, but the problem is: What do we like?” An interesting question, which gives the real point of the matter.

Choices are connected with our personality; choices are bridges between our inner view and an external event. We can make the right choices for ourselves only when we can listen to ourselves deep enough to access the essence of our personality and join it to the outer life. But in order to do that we need both a solid personality which we are aware of and, some quiet and empty time to look into ourselves instead of following just external inputs. Both states are quite hard to access in online life.

We tend to believe that information can construct our personality and give us an individuality. We identify ourselves mostly with what we know, with our thoughts and beliefs, in another world with what fills our mind. But those aspects are as fragile and unreal as the financial derivatives market. The ideas and beliefs which fill our minds are essentially the products of our familiar and cultural conditionings, which give the ego the illusion of being “somebody” with its unique peculiarities.

Information, detached from experience, detached from a felt inner view and detached from an ethical background, mostly reinforces our conditionings instead of opening our minds to new areas. Neil Postman, in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993, p. 63), wrote:

Information is dangerous when it has no place to go, when there is no theory to which it applies, no pattern in which it fits, when there is no higher purpose that it serves.

The mind’s main job and hobby is to separate, to discriminate, and to judge. It gives us a powerful way to read and act on reality which gave science and technology the strongest roles in our culture. Unless mind is subordinated to a broader (we could say spiritual) awareness, is non-inclusive by nature. In this view it is not surprising to know that online, we tend to stay in our territory with what is already known and accepted by our minds. Our social connections online can surely broaden minds too but mostly, as happens with other media, they promote uniformization.

Actually, we experience the paradox of both uniformization and the explosion of differences; Lee Siegel expressed this paradox as one “must sound more like everyone else than anyone else is able to sound like everyone else” (Against the Machine, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2008, p. 73).

The source of this apparently contradictory phenomenon is in the ego itself, which does need to be recognized and accepted by people but at the same time feel different from anyone else in order to prove its specialness. Commercially, we are presented with millions of choices to let us think we are unique but then people tend to choose what is known or anyway what is known by somebody we want to be connected with and recognized by, much as teenagers are dependent on the peer group’s opinions.

When we are presented with millions of commercial options and we choose one we delude ourselves in thinking we are recognizing ourselves and building a part of our individuality. The market, as the Situationists had already seen in the 1950s, first takes away our real needs of connection and authenticity, then illudes us in giving what we need, but in a pale reflection of the real, making us always thirsty for a ‘real’ which will never come.

The variety expressed on the Web is well developed and important and will expand even more, but it seems that the force toward variety turned back into concentration of sources of information, as Nicholar Carr said in an interview for The Sun magazine.

It was once believed that the Web was essentially centrifugal: that it pushed people away from big, central sources of information to millions of small, independent sources scattered throughout the network. But it turns out that centripetal forces – forces that draw us back to the big power centers – are also strong on the Web. Big sites have big advantages, and they seem to get stronger over time. The Net’s Wild West days are coming to an end. The trend now is more toward the consolidation of traffic and power than toward their diffusion.

Our choices about information can come from our depth if we allow ourselves to sense our very depth. The more we swallow information the less we are able to make real choices. We can’t make real choices because we don’t listen to ourselves; and we don’t listen to ourselves because the capacity of our inner attentional muscles is never exercised and it becomes weak by attending only external inputs mostly of short bits of information with no broad view. When we can’t approach our inner self or when the very habit of looking inside becomes weakened, we can only consign our choices to the mass or perhaps just to the faster website. In this way we identity more with the contents of information poured into our minds and less with our essential qualities.

One of the mantras of the Internet is that there aren’t barriers of social status, religion, country, ideology. This is true of our possibility to access any kind of information on the Net, but the more we identity ourselves with our mind’s contents, the more we erect defenses against extraneous information which would shake our mind’s structures and therefore our very identity. The real broadening of the mind can happen when we don’t identify with our mind’s beliefs and ideas, but with our felt inner qualities which are being supported by the observation of our mind’s processes and by the acceptance of the emptiness of our mind.

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Google Lively is dead

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Google recently discontinued Lively, the Second Life-like project. Even though that’s only one out of many of Google’s projects, it’s symbolic of a turning point from representation to reality.

In 1978, Jerry Mander in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television (Quill, 1978) wrote:

In one generation, out of hundreds of thousands in human evolution, America had become the first culture to have substituted secondary, mediated versions of experience for direct experience of the world. Interpretation and representations of the world were being accepted as experience, and the difference between the two was obscure for most of us.

Thirty years later, it is not just about America and not just about TV. The detachment from direct experience grew layers. The attitude of substituting reality with mental representation was also one of the causes of the current financial problems, which constructed the illusionary “wealth,” considering information flowing through the cables as real goods.

Affirming that nothing is real is true both on the neurophysiological and spiritual levels. We have all heard that, especially in the Eastern traditions, the world is “maya,” an appearance, or illusion. Also, one of the mantras of people who populate the virtual worlds is to question reality saying that “there is nothing real in reality” since our experience is in any case mediated by our senses and by our nervous system which, starting from the mechanism of vision itself, only interprets reality. Following this line of thought we can say that there’s no objective reality and perhaps there’s no reality too, since every experience is mediated by our nervous system.

There’s an apparent concordance between neuroscientists, technical creators of virtual worlds and spiritual teachers. All of them, in different ways, say that the world in an illusion.

Since the times of Buddha and Plato, that the world is our representation has been a philosophical, metaphysical, psychological and spiritual assumption much before science and technology came into our lives. Philosophers and mystics expressed this in a much more sophisticated way than any software environment or technocrat.

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Recentemente, Google ha chiuso Lively, il progetto ispirato a Second Life. Anche se questo era solo uno dei molti progetti di Google, il suo termine rappresenta un punto di svolta dalla rappresentazione alla realtà.
Nel 1978, Jerry Mander ha scritto in Quattro argomenti per eliminare la televisione (Quill, 1978; ed. italiana: Edizioni Dedalo, 1982):

Dopo centinaia di migliaia di generazioni, l’America, nello spazio di una sola generazione, è diventata la prima cultura ad aver sostituito l’esperienza diretta del mondo con suoi sostituti mediati e secondari. Interpretazioni e rappresentazioni vengono accettate come esperienze, e la maggior parte di noi ignora quale sia la differenza tra le due.

Trenta anni dopo, questo discorso non riguarda solo l’America e non è più solo relativo alla televisione. Il distacco dall’esperienza diretta si è fatto sempre più grande. La sostituzione della realtà con una rappresentazione mentale è anche stata una delle cause dell’attuale crisi finanziaria, perché ha creato una “ricchezza” illusoria dove le informazioni che attraversavano i cavi venivano considerate come beni reali.

Affermare che niente è reale è vero sia a livello neurofisiologico che spirituale. Tutti abbiamo sentito dire, in particolare nella tradizioni dell’Oriente, che il mondo è “maya”, apparenza e illusione. Inoltre, una delle posizioni ricorrenti delle persone che popolanoi mondi virtuali è mettere in dubbio la realtà affermando che “non c’è nulla di reale nella realtà”, poiché la nostra esperienza è in ogni caso mediata dai sensi e dal sistema nervoso i quali, a partire dal meccanismo stesso della visione, non fanno altro che interpretare la realtà. Secondo questo modo di pensare, possiamo dire che non esiste una realtà oggettiva e che forse non esiste nemmeno la realtà, in quanto ogni esperienza è mediata dal nostro sistema nervoso.

Tra i neuroscienziati, i tecnici creatori di mondi virtuali e gli insegnanti spirituali esiste un’apparente concordanza: tutti, in modi diversi, sostengono che il mondo è un’illusione.

È dai tempi del Buddha e di Platone, e anche prima di questi, ovvero molto prima che la scienza e la tecnologia entrassero nella nostra vita, che si parla del mondo come rappresentazione, a livello filosofico, metafisico, psicologico e spirituale. I filosofi e i mistici hanno espresso questo concetto in modo molto più sofisticato di qualsiasi ambiente software o tecnocrate.

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Mail Goggles

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Last week, Google Labs introduced a new service, Mail Goggles. This service is intended to

prevent many of you out there from sending messages you wish you hadn’t… By default, Mail Goggles is only active late night on the weekend as that is the time you’re most likely to need it.

Headlined “Stop sending mail you later regret,” Mail Goggles, when enabled, will ask you a few simple math questions “after you click send to verify you’re in the right state of mind,” in other words, preventing you from sending an email while drunk or in any other altered state of mind.

Google, in addition to being motherly, feeding us with almost infinite information, now seeks to acquire a paternalistic role for itself by helping us in regulating and setting our limits. This simple software starts as usual in an innocent and low-profile manner, but marks the beginning of an intervention regarding our intentions and inner lives.

It would be interesting to know if Google keeps a record of our test results and what they would do with that information: show advertisements about alcohol addiction recovery or food supplements to protect from alcohol toxins?

The idea in itself is not bad. The time spent to solve a simple math problem can give space to a healthy pause and could divert our thoughts in another direction, letting us consider our message in a different light (though I doubt people who indulge in drinking will enable the feature or keep it enabled for long anyway). The last thing that the condition of alcohol unawareness wants is to stop, reflect, or stay in an empty space where running thoughts could be transformed and maybe melted by the emptiness (through a very low-tech activity called “meditation”).

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La settimana scorsa Google Labs ha introdotto il nuovo servizio Mail Goggles. Questo servizio è pensato per

prevenire molti di voi dal mandare messaggi che vorreste non aver mai mandato… Per default, Mail Goggles è solamente attivo nelle notti dei fine settimana in quanto questo è il momento in cui ne avrai molto probabilmente più bisogno.

Dal titolo “Smettila di mandare email di cui poi te ne pentirai”, Mail Goggles, quando attivo, chiederà di risolvere alcune semplici operazioni aritmetiche “dopo che si clicca su Invia per verificare che ti trovi nel corretto stato mentale”, in altre parole impedendo di mandare una email mentre si è ubriachi o in un altro stato mentale alterato.

Google, oltre ad essere materno nell’alimentarci con quasi infinite informazioni, ora inizia un ruolo paternalistico nell’aiutarci a regolare e definire i nostri limiti. Questo semplice software, nello stile di Google, come sempre inizia in modo innocente e senza molto clamore, ma segna l’inizio di un intervento in relazione alle nostre intenzioni e alla nostra vita interiore.

Sarebbe interessante sapere se Google tiene un archivio dei risultati dei nostri test e come intervengono su tali informazioni (mostrare pubblicità sulla guarigione da dipendanza alcoolica o dei supplementi alimentari che proteggono dalle tossine dell’alcool?)

L’idea di per sé non è male. Il tempo speso per effettuare delle semplici operazioni aritmetiche può dare spazio ad una pausa salutare, sviare i nostri pensieri in un’altra direzione e farci considerare il messaggio in un’altra luce. Tuttavia, dubito che le persone che si concedono all’alcool abiliteranno la funzione o che comunque la lasceranno attiva per molto. L’ultima cosa che l’inconsapevolezza dell’alcool vuole è quella di fermarsi, riflettere o di stare in uno spazio vuoto dove i pensieri che corrono potrebbero essere trasformati e magari sfumarsi nel vuoto (tramite un’attività a bassa tecnologia chiamata “meditatione”).

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The yogic geek

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The methods of tracing and controlling our Internet activities have become constantly more varied and sophisticated. Cookies are probably the oldest method (since 1994) to trace – mainly for advertising purposes – the websites that are visited.

Governments, not only in dictatorships but also in Western countries control every piece of information that passes through the Net. One of the famous projects is Echelon, which gives access to every information sent on email, instant messaging and telephone. Beyond this, the police as well can have access to the data regarding Internet use in order to monitor users.

But on the whole we are accomplices to the information that we send. Google History keeps track of all the search we do on the Net. Google Desktop and similar services index everything that happens in our computer.

RSS readers like Google Reader know our interests by managing our subscriptions to blogs. Tracing cancellations and new subscriptions, it is possible for them to map the way our thoughts evolve.

As if this were not enough, we expose ourselves directly in social networking sites, forums, and blogs with our written words and our photos. Sometimes, we need this for getting an identity on the Net in exchange for some attention from others.

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Le tecniche di tracciamento e controllo della nostra attività su Internet sono sempre più variate e sofisticate. I cookies sono forse il modo più vecchio, fin dal 1994, per tracciare i siti che vengono visualizzati, perlopiù per scopi pubblicitari.

I governi, non solo dei paesi dove vige la dittatura, ma di tutto l’occidente controllano ogni flusso di informazioni che transita sulla rete. Famoso è il progetto Echelon, tra gli altri, che dà accesso ad ogni informazione mandata via email, telefono e instant messaging. Ad aggiungersi a questi, gli organi di polizia possono accedere ai dati di utilizzo della rete per monitorare gli utenti.

Ma perlopiù siamo complici delle informazioni che trasmettiamo. Google History tiene traccia di tutte le ricerche che eseguiamo in rete. Google Desktop e servizi simili indicizzano tutto quanto avviene sul nostro computer.

I lettori RSS tipo Google Reader conoscono i nostri interessi gestendo le nostre iscrizioni ai blog. Con le cancellazioni e le nuove iscrizioni possono tenere traccia di come si evolve il nostro pensiero.

Se non bastasse, ci esponiamo direttamente nei siti di social networking, nei forum, nei nostri blog con le parole scritte e con le nostre foto. A volte ci serve per darci un’identità in rete in cambio di un po’ di attenzione da parte di altri.

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The Tao of Google ranking

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When I was a child I believed that somewhere, somebody had the answers to all my questions about the world and about existence. It was because of knowing that sooner or later even I would have access to that knowledge that quietened my cognitive anxiety.

The very fact that knowledge was present somewhere, though hidden, I felt it was certainly obtainable, as if it was present in the air and just needed the proper antennas for being picked up. The Web didn’t exist then, nor did Google that provides almost the entire repository of human knowledge, and of course neither did I know Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic fields theory, much less the mystical ideas on universal consciousness.

But what happens to the process that produces knowledge, when we get it instantly through a Google search? Any media, mentioning McLuhan, is at the same time an extension and a castration. Google is an extension and a castration concerning our research and answer-finding capabilities.

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Da piccolo mi confortava pensare che “qualcuno” da “qualche parte” avesse le risposte alle mie domande sul mondo e sull’esistenza. Immaginavo che in questo modo prima o poi anch’io avrei potuto accedere a tale sapere. Questo pensiero mi placava l’ansia conoscitiva.

Il fatto che la conoscenza fosse da qualche parte, per quanto nascosta o poco accessibile, la sentivo comunque come disponibile, come se questa fosse presente nell’aria e necessitasse solo delle antenne giuste per essere captata. A quei tempi non esisteva il web nè Google che ci mette a disposizione quasi l’intero scibile umano, naturalmente non conoscevo le teorie dei campi morfici di Sheldrake e tantomeno le parole dei mistici sulla coscienza universale.

Ma cosa succede al processo interiore della conoscenza quando possiamo accedervi in pochi instanti tramite una ricerca con Google? Ogni media, ricordando McLuhan, è allo stesso tempo un’estensione e una castrazione. Google lo è rispetto alla nostra capacità di ricercare e di trovare risposte.

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Mental territories

Mind map 130[en]

The need to colonize a territory and to own it traces back to an ancient survival instinct, that dragged on to modern times with the colonizations of other people’s lands. The new territories to be conquered are now at a mental level. The most coveted territory is now represented by having a good position in the ranking of search engines.

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Il bisogno di colonizzazione e di possesso di un territorio risale a un antico istinto di sopravvivenza, che si è trascinato fino all’epoca moderna con le colonizzazioni di luoghi altrui. I nuovi territori da conquistare sono ora a livello mentale. Il territorio più ambito è un buon ranking, un buon posizionamenti nei motori di ricerca.

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Porn 2.0

<h1><a xhref="http://www.indranet.org/?attachment_id=93">cupid psyche</a></h1>[en]

The liberation to be internally free in having sex the way we feel like or to be free not to have it doesn’t come by merely acting out or by repressing the actual act, but by the level of awareness that we are willing to give our sexual needs, be them indulgence or asceticism.

With the pervasivity of porn we got desensitized towards sexual images and their relationship with our soul.  In this overwhelming input towards sex in society, a certain kind of independent porn could paradoxically reveal the vulnerable, human side and the connection with introspection.
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La libertà interiore di fare sesso nel modo che vogliamo, oppure di non farlo, non dipende dalla semplice espressione o repressione dell’atto sessuale in sé, ma dal livello di consapevolezza che desideriamo portare ai nostri bisogni sessuali, siano essi l’indulgenza o l’ascetismo.

Con il dilagare della pornografia ci siamo assuefatti alle immagini sessuali e al loro rapporto con la nostra anima. In mezzo a questo sovraccarico di input sessuali nella società, un certo genere di pornografia indipendente potrebbe paradossalmente rivelare un lato umano e vulnerabile, e un legame con l’introspezione.

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Google, privacy and the need to be seen

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There is a growing debate about the Internet and privacy, especially related to Google. Google knows every web page we visit, every advertisement message we click on and probably, with their mathematical and analytical tools that can intersect geographical data, web navigation and email messages, much more than we can imagine. Our location, doings and web activity can be easily traced and shared. Most probably this technological trend will go towards an even more detailed picture of people’s mind and activities.

But the thing is, most of the Internet users are accomplices to the violation of their privacy. Google knows that people want to show as much as possible of themselves to the world and be able to know and see as much as possible about others. Internet users expose more and more of their ideas, pictures and intimate life through blogs, social networking and other sites. It seems that an act or thought doesn't have value if it is not seen, uploaded and if it doesn't have an audience.

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C'è un dibattito crescente sull'Internet e la privacy, in particolare riferito a Google. Google conosce ogni pagina web che visitiamo, ogni comunicazione pubblicitaria che clicchiamo e probabilmente, tramite gli strumenti matematici ed analitici che possono incrociare dati geografici, di navigazione su web e comunicazioni e-mail, molto più di quanto possiamo immaginare. La nostra ubicazione, le nostre azioni e l'attività su web possono essere facilmente tracciate e condivise. Molto probabilmente questo trend tecnologico si evolverà verso un ritratto ancora più particolareggiato delle menti e delle attività delle persone.

Ma il punto è che la maggior parte degli utenti di Internet sono complici della violazione della loro privacy. Google sa che le persone vogliono mostrare quanto più possibile di loro stesse al mondo ed essere in grado di sapere e vedere altrettanto del prossimo. Gli utenti di Internet espongono in modo crescente le loro idee, immagini e la loro vita intima attraverso i blog, i network sociali e altri siti. Sembra che un atto o un pensiero non abbia valore se non viene messo in rete, visto e se non ha un pubblico. [/it] (more…)

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