Placing your(self) in the Digital Inferno
Digital living and working has come about very quickly in the development of Humanity. In terms of the hundreds of thousands of years that people have been on our planet, it is less than the blink of an eye. Even in terms of civilised humanity its appearance is sudden.
It has washed over us like a wave we didn’t quite know was coming. It is a wave that has washed over the world. It is a wave that has touched, is touching, and will touch us all. We are not untouched by it – even if we think we are. Its waves move through us, whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not. Its effects over the long term are unknown – good or bad, or both. Some name it as a step in evolution, some as a step into the Abyss. Its negative effects are being documented, mostly as anecdotes and criticised studies. Its positive effects are largely assumed, and always marketed. Writers such as Sherry Turkle suggest we breathe, pause and reflect before moving on. If its effects are profound in terms of our psychological and physical well being, then it is one of the biggest non-scientific health trials humanity has ever been through – no double blind trial here, no careful longitudinal study with a control group. Here we have a new substance injected into just about the whole of humanity, with scientific research trailing behind business-based innovation.
As a development, it is the first of all technological waves of innovation to impact so quickly and so widely on the people of Earth. The digital world has touched just about everyone, placing television sets and mobile phones across most of Africa and, through satellite and cable technology, some of the remotest places on earth. In the west, we take connectedness as for granted as air and water. And the invisible signals dance their hidden waves across just about everywhere, even through walls. Even through brains and eye sockets, even through groins, possibly affecting fertility.
How far away are you from a digital device, right now? You are most likely reading this on a device. Even if you are reading it in print, only a few months or even weeks ago, computers were at work on producing what you are holding in your hands. Even when the waves have died down, their echo lingers in the physical things we have made for use and sale. It isn’t that it is all good, or all bad. It is that we haven’t reflected on this continuous wave of change and impregnation of human daily consciousness. We have imbibed it without knowing how safe it is to eat. And even metaphorically speaking, we aren’t sure exactly how good it all is as food for the soul. It isn’t that it is fine or horrible, beneficial or damaging; it is that we don’t really know. We once thought and tried to convince each other that tobacco was good for the lungs. We don’t really know where we stand in relation to it. We haven’t become very objective about it. We are in it, we are of it. We aren’t very aware of it, while we are in or of it.
Now, we can place ourselves in relation to this digital inferno in a number of ways…
Dive in, fall forward, and embrace it all.
Stand on the precipice and trust the winds of this Digital Inferno to bear you where it will. Fall forwards into it with one last act of conscious freedom and then give yourself up to it. Embrace this as just another, inevitable and exciting long wave of evolution. If it is addictive, then it is meant to be – it will give you the benefits of addiction – especially the highs. Trust its promised benevolence and take whatever it has to offer. Dive into the Digital Inferno and do not allow criticism of it to taint that full-hearted dive.
One end of this position sees reflection and scrutiny as either a pointless exercise (it is all too complex and fast changing to study, analyse and reflect on) and another end sees reflection and pausing as interfering with the flow that is the digital inferno, a bit like constantly digging up the roots of a plant to see how it is growing. The dive into the digital inferno necessarily involves immersion, and immersion doesn’t lend itself to detached observation. So, the dive in approach will involve the willing loss of one state and trading it for another. Once in, we are covered in the substance, changed by it. Some of the divers believe we all are immersed anyway now, that there is no going back to the place of diving – we’ve been pushed in. Or perhaps pulled, so why not go with the flow? Some evangelists see diving willingly into the digital inferno has something akin to Goering’s Leadership Principle where one final act of freedom or democracy votes democracy out. We vote for lock down, for unfreedom, to plug in, and for a digital life in a place that will release us in the longer term. True, we may have to sit in front of it or place it in our hand at the moment. Be patient. Virtual worlds will eventually replace this one, indistinguishable from our current world, and soon enough, very distinguishable as Heaven on Earth – a place where we can fly, where no one is poor, and where we can live forever. We become immortal, as gods on earth. Eventually we excarnate into a new state of consciousness, beyond the limitations of fleshy physicality. In the short term, we get to be more connected, we get more friends, we get always-on intouchedness, and we get things cheaper, quicker and often in ways that let us be an avatar – an idealised or created version of our physical selves – more confident, more popular, wittier, quicker and more “effective”.
The “divers-in” see not diving in as being a Philistine, a nay-sayer, a party pooper, a future-naive, a back-turner, akin to the Flat Earth and It’ll Never Fly Societies. The divers in are happy to take a calculated risk that the benefits of a full dive into the digital inferno will reap more benefits than problems. Alice saw a bottle. It said “Drink me…”
Stay Away from the Digital Inferno – Withdraw and turn away
Here’s the view, deliberately simplified: The Digital Inferno is a new level of Hell, dressed up with the Devil’s Deception. It offers a compelling copy, even an enhancement of reality, and the only price is your inner (and even outer physical) freedom. It is powerful and not benevolent at all. Large corporations lie behind it and it will reduce you to either-or, ones and zeros and your will lose yourself in the process. Have nothing to do with it. Keep devices out of the house, withdraw and meditate. Step away from all digital devices for they are nothing but dangerous addiction and soul trickery. Despite being an incredible technological advance, they are too powerful, and it is better to take not even a small step towards them.
The more sober members of this position write, as Mark Slouka did in The Assault on Reality, in a style that mixes conspiracy theories with some pretty conscious futurism. The visible architects of the Digital Inferno view it as a new Eden, one in which new metaphors arise to guide and shape humanity – The Hive Mind where we are drones, in trance states of imagined happiness, dreamed freedom, but, essentially plugged in and physically immobile. We get to dream, but we have to be the gadget. When we log into Facebook, it is we who are the gadget. Facebook uses us to behave in ways it wants. When we reach for the vibrating phone, we are the gadget, being trained ever increasingly (and unconsciously) in polarisation, simplification of complex and subtle emotions into yellow smileys. Our larynxes will die away as we speak through ever-elongated, spider-like fingertips with hardened skin tips and, ultimately, with thought alone – evolving smaller bodies and larger heads and brains.
The Digital Inferno is an alien being, and we will be shaped into abhumanity, a tool for the Matrix. We become more addicted to connection, we stop eating together physically, and we begin to value the hologram over the physical intimacy of the group in a place subject to the Law of Gravity.
Ultimately we lose touch on some levels even as we become more connected. As Sherry Turkle characterises it, we become “Alone Together. The price is too high. We are hurling ourselves into the pit. We do not know what we are walking into. It’s time to step back, take conscious control and steer this thing with the carefulness of a dangerous but possible beneficial medicine. We need to turn technology into technosophy – imbue it with wisdom born of reflection on experience that we manage at our own deliberate pace.
Whatever happens, a group of humanity will emerge that takes (and is already taking this path). They are the no-sayers or, perhaps, the yes sayers to something else.
Hold Your Own in the Digital Inferno of Mass Culture and Virtual Living and Working
Let me again characterise this view simply: This stuff is here and it is here to stay. We are on Earth to encounter what is here, not to avoid it, but we are also beings of physicality and sense. The Digital Inferno can take us away too far and too quickly from physical purpose and we might just lose our freedom in the process. So, go gently, awake and aware, take time to reflect on it, to breathe, and to meet it consciously, ensuring our own will power is not diminished in the process. Step into it, through it, but with our freedom in tact.
We are here to meet this wave of change. We are not here to avoid paradigm shifts. Even if this thing is bigger than us, it has an inevitability within it and there is consciousness to be gained from the encounter with it. Self-realisation arises from meeting resistance, from facing what is there. Yes we need to name it and yes, we need to place it and, even if it is a battle will will lose, we need to pit our human freedom against it. Perhaps we can transform it and gain conscious mastery over the threshold where the quality of quality meets the realm of copy, of do-it-for-you and do-it-to-you and one and zero polarity.
We aren’t here to dive in without being awake. But we are here to go in, ready to step back, to reflect, to name and to challenge, to shape with the moving limbs of our own self-won freedom of thinking. The Digital Inferno is there to remind us that repetition lies at the heart of rhythm, but also that rhythm can be conscious and beautiful repetition. We can learn to place our devices in time, in space, even in thought and context. We can live technosophically and soon lay aside these clumsy attempts at technology and then we can create our own wise technologies and even evolve technological gadgetry into freely won human faculty.
One view sees this as entirely possible, perhaps even the destiny of humanity. Another view sees this, at best, as helping you to get slightly less burnt less quickly in Hell.
Whichever position you choose; it is currently your choice. But some choices will be harder to step back from than others. Step consciously. Or you might just lose your self in the process.