In the not too distant past, people everywhere were still insulated from much awareness of the world beyond one’s local family and tribe. We might now take for granted how much technology has expanded our reach beyond the immediate time and place we find ourselves in. Mobility through technology allows very different peoples and cultures to mingle and merge, as it also expands our reach.
We moderns seek an explanation for everything, and now we can find it ‘online.’ We look to, reference and then quote the experts – or share a meme that claims a truth through an emotionally appealing story – for winning our ideological and psychological battles that the subjective, private self feels obliged to acknowledge in order to be validated and heard. The risk is to hand over our personal agency to collective forces, becoming enslaved by ideologues or by anyone who has our ear. Even if it lies unacknowledged, in the shadow of every ideology there lies an end game.
Every generation fights a new bogey man: whatever public institution, once deemed and revered as expert, eventually falls from grace. This is how it must be. All will eventually fall, as long as the categories themselves of ‘public and private’ remain in a dynamic tension in which one negates the other, rather than serving as that which shows us a third way which places agency back into one’s experience where we can then turn to – that place where all struggles ultimately find their residence.
After thousands of years of toil and disease, in which millions of human lives lived were fraught with pain and suffering, technology began to serve us well. But somewhere we have moved beyond a level of relative comfort to a place we’ve never been before. Unlike the self-reliant nature of walking, the speed of a car, while increasing our freedom to move, at the same time increases our expectation of ever greater speeds. Our desires seem insatiable with the idea that technology will increasingly bring more freedom, comfort and one day perhaps the Promised Land itself.
With desires and expectations far removed from human nature we’re twice as vulnerable in an era when technology and social media become the primary source of opinions, stories, images and ideas that are ‘shared,’ ‘liked’ and distributed in their most base form. Memes, quickly consumed as simple explanations, offer platitudes and solutions in an increasingly complex and shared world. We fill our need for ever deeper, more personal reflection with collective opinions distributed just as other goods are bought, sold, and often time, borrowed on credit. Faster food, faster cars, faster weapons, faster information foster unreflected opinions that define reality and tempt us into drawing conclusions about what is broken and how things should be. How to fix what technology driven by a desire for ever-increasing speed breaks? Speed kills, but more than that, while giving an illusion of connecting long distances, cheats us out of deeper bonds to each other and the world that the slowness of essential daily tasks once provided.
Our desperation to make the world better shares this hurried frenzy. We risk the loss of skills for mediating between a multitude of competing ideas, where a deeper understanding of the nature of social and individual problems might counter the overbearing collective influence.
Perhaps our hurry serves to move us past the unbearable pain of increased awareness of the plight of others whom we are often powerless to help, and into the pleasure of believing in a solution that fits our cultural frame of reference. With the solution in mind, rather than the problem, all that’s left is to blame those that don’t share our vision, who we then scapegoat as either unenlightened, brainwashed, or simply “haters.” (Perhaps our exasperation is an important clue that our understanding is not yet complete and still wants something from us.)
Technology in the Driver’s Seat
Although technology extends our awareness, it can breed emotions for things and events far beyond our reach, and still carry with it an expectation that our influence and responsibility might increase too, giving the impression that together, we can solve the world’s problems. Alone with one’s computer, the bigger-than-ever world is now at my fingertips. Perhaps this is why frustration, depression and pathology more readily find us offline, as we never quite find our unique voice that can skillfully mediate and express ideas that we’re attracted to. We remain dispossessed; both afraid and unaware of the reach and limits of our own agency. With all of the speed of technology, the experts we seek for validation still own us.
The increased reach of our psyche is far out of proportion to our individual influence on the world’s troubles. The more power, influence and responsibility I think I’m suppose to have, the more I suffer when things beyond my control break my heart. I feel this deeply.
Power and influence, and the question of who has it and who doesn’t, are breeding a new pathology. Never before have we had a spotlight big enough to expose so much to so many. The power of one small cellphone to globally broadcast any event to anyone anywhere is unprecedented. The changes brought to our psyche and to every culture are perhaps unstoppable and seemingly chaotic, contributing as much to the solutions of our problems as to the pathological states that bring harm to so many of us.
No matter one’s beliefs or culture, common archetypal themes grip and haunt us all. In a world saturated by apocalyptic visions and imagery, it is to our teleological views that we might now turn to, not to believe in them more, but to see through them and the power that belief infuses into crumbling cultures. Regardless of their veracity, it is our very belief in them that divides us into opposing forces of believers and heretics, penetrating our awareness and identity with a desire to convert the unfaithful over and above anything else. Falling into belief (defined here as a mistaking of the desire for something ultimately unknowable to be true) is itself pathological, ever in need of validation, reassurance and defense that is beyond the human condition to obtain.
While it once seemed that the old institutions of church, social mores, government and superstition were to blame for our oppression and lack of freedom, as these structures begin to crumble, we might increasingly recognize a kind of personal free agency, unincorporated, to the extent that we don’t, out of fear and desperation, seek out ideologies and authorities to replace those fallen idols.
The desire to win an outcome stemming from any collective ideology, empowers the experts, who in the cultural free fall, solicit our dependence – increasing their influence over us while limiting the pool of ideas of what is possible. Corruption can be more readily justified through strength of belief. The antidote to belief is to stop worshiping at its altar, not the altar of any one specific belief, but the altar of belief itself. Ultimately, at root, what any of us always has – and which remains the very ground of our existence, is experience.
10 thoughts on “Under the Influence”
I know those phone booths! 🙂
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Alameda, CA!! Wonderful cafe. Great food! I can’t recall the name of the place, but I believe I also took a photo of the sign…
You know, it looks so much like a row of phone booths in Avalon, but as I look at it more closely, I realize that it’s not the booths near the post office there.
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Well, how cool is that? There are at least two places where a bank of defunct phone booths serve as reminders of another era. In this particular café, I loved that they were left in place, and easily fit into the décor. The name of the café is Phillipe, and they featured French dip sandwiches, but all of the food was amazing. I found the photo of the sign that I took, but can’t seem to post it here.
I’m often relieved when you post these days. It just needed to be said; and I think you were the one to do it.
We are challenged to remain detached and to find unique language for what we face, in order to take our power of meaning back, as you say each era has its challenges. When we hand our agency over to others to validate our experiences, we might be trading for some sort of apparent external oppression. Thank you for speaking about social media in this way, and for speaking about inevitable falls from inevitable graces. Overall, your text here is contemplative, and that’s sort of my cup of tea when I’m not declaring that “I’m over it all.” I’m a little bit tired of the urgency, you know? Yet, it’s still there, regardless of what is motivating it; maybe it’s just raw power wishing to free itself of all ownership. The part about soliciting dependencies makes me feel sick and annoyed. What can I say? Nothing. But, it’s true. Why join and/or participate in this rat race? What are the alternatives, beside further contemplation? Contemplation is key to fending off the sticky memes that wish to steal our honest brains and use them for zombie thought viruses.
Thanks for always being so supportive. Feeling the hurry, whether driving, or at work, is tiresome. I want to travel through the day at a pace that can still absorb each moment in its fullest. It seems sometimes that we move quickly to either dispose of a present we refuse to be in, or running recklessly into a future we think will be better.
Not that I would have the world any other way than how she presents to me. I still feel grateful to be here in these times. Blessed for the having the practice of writing to help me stay open to what needs to come through.
I think we participate most when we engage others and can stay open, regardless of whether or not our judgments rush in to condemn or disown. People we disagree with can be our most treasured gifts forcing an opening in us that cracks our well-armored souls. So, although it’s one of the hardest things I find to do, I try to find the vulnerable parts in each person I engage with in the hopes of feeling compassion, regardless of whatever else I feel.
Just got back from a 4-day dream retreat. Spending time in this way reminds me that each of us has/is an expression that the world needs. So, trying to eliminate perceived enemies misses the gift that each person through their expression offers to us, freely given, if we can listen and open ourselves up to what is there. The differences aren’t usually as big as they seem at first.
Anyway, I hope I will write more soon! I feel the urge anyway. That’s a start.
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This is an astute and keenly reasoned posting, which presents us with a view of our technologically challenged world, in terms that strike at the very heart of the matter. The nature of the information age is a double-edged sword. While we have so much more information available to us, which can assist us in achieving a better understanding of a complex and swiftly advancing world, it also can present us with an enormous challenge, in having to decipher our point-of-view from an avalanche of available information resources, many of which are not necessarily reliable, and which may have been produced by agents who are neither ethical nor representative of a balanced view of the world. Our over-reliance on these sources, or our unquestioning acceptance of the beliefs espoused by them, is an all-too-easy remedy for supporting a particular ideology. Our own experience as sentient creatures and serious consideration of these “collective forces,” is not something we can relinquish in an attempt to expedite our efforts to mitigate the challenge.
Your point is also well-taken when you remind us that the technological advances we have witnessed in recent years have, to some degree, removed the urgency for some of us to continuously work at connecting to our deeper nature. Our sense of compassion and basic humanity have always relied upon our efforts to strengthen our connection to natural world, and also to the pathways which can lead us to discern a connection to the unity between the temporal and the spiritual or transcendent aspects of our better nature. It’s only natural to be concerned at the switftness of the changes wrought by technological advancement, and our subsequent heightened anxiety about our responsibilities and influence.
Your statement describing experience as “the very ground of our existence,” directly expresses the urgency for some new response to these changes, in order for us to move forward and to keep pace with the new world unfolding right in front of our eyes.
You definitely should expand on this posting with some of your hard-won wisdom and keen reasoning, to give us a greater chance of achieving some progress in catching up with our technology challenges.
Wonderful to enjoy reading your words again!……John H.
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I am grateful for your kind words and support. This sort of writing always seems incomplete, as if I am continually honing in on some essential understanding that remains elusive. Maybe that is the nature of the beast? Or maybe each insight expresses a layer, of which there are endless layers.
I’m not sure if a new world is unfolding. Maybe. I can’t easily differentiate between skin and heart. I think the sense of newness, progress and moving forward might sometimes keep us from being present, as we defer our eyes and ears to a dream of the future. In a world where so much suffering is now in plain sight, there might be solace in looking to the future to sort out the chaos we fear and refuse to sometimes acknowledge. I think we also lack awareness of how much suffering there has always been. Not only the suffering that comes from human malice, but the suffering that is inherent in the nature of life itself.
It is death itself that we do not seem to understand or make our peace with. I think there have been other cultures, times and places where a reconciliation between life and death was an integral part of the culture. By chasing away death with the dream and hopes of robotic technology, drugs and surgery to keep death at bay, we never truly live. Disease and suffering then become a punishment, a failure, something in need of correction through the marketing of healthcare rather than a condition of being given to life. In saying this, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t have technology or healthcare, but that we need to remember how fragile and vulnerable life is.
Anyway, I think there are conversations we’re not having, or they are whispers in the dark corners where no one can hear. There are of course, many like yourself who are sharing deeply personal openings, even if we have no idea what the openings will bring.
Glad to see you posting again!!
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Thank you Jeff!
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