In my last essay, I discussed the importance for human beings of leaving preserved imprints on their living environment as a form of surrogate immortality in preparing for death. It is imprints that are our vehicle for validating our humanity. They are our means for feeling alive and for preserving an aspect of this state of aliveness we are in, after we are no longer actually alive. To a certain extent, we experience our total living environment in terms of surfaces with the potential to receive imprints as well as surfaces that are resistant to new imprints. The first group of surfaces represent phenomena that are more easily imprintable, because they do not have rigid surfaces and rigid boundaries. They are receptive to change of shape by means of impressions. Such phenomena as earth, clay, bodies of water and fields of grass are obvious physical natural phenomena that belong to this first group. However, some easily imprintable surfaces are mixed in with phenomena that are more rigid and more resistant to new imprints. Organisms have boundaries; they are discrete figures. And yet, they leave imprints on one another’s experiential surfaces in many different ways. Humans leave imprints on one another through sex, love, fighting, teaching and learning, negotiations, deals, good and bad deeds, and exchange of information and emotional statements through daily communication. Humans are figures with imprintable physical and mental surfaces - surfaces that are impressionable like the earth on the ground.
Fast forward to the modern industrial environments of today. In modern cities, we are surrounded by brick, cement, steel, glass and asphalt. Buildings and streets and cars. Phenomena that are resistant to being imprinted. And then there are computers and robots. Computers and robots are imprinted by the people who design them, who create them. And programs are created to be operated in them in certain ways. But most individual people do not create programs and do not leave significant uniquely synthesized imprints on computers and robots when they - the users - operate them.
It is true that people can write on a computer, using it as a word processor. But I would still submit that writing by hand with a pen, because a person leaves more unique imprints with his personalized handwriting, leads to the person receiving feedback from this more unique creative physical imprint, and this stimulates more creative thinking. Furthermore, one more effectively experiences oneself leaving an imprint with one’s thought. There is simply a repetitive formulaic motor process involved in pressing on keys on a computer keyboard. There is no feeling of leaving unique organic imprints in pressing on computer keys.
Most robot operations and most computer programs are fairly formulaic. They are mostly pre-conceived processes. As are the operations of most industrial machines. The purposes for which they are used may be uniquely human, but the processes are mediated and formulaic. It is almost as if the complex entities of modern machines, computers and robots are somehow leaving their own imprints on the rigid laminated surfaces that are resistant to the organic imprints of human beings.
Particiularly, to the extent that computers and robots and complex modern machinery mediate between us and our natural environment - our primary experience living environment, all this technology and the structures it creates become our new living environment. And computers are micro-living environments that have well-marked boundaries. They are highly defined as figures, and they supplant the grounded surfaces upon which we press down both literally and metaphorically to leave unique organic imprints.
Modern living environments consist primarily of highly figured technology and structures as well as the spaces in between. In more organic traditional living environments, many phenomena are fairly pure ground in the experiential sense of a phenomenon that can blend with other phenomena. Examples are soil and water. Or else they are imperfectly defined figures like organisms with large experiential grounded surfaces that are highly open to communion and blending and imprinting with other grounded surfaces. As in forests, packs of animals and villages. Different organisms, traditional architecture - that blends in more effectively with its natural environment, traditional art and handicrafts. All are examples of imperfect figures with highly grounded surfaces for communing and blending and imprinting. And the art, handicrafts, and architecture have imprinted surfaces that we leave among the imprintable surfaces of natural phenomena.
And the spaces in between the phenomena in this traditional environment reflect the traditional structures and complement them. The emptiness - the vacuum - becomes infused with a kind of somethingness that we experience in our minds. We populate the vacuum with our psychological imprints. The vacuum becomes the home to the spiritual world and spiritual phenomena that enhance and reflect the activity found in the grounded natural environment. The vacuum becomes infused with psychological grounding from the spirit world and with the grounded surfaces of supernatural entities that interact with us. And to the extent that we humans interact with these supernatural entities, we experience ourselves as leaving another level of imprints on the spaces in between the different figure and ground phenomena in traditional environments. We do this with prayers and rituals and ceremonies and with the modification of the figure and ground phenomena in our field of experience in order to comply with the requirements of the supernatural world we experience in the vacuum.
In modern living environments filled with highly figured scientific ideas, the vacuum, the spaces in between, is pretty empty of grounding. The vacuum does not reflect back in any way the figure and ground phenomena found in the natural living environment. And this is because increasingly, the phenomena in the modern world are highly figured pieces of technology: complex machines, computers, and robots.
That which does fill the spaces in between, nowadays, is the free-floating facts and images of cyberspace. These are lifeless bounded discrete stimuli, little figures with no organic surfaces for blending and interacting the way supernatural entities do.
Of course, we have also had the vacuum images of TV and movies for a while, but these are images sent from a projector to a screen or from a TV station to a TV. With computers, we have facts and images that exist in cyberspace. This is what fills the spaces in between for humans today. These facts and images are mediated bounded phenomena that do not accept our direct imprints in our minds in the same way supernatural entities do.
The spaces in between are not alive today in the way they were in more traditional times. The mediated phenomena in cyberspace are not imprintable. The in-between spaces are impervious to our need to make new imprints. So in our modern technological environments, the barrier against our imprints in the clusters of technological figures as well as in the space in between is fairly complete. And this leads to distortions in our field of experience and distortions in our behavior. The world is changing so fast, and that is why we need to get a handle on overall patterns of change, so that we can protect ourselves against their harmful side effects.
c 2011 Laurence Mesirow