Overweening Generalist

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Ramble on Digital Media and Mental Hygiene

Some of you know about the French philosopher and Jesuit and geologist and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. He was involved in Peking Man. He thought rocks were "alive" in some sense. He was involved in Piltdown Man. The Pope forbid him to publish his writings, because they advocated for evolution. Teilhard was a mystic of some sort, no doubt, and a universal thinker, and wonderfully weird. I'm not a catholic, but I love his ideas.

[The interested reader might start with his The Phenomenon of Man.]

He thought there was some teleological, vitalist force that was pulling human evolution toward Omega Point. The idea resonates with the Singularitarians, like Ray Kurzweil, but there seems some crucial differences. Anyway...

Teilhard posited in the 1940s (or earlier?) that humankind would in the future extend its nervous system around the globe. This was the noosphere, an atmosphere made of mind-stuff. (He was actually extending an idea from Vladimir Vernadsky. Or perhaps Edouard Le Roy. Anyway...) This idea influenced another catholic Generalist in my pantheon, Marshall McLuhan. His concept of the "global village" was heavily influenced by Teilhard.

Teilhard was cited more than any other thinker as influential on what Marilyn Ferguson called "The Aquarian Conspiracy" in her 1980 book of the same name. Teilhard was mentioned just above Jung, Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Aldous Huxley. This book and its ideas - rather puzzlingly to this blogger, and undoubtedly a boon for Ferguson's sales - proved to be an enduring threat to Larouche-ites and other Christian right wing groups. (See this example, for one among many. <-----Pssst! Those of you who love a good, thick, meaty conspiracy theory: don't miss this one! It's a sort of meta- conspiracy theory, in that the theorizing about the hated conspiracy seems almost far more conspiratorial than the "Aquarian Conspiracy" itself. Ferguson really scored with her title! But I wildly digress...)

So now we have the noosphere, in a major sort of way. And you are participating in it right where you are sitting now. Here's my question for us: is this contributing to your happiness? Can you check in with your feelings and say, "Yep, reading this guy's blog and these other Internet things I've done in the last hour are really the things I need to be doing. I like this. I need this and I find it fulfilling."?

Hey, maybe your answer is yes. But maybe not.

A brilliant blogger articulates his struggles well in a way that sheds light on this general topic here.

In the last week I've spent a lot of time researching (on the Web!) the term "addiction" with regard to cell phone use, Facebook, texting, playing video games, checking email, viewing pornography, and watching TV. Among other things. And there is no shortage of data there. There are a ton of studies, especially with regard to TV. The point is: clearly, some people have major problems with digital media and its appropriate place in their own lives. (For those with addictions, I am no doctor, but I would like to suggest some form of cognitive behavioral therapy, for reasons I might go into in some future blog rant-post.)

Why, with this wonderful mystical noosphere/Global Village, are some of us having such a hard time?

Two things immediately come to mind, and they are interconnected, it seems to me:

1.) We as the species homo sapiens have been physically like we are for around 195,000 years. We reached what's called "behavioral modernity" around 50,000 years ago. (Those of you who balk at these figures, let me know in the comments section, please.) But we've only had electric lights for around 130 years. Cut to the chase: for evolutionary reasons, most of us simply don't know how to most appropriately incorporate all the dazzling digital gadgetry at our disposal. One way to reassess one's stance towards digital media and their own feelings of well-being would be to get radical and look at one's own hierarchy of values.

2.) Every form of electronic media can - and should - be seen as having its own imperative(s). Is your Android conscious? Of course not. (Disagreements welcome in the comment box below.) The tremendously talented, probably-specialistic geeks who programmed your gadget DO have assumptions, both hidden and available to their own consciousnesses. Your iPad did not develop over millions of years like the duck-billed platypus. Just take a moment and contemplate - and I'm not assuming anything actively nefarious here! - that, by a welter of knowledge about human motivation - that by definition your gadget (including Blogger!) was developed by a large team of expert programmers who had assumptions about social reality and even "human nature" that were/are subconscious or unconscious or just generally unavailable to themselves.

But any medium - including books - will program you if you don't program it. (EX: killers in the name of their Holy Book) If you're bored and don't know what to do with yourself and reach for the email/cell phone/Facebook/Twitter/TV, etc...: you have not programmed those things; they have programmed you. They want you to use them for their own reasons, but you need to use them for YOUR reasons. Because you're a totally unique, free and creative individual with the spark of the Infinite within. For a tremendous buzz on this idea, see Douglas Rushkoff's recent book Program or Be Programmed.

So yes, friends: be a vibrant part of the Global Brain, with its noosphere enveloping us all, pulling us toward...something? (I will not dogmatize about this!) But be conscious in your use of these powerful new media. Aye, go have a blast, but be careful out there!

Tu quoque: Yes, I have my own media addiction, and it has to do with books. Some other time.

1 comment:

Eric Wagner said...

Reach for my iPad.
Play Candy Crush or learn a
little Arabic.