Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Life On The Screens Of Computers And Smartphones

    The process of writing my articles on an ongoing basis has started to stimulate the evolution of my thinking on the effects of modern technology on living environments and human behavior.  This is leading to a fine-tuning of some of my major ideas alongside of simply exploring their ramifications in different areas of human experience.  The present article represents an important fine-tuning.

    In past articles, I have often referred to how people not only have the capacity to model themselves after parental figures, but also after any entity with complex behavior including animals, complex astronomical, climatological and geological phenomena (like the sun, moon, thunder and mountains), and finally computers and robots.  And apart from computers and robots simply playing a larger and larger role in our daily lives, there is a particular reason why humans feel impelled to model themselves more and more on them.  It relates to creating fields of experience with seemingly manageable sensory distortion.

    As I have discussed, modern technological living environments create fields of experience that alternately overstimulate and undertimulate our primate nervous systems.  People bounce back and forth from sensory overstimulation to sensory deprivation in the external world.  They try to maintain a sense of equilibrium by creating their own fields of stimulation through speeding up their will with conative acceleration, which leads to a speeded-up flow of activity, and through numbing the will, conative anesthesia, which leads to a kind of slowing down and withdrawal from the external sensory world.  Neither one of these responses is a perfect answer.  Conative acceleration leads to a kind of personal exhaustion and jadedness from so much overstimulation.  Conative anesthesia can lead to a person being in a kind of a living death, withdrawing from any kind of a meaningful life narrative in the external world.

    In other words, neither strategy when used regularly allows a person to have a long-term trajectory for an engaging life in the external world.  Nevertheless, the advances in technology have allowed for the development of a different kind of solution to the problem of sensory distortion.  Sensory distortion basically results from experiencing too much discrete stimulation in the form of static or tension pockets in the external world and too much infinite continuous stimulation in the form of large vacuum spaces in the external world.  Another factor is that in a modern technological living environment, there aren’t enough organic blendable continual stimuli from nature to allow a person to feel grounded and to feel fully alive.  But modern technology has developed a way of mixing together discrete static stimuli, the potential source of sensory overstimulation and continuous vacuum stimuli, the potential source of sensory deprivation. 

    With robots, there is an alternation between discrete focused movements on the one hand and vacuum pauses on the other as the robot shifts to another direction or another action. This mode of functioning provides a subtle model for humans.  Robots represent a stabilized behavioral entity that functions effectively in the fields of sensory distortion of modern technological living environments. 

    Computers and smart phones are stabilized sensory living environments on screens.  With such living environments, extreme conative reactions are prevented, even though organic grounded environments aren’t present.  Mixed together in intricate digital patterns where the use of 1 and 0 parallels the use of discrete stimuli and continuous stimuli, the stimuli experience from a computer or smartphone becomes easily absorbable without provoking an imbalanced reaction.  And the computer screen becomes a kind of oasis in a modern technological living environment full of disequilibrating sensory distortion.  It becomes a place where a person can regroup and put himself together again sensorily.  The sources of sensory imbalance are neutralized by being intricately blended together.

    So are computers the source of mental health for people in modern technological society?  Not necessarily.  Although digital patterning can create a kind of equilibrium in the configurations of stimuli that pass forth on the computer screen, something is missing that is important for human stimulation.  I am talking about the organic blendable continual stimuli that are crucial in the presentation of stimuli to humans at a given moment and in the flow of stimuli to humans over time.  It is these stimuli that provide grounded coherence to a scene in the external world, and that, in general, provide grounded coherence to the flow of stimuli over time.  It is these stimuli that make a given phenomenon more organic rather than technological.

    Now defined discrete stimuli and vacuum continuous stimuli are important for giving definition to a particular phenomenon, but blendable continual stimuli are necessary to give a phenomenon coherence.  Without these blendable continual stimuli, it is as if the phenomenon is made up of a series of discrete points.  Discrete points don’t have the continuity to provide grounding.

    Phenomena like computers and robots are flawed models for humans and they provide flawed mirroring.  Without blendable continual stimuli, computers and robots lack a coherent core, and they provide images for humans that neither model nor mirror in a way as to provide a strong coherent sense of self..  Human selves that are modeled after objects of modern technology are much more fragile without that sustained stimulation of coherence from the model.

    It is simply not enough to have a balanced field of experience in a complex entity that is to be a model.  For it to be a strong model, the complex entity also requires organic continual stimuli, something that is not readily present in modern technological devices.  Organic continual stimuli are the foundation of emotional bonding among humans, of nurturance for humans that are young and dependent, of flexible guidance as humans gradually grow up and become more independent.  Continual stimuli become the core of a strong independent sense of self.  Without the coherence provided by continual stimuli, there cannot be a strong sense of independence in a person in modern technological society.

    Granted that the discrete stimuli that come from learning and following rules, receiving training and maintaining discipline are also important for developing a strong independent sense of self.  But people have plenty of contact with rules and discipline in dealing with the rigid behavior of modern complex technological entities.  What is missing is the time needed in nurturing and bonding relations with other humans.   To be constantly inundated with a flow of discrete static and continuous vacuum stimuli means that people become defined like machines with little organic coherence.  So people develop senses of self that can easily crumble apart in different ways with mental illness.  There is no doubt but that the rising awareness of mental illness starting in the nineteenth century, burgeoning in the twentieth century and almost taken for granted in the twenty-first century is, to a great extent, the result of the growing lack of continual stimuli in modern technological living environments, which has led to both a loss of sustained bonding and nurturance between humans as well as a loss of sustained bonding within individual humans.  Humans are not like machines, where the parts can be assembled together with relatively tenuous contingent connections.  Without strong internal bonding, people fall into neurosis, bipolar disorder, borderline personality, multiple personality and many other disorders.      Without strong internal bonding, people fall into process-caused violence.  Violence is a way of stimulating a numb person to life as in the process-caused violence of the lone mass murderers in the United States.  But one result of being able to shock oneself to life by violence is that a person is temporarily held together.  Of course, it doesn’t last long, because blendable continual stimuli are not involved.  To be jolted together is not the same as being bonded together.

    In truth, the equilibrated digital fields of experience on a computer screen are not a substitute for the rich vibrant fields of experience in a more organic environment in the external world.  Without the component of blendable continual stimuli, computers and smartphones create a more subtle form of sensory distortion than that which is found in the macroenvironment of modern technological living environments.  Nevertheless, that subtle sensory distortion can have equally harmful effects on human beings.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Effects of Our Loss of Control to Machines

    In recent articles, I have been discussing the reactions of two groups of members of more traditional societies - corrupt people and terrorists -  to the transformation of their more organic living environments by modern technology.  I basically focused on two kinds of effects that these two groups experienced.  First, for people who are used to freer continual movement, there is the effect of strictures and constraints on behavior.  Machines require precise mechanical movements to operate them.  Computers, with their digital language, require complicated patterns of discrete movements and responses from people.  For people who have primarily lived their lives in flowing continual movement, such patterns of discrete movement are the equivalent of being boxed in.  The accommodations to such patterns by these people are never very comfortable.

    The other effect I have examined is the loss of organic surfaces on which to make, preserve and receive imprints.  People who tend to be more traditional can experience this loss particularly hard.  For these people, who have been bonded with and grounded in their organic living environments, the loss of these environments as a result of technological transformation has led to a heavy loss of rich vibrant life experiences in which strong organic imprints could be made and received.  The loss of the organic living environments also results in a loss of opportunities for strong surrogate immortalities to prepare for death.  The loss of such living environments means the loss of the opportunity to leave the kind of meaningful imprints that create longlasting sources of memories for the people who survive after a person’s decease.

    There is another layer of effects that should be explored more thoroughly in order to fully understand the connection between technological transformation and the violence of these traditional outsiders.  Apart from the strictures and patterning of human behavior that the patterning of machine operations generates, there is the internal experience of a loss of control over the basic processes of life.  And for people who are used to a strong sense of organic grounding in their environment, and a strong feeling of organic friction as they use their implements to carve out the world, the mediation of their connections to the world by modern technology is particularly difficult for them.  The sensory distortion resulting from the smooth frictionless operation of computer technology on the one hand, and the noise and smoke from industrial machines and from the tension pockets of cars and people crowding against each other in urban settings on the other hand, is particularly disorienting.  The traditional organic environment of more traditional people acts as a template for the strong bonds the people form with their family, friends, artifacts and art.  With these bonds, traditional people are able to leave deep meaningful imprints on their fields of experience, and this allows them to feel vibrantly alive and to prepare for death.  The traditional organic environment even acts as a strong template to allow people to leave strong disruptive destructive imprints on enemies during war.  There is a complicated bonded connection even to enemies in traditional organic environments.

    The loss of control for more traditional people leads to a loss of a sense of empowerment.  Unlike the basic tools like a hammer, a pick, a shovel, a hoe, or a knife, that have been a part of their fundamental way of being, industrial machines and consumer technology lead to a loss of feeling in charge of what is impacting their lives.  It is like the world is spinning on without their own immediate and direct intervention.  For some traditional men, in particular, rather than feeling empowered through the extended capacities provided by machines, they are made to feel psychologically impotent and numb.  This psychological impotence and numbness can result in a lashing out in the form of sensorily explosive acts in order to feel alive.  Sensorily explosive acts in the form of violence.

    In truth, although the effects seem very pronounced among more traditional people, they also occur in more developed societies.  Poor people, particularly minorities, form violent criminal gangs to give themselves a sense of empowerment in communities where they feel a disconnect from the mainstream technological economic processes.  And then there are the violent crazies - the people who are into process-oriented violence just to feel alive rather than goal-oriented violence to feel empowered.

    The one thing we can say is that, whether in developing countries or developed countries, the more machines make things more frictionless in daily life, the more people there will be who will want to create the abrasive friction of violence in order to leave imprints and feel alive.  Too much smooth frictionlessness in life can be psychologically castrating.  Just as people need a certain amount of healthy bacteria in their bodies in order for their bodies to function properly, so they also need a certain amount of healthy friction in life in order to function properly, leave imprints, and feel alive.

    The people in developing countries are just reacting more intensely and more publicly to situations that are also affecting developed countries.  More people in developed countries have adjusted somewhat to the experiential transformation created by modern technology.  It is not that, as mammals, their nervous systems feel comfortable with sensory distortion.  People in developed countries still experience sensory disruption from the overstimulation of tension pockets on the one hand, and sensory deprivation from the understimulation of vacuum areas of modern technological environments on the other.  They still respond with conative acceleration - the speeding up of the will -  and conative anesthesia - the numbing of the will - as strategies to try to tolerate the sensory distortion.  And going rapidly back and forth between conative acceleration and conative anesthesia creates the kind of discrete jerky movements we associate with robots.  In other words, people develop systems of conative distortion behavior in order to deal with the sensory distortion they experience.  People in these developed countries today are allowing themselves to become more robotized in order to survive.  And they are doing this because, even though they are still mammals, they are trying to find ways unconsciously of fitting in with their living environment, so that they don’t have to suffer so much from sensory distortion.

    We are focusing here on two major postures for dealing with encroaching technological transformation of the living environment: that of the people who adjust and gradually become more robotized and that of the people who at least partly resist through some form of violent expression.  This does not mean that all those people who resist technology do it through violence.  But it does mean that there a lot of people who do.

    For many people, it will seem counterintuitive to think that making more and more life processes frictionless can actually influence some people to become more violent.  One of the major purposes of modern technology was to make life easier for people.  But people need stimulation in the form of friction to feel alive.  And there comes a point in technological development where there is simply too little friction in daily life.  And some people react more strongly to this lack of friction than others do.  But we should really pay attention to these strong reactors rather than simply lock them up when we are able to do so.  They are an early warning system for a danger that affects all of us.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow