First, we should examine a slightly different perspective as to why technological development became such an important factor in the history of many human cultures. Basically, technology helps us to survive by gaining control over the material world and protecting us against the perishability that exists within it. However, survival takes on a special meaning for human beings, because with their cerebral cortex and their heightened consciousness, they are very aware of their own mortality. Most traditional cultures dealt with the fear that this awareness of mortality creates by developing elaborate afterlives within religious systems. These afterlives gave people a way to stand apart from the decay, the disease and the destructive climactic and geological events that they experience around them. At least, they could achieve a spiritual immortality.
But, for some cultures, these spiritual immortalities were not enough of a guarantee. There was no way of sensorily guaranteeing spiritual immortality in this world. These cultures felt a need to create a psychological experience of immortality in the sensory world of the here and now. It wasn’t so much that people, on some level, didn’t know they would inevitably die in the sensory world. But with the development of technology, technology gradually moved beyond the implement stage to the parallel environment stage. Technology was no longer simply a way to cope with certain survival tasks in the natural world, like obtaining food, clothing, shelter and transportation. Technology became a means by which human imprints could be more effectively preserved on the field of experience in which people lived.
Human imprints in a technological world are not subject to the same kind of perishability that they are in a natural environment. Most things are made of almost indestructible materials or laminated with almost indestructible materials or enclosed in almost indestructible materials or sheltered in a climate-controlled room, or endlessly backed-up on computer files or on discs. These highly preserved imprints give people a feeling of a surrogate immortality in the sensory world. That is, there is this sense that if one’s imprints can be effectively preserved after one has died, then one has left a legacy of a part of oneself as a surrogate immortality. And although people always tried to leave a legacy - a surrogate immortality - of a part of themselves in preindustrial times, their imperfect success contributed to their focusing on spiritual immortalities.
Today, technology makes preserving imprints from organic perishability a more successful enterprise. Some parts of surrogate immortalities are based on collective imprints like putting up a building, voting on a law or being on a team that wins a championship. Today, more buildings are bigger and are made of stronger materials than most traditional buildings with the exception of pyramids, castles and religious buildings. Laws and sports records are immortalized by being preserved on computer files. Some parts of surrogate immortalities are based on the imprints by individuals like writing a book or building a small business. Books today are protected against organic perishability by being turned into e-books. Parts of small businesses are preserved through incorporation which is recorded on computers today in government offices. Some imprints have to do with our direct impact on other people. This impact can be tangible like having a baby with someone or giving advice that was followed by someone. Or it can be intangible: the emotional presence we create in someone. These imprints have aspects that are individual and aspects that are collective. We leave an individual imprint on someone else in creating a baby, but the baby is a collective imprint. We give advice or leave an emotional presence in someone as a result of our reaction to the imprint this person leaves on us..
But something strange happens as living environments become more technologized. Organic imprints require organic surfaces in order to make a mark on the world. An imprint has to be made first in order to be preserved or fixed in the photographic sense. But the modern technological surfaces are surfaces that defend against new imprints in order to preserve the old ones. We bounce off the surfaces of the objects in our living environments today, rather than imprint them. Perishability, at least in the traditional sense, is something that is slowed down considerably with steel, asphalt, plastic and cyberspace. And yet we each need a field of experience in our life, a total enveloping configuration of phenomena and stimuli, that is at least somewhat susceptible to the impact of our imprints. We need to be able to leave imprints on the surface of the field of experience that surrounds our physical presence as well as on the physical world within this field of experience.
However the people who create the programs for modern industrial machines, computers, and video games are filling the world with experiential surfaces that don’t allow for making significant original imprints by the people who use them. When machine operators churn out their products, they leave nothing of themselves in what they create. Time spent surfing the internet could be spent in directly making imprints and receiving imprints in the primary experience of direct human interaction. Time spent in the formulaic actions and responses of video games could be spent in so many different creative activities or doing sports with other kids. These modern machines, with the technological surfaces they create, mediate human processes, create formulaic mediated experiences and replace the primary experiences that allow for direct placement of organic imprints on our fields of experience. As we fight to beat death, we lose something essential for feeling alive.
With a diminished capacity to make imprints, comes a diminished capacity to receive imprints from others. As we become numb from our diminished capacity to make imprints, we are less receptive to the imprints that others want to make on us. We ourselves become technological surfaces. What is missing is the organic environments that are templates for people to make imprints on one another. By organic environments, I mean not only nature but human living environments where the architecture, the design, the art and the community organization are based on a strong organic bonding with both the people who live there and the physical world. In modern technological environments, relationships are more tenuous, divorces are common, families crumble, and many people don’t know their neighbors.
It is my premise that human beings are not formed, do not develop independent of their living environment. People are not simply the result of their biological predispositions and their family upbringing, but also their total living environment. We do observations of animals and how they interact with their ecosystems. We are concerned about preserving the habitats of animals, because that is where they survive best. However, we think that, because of our cerebral cortex, we humans are capable of adapting effectively to any environment which we may create And yet, there are many environments where we can survive, although we don’t necessarily thrive. These modern environments interfere with our capacity to make imprints and leave us vulnerable to sensory distortion, which in turn generates pathological behavior. The effects of our modern transformed living environments on human behavior are going to be the focus of my contributions to this blog.
c 2011 Laurence Mesirow