Sunday, February 23, 2014

Digital Technology And The Need For Immediate Gratification

            In previous articles, I have discussed the accelerating rate of technological change in the modern world.  I have pointed out that this accelerating rate is dangerous, because we are losing control of how our society is evolving as a whole.  The growing control from and complexity of this technology is creating a seductive model and mirror for humans, such that they are becoming more and more like the advanced machines they use.

            As a result, just as modern machines are doing things quicker and quicker, so human activity is speeding up as well.  And human expectations now for results of their activities are such that people expect things to be done practically instantaneously.  There is little tolerance for slow careful movements.  People more and more want things done right now.  They want to move from point a to point b without having to traverse the space that separates them.  And, of course, much that happens on the computer does occur in this instantaneous way.  Make a few clicks on a shopping website, put in your credit card number, and you’ve bought something.  Go to a travel website, make a few clicks, put in your credit card number, and you’ve got yourself a plane ticket.  This is the nature of digital activity.  Go from the discrete entity of point a to the discrete entity of point b without having to participate in one organic blendable continual flow of activity over continual time.  The human journey is eliminated.  All that matters is the goal.  In cyberspace, this has a particular importance, because if one has to wait too long between point a and point b, one ends up in a numbing experiential vacuum.  There is no real opportunity for organic participation in a process, the way that there would be in normal primary experience in the external world.

            In the digital world, process is seemingly eliminated or, at best, it is cut up into discrete moments.  And this has a profound effect on the minds of young humans as they grow up and evolve and configure in such a world.  Young people are becoming very, very different from what humans have been up until now.

            If a person becomes accustomed to going from point a to point b without any flowing process in between, then he becomes addicted to immediate gratification.  He wants everything now.  He wants to go from wish to results without any primary experience journey in between.  And this applies to more than just purchasing books and shirts and plane tickets online.  It applies to doing research online without having any reason to do research exploration in a real world university library.  Click on the fact or idea that you are looking for and then get out of the website.  And this attitude applies to wanting a person to do something for you when you want it done, and not when it is convenient for the other person to do it for you.  It certainly applies to a person looking at another person as an object that satisfies short-term sexual needs, rather than as a person who can be a long-term romantic partner.  In a larger sense, it means thinking of always satisfying all personal needs directly and immediately rather than bothering to include the needs of other people in the loop.

            People who have grown up with computers have modeled themselves after computers and have developed wants and expectations based on the speed and effortlessness of digital processes.  The only problem with this is that part of the joy and satisfaction with reaching a goal is the potentially rich vibrant flowing process that has been traditionally necessary to achieving it.  This rich vibrant flowing process, which often includes discomfort and even pain, becomes a rich vibrant experience in which the person who goes through it has the opportunity to make, preserve and receive organic imprints.  These organic imprints are much more important in supplying deep fulfilling satisfaction than the products, services and life situations that are the ostensive goals of the wants and expectations.  Without the journey, one is in an experiential vacuum, with the products, services and life situations that are the objects of our wants and expectations being just free-floating figures – physical and mental – that are ungrounded in any important life contexts or meanings.  Without these contexts and meanings, our goals don’t really satisfy.

            Because our digitized goals don’t satisfy, people feel a need to reach them over and over again in order to finally experience satisfaction from the attainment of the goal.  This is the foundation of an addiction.  There is no making or receiving of imprints buying a new sweater  online the way there is from going to a store, trying on sweaters, and asking the opinion of the salesperson or of a friend or family member one has brought along.  There is no real journey to the sweater.

            When one buys a book online, one gives up the opportunity of strolling through the aisles of a book store, thumbing through the pages of different books, and talking with a bookseller (in a smaller store) about what his recommendations might be.  Such an experience in a bookstore becomes a form of intellectual hunt.  
            As discussed in previous articles, an addiction is a way to get kicks from the overstimulation of tension pockets in the living environment, from static stimulation that pulls a person out of the numbness that comes from the vacuum foundation of modern technological environments.  Living on a smartphone, tablet or computer  as many young people do, in order to constantly shoot texts back and forth or post shocking pictures back and forth, precludes their having the opportunity to take meaningful life journeys in the real world of primary experiences. These journeys form the foundation for meaningful life stories, meaningful preserved organic imprints.  Repeatedly clicking on the goals of products, services or life situations like online  groups gives a person a kind of kicks that replaces the lack of meaningful imprints from primary experience.

            No wonder that so many young people today seem spoiled.  What I’m talking about is not the kind of spoiled that comes from a parent giving their child everything he wants except the love he craves, although perhaps there is a parallel.  It is not the parent that is in a position to directly give a child everything he wants today.  Although the parent may pay for things, it is the computer that gives them.  And the computer gives a child all the free-floating figures of products, services, and life situations that he wants, but not the organic grounding that he craves.  With organic grounding, there is the possibility of meaningful imprints within the framework of meaningful life journeys.

            So many of our goals today have become the equivalent of digital “ones” that exist against a vacuum backdrop of digital “zeroes”.  The need exists for immediate gratification, because we are searching for goals that exist apart from the grounding of organic life experiences.

            And this brings us back to the experience of time in the digital age.  If life activity consists of jumping from point a to point b with no flowing process in between, then life is experienced as chopped-up moments with no meaningful coherence to the activity.  And because our senses of self exist over time and are experienced over time, chopped-up activity over time leads to a chopped-up sense of self.  The easy use of a computer to obtain everything leads to the loss of the flowing journeys of life which are fundamental to the strong flowing continual coherence of a sense of self over time.  The very experience of the broken up digital kicks of momentary satisfactions separated by emptiness, the basis of a digital addiction, leads to a fragmented sense of self.

            So, in the long run, the predisposition to immediate gratification engendered by today’s digital technology results in a dangerous threat to the psychological survival of human beings.  Without coherence of self, humans become vulnerable to being transformed into the very kind of machines that at present serve them.  People become what they use.

(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Importance of Keeping Commitments In A Functioning Society

            This article is going to deal with what I perceive to be an important apparent paradox in human nature.  It is only by having a rich deep subject self-awareness that one can follow through on and keep one’s commitments to other people in the external world .  I am using commitment in the widest sense of the word.  When you tell someone you will call them back, that is a commitment.  If you are reviewing someone’s job application, there is an implicit commitment, or at least there used to be, to inform the applicant not only if he is accepted, but also if he is rejected.  And if a person is accepted for a job, both employee and employer have implicit commitments to each other with regard to work goals and the work situation in general.  Ideally, when two people get married, they have a commitment to stay together for life.  Of course, things don’t always work out that way.  People also have implicit commitments to their children and to their parents and to other members of their family.  And people have implicit commitments to their communities and to their countries.

            But somehow today, people are becoming less able and less predisposed to keep their commitments.  People don’t return calls as much, after they say they will.  People simply don’t follow through as much on the things they say they will do for others.  Employers almost never send rejection letters to job applicants, leaving the applicants to wonder much longer than they should as to whether or not they got the job.  Once in a job, there is much less commitment from both employer and employee.  Employers are much more likely to lay off workers, and workers are much more likely to quit.  And as for marriage, we all know the divorce rate is much higher than it used to be.  And families are more fragmented than ever.  And within our global community, patriotism is out in a lot of places.  So is there a pattern here, or am I imagining things.

            A person can only make and keep commitments, if he can make and preserve imprints.  To do the latter, a person needs a field of experience with organic surfaces.  Those organic surfaces act as templates, so that people can bond.  In bonding, a person is in a situation where he can make and preserve and receive imprints, and, by extension, make and keep and accept commitments.  In order to have contact with organic surfaces, a person has to be living at that time in primary experience such that he has direct sensory contact with his world.  Screens whether from movie, television, computer, tablet, or smartphone mediate contact with a person’s world.  As has been pointed out in previous articles, screens are vacuum environments filled with defined discrete digital stimuli and totally void of organic, blendable continual stimuli.  The latter are the fundamental components of primary organic experience, components that create the foundation for bonding and committing with other human beings.

            When one’s primary field of experience is screens, bonding with other humans is impeded.  One of the interesting traits of mediated screen experience is that it is so easy for a person to disconnect from the two-dimensional images of humans with which one is connecting.  One can easily walk out of a movie theater, if one doesn’t like a movie and connect with the characters.  One can simply turn off a television program, and, in so doing, turn off the people who are on it.  One can refuse to send back a response to an e-mail one has received, and one can delete the sender from one’s e-mail address contacts and from Facebook and LinkedIn and any other social network on which he is connected to the person.  And one can disconnect from a phone call or not answer a text message and delete the person from his phone contacts.  It is so easy to cut off connection with a person in a screen experience.

            But I’d like to suggest here that all these disconnections, all these deletions, have a profound connection to a person’s inner life.  Because, when one is deleting so many figures from an external screen, one is also deleting these figures from his mind, configured as an internal screen.  To be able to delete easily, one must not have a mind that acts easily as an organic surface capable of easily receiving organic imprints that are then preserved.  Today, the internalized images of people are configured in a human mind as free-floating figures in the experiential vacuum of a mental screen that is analogous to the physical screens of consumer technology.  Without strong internalized emotional grounding to hold them in the mind, the figures of people are easily disconnected and deleted.

            And by configuring the mind as a screen, one becomes ungrounded from oneself, one becomes numb to oneself, one becomes disconnected from oneself.  In making it easy to delete other people within various contexts from one’s mind, one also makes it easy to delete oneself.  One develops a shallow commitment to oneself, a shallow experience of oneself, a shallow awareness of oneself.

            It is only by having a deep awareness of self, which involves an awareness of one’s own needs for grounding as a human being, that one can extend this awareness to the people around him and treat them as he would want to be treated.  But if one has become a robot with a fragmented pixilated sense of self with little self fragments floating around on the vacuum of an internalized screen, it becomes difficult to recognize the humanity of others.  And also keep the ongoing big commitment of organic bonding to another person as well as the smaller more specific commitments of doing specific tasks to which one has obligated himself to another person.

            But we live at a time when people are living in the vacuum base of modern technological environments and in the internalized vacuum of their minds as reflections of their experience with their external environments.  And as people are always on their televisions, their smartphones, their computers or their MP3’s, they spend very little time by themselves revitalizing themselves in reverie.

            It is when one is spending time by oneself in reverie that one becomes more deeply immersed in subjective awareness. One experiences himself in all of his organic coherence and in the midst of a lot of organic blendable continual stimuli.  And when there is continuity of self, there develops a blending between words and action, a continuity of a person’s presentation in the external world.  So when a person becomes emotionally connected to another individual, a family, a community or a country, he stays connected.

            And this is how a human society can function properly and perpetuate itself.  Whether or not there is immortality after death, there are the surrogate immortalities that come from the organic imprints we leave directly and indirectly on other people – the memories we leave with other people, all the things we have done that affect them, the special imprints like planting a tree, having a baby, writing a book, creating a company.  And the way we are most likely to leave positive imprints is through keeping the commitments that we subjectively agree to make.

(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow