Sunday, May 25, 2014

Trying To Feel Like A Human

            One reason that many young people today postpone settling down in marriage and in a solid profession or job is that they feel a need to “experience the world”.  This need has existed in previous generations, but today it has a different flavor.  Nowadays, many young people develop their adult life in such a way that they are always in an “experience the world” mode and never feel comfortable settling down.  They are mentally dreaming of trying to escape their marriage and work commitments.   For some of these young people, the need to “experience the world” before settling down involves a lot of travel, particularly foreign travel. Sometimes these young people are forced to mix opportunities for the primary experience of travel with more practical considerations.  This leads to study abroad or teaching abroad or postings overseas in conventional desk jobs.  For other young people, the need to “experience the world” involves working with their hands, whether farm work, construction work or craft work, but definitely not work that is mediated by a lot of cognitive thinking.

            The point is that young people today see settling down as a situation that closes off the opportunities for primary experience, opportunities of which they never had too many while growing up in modern technological society.  Particularly given the fact that so many jobs today require long hours in the mediated experience of computers or complex industrial machines, it is no wonder that young people feel that they will have to start fasting, as it were, when it comes to immediate primary experience when they decide to settle down and get married.  Certainly, settling down does not allow for enough primary experience for these young people to feel fully alive.

            So what is it that young people do or don’t experience in their lives today that makes them want to “experience the world” so much.  Computers and machines do not provide the organic friction necessary to act as a foundation for primary experience.  The mediated experience created by computers and machines is an attenuated experience.  The precise frictionless movements of computers and some machines and the static-creating friction-filled movements of many industrial machines are really more the stuff of isolated events which people can’t really commune with and connect with deeply.  The computers and machines are free-floating figures forming shallow-bonded contingent connections of all kinds in a vacuum with each other and then disconnecting.  And although computers and robots do create opportunities for mirroring and modeling for people, these bonds are all formed in one direction – from person to machine - and therefore are deficient shallow bonds. The computers and robots do not really care about people.   Machines, computers, and robots do not create deep-bonding organic blendable continual stimuli.  All the data in the world from computer screens can’t compensate for the lack of organic blendable continual stimuli.  These latter stimuli are the foundation for organic imprints.  Without the processes of making, receiving and preserving organic imprints, a person cannot feel fully alive.  The machinations on a computer are just so many isolated events that as processes don’t deeply engage the user in a communing way.  Because of the attenuated bonding with these processes, there is no real meaning generated by them either.

            Experiencing computer processes is the complete opposite of experiencing the primary experiences that are the foundation of experiencing the world.  More and more young people are starved for these primary experiences.  As children today, rather than spend summer time outdoors and playing with their friends, they withdraw into their rooms to play video games, watch television or surf the Internet. At best, their communications with other children are done over smartphones. These are crucial years, and the children never learn how to engage with and bond properly with other children, and to make, preserve and receive organic imprints while connecting to them.  Not learning how to properly absorb these imprints, as they grow up, they feel a perpetual lack of primary experience, no matter how hard they try to “experience the world”.  They can’t properly absorb the primary experiences in which they may become immersed.

            So as young adults they go on trying to have a variety of shifting primary experiences, when they can find such experiences, in order to pull themselves out of their numbness.  They keep trying to absorb such experiences and never fully succeed, so they never really feel ready to settle down.  If they make a commitment in marriage, it can become an uneasy commitment that frequently doesn’t last.  The person feels he has to break out of the relationship again and “experience the world” again.

            As a result of modern technology, the whole notion of human primary experience is playing a smaller and smaller role in our lives.  Without organic blendable continual stimuli, we cannot connect with other phenomena through experience.  Rather, we experience the movements and processes of other phenomena as standing apart from us in a vacuum as isolated defined discrete events.  To the extent that our main interactions with the world come through consumer technology, we become increasingly  configured to only be stimulated by defined discrete stimuli, so even when organic blendable continual stimuli present themselves, we are unable to absorb them.

            And to the extent that we are only able to connect to phenomena by processing their movements as events, we become robots.  The pleasure from kicks is the pleasure from movements and processes so extremely defined that phenomena grate against one another and sensorily explode in potentially damaging ways to our mind.  The metallic vibrations of loud rock music, the rapid flashes of strobe lights, the loud engine acceleration of motorcycles and the racing of them on streets.  And yet this is what pulls us out of the base numbness we experience, now that we no longer are capable of absorbing organic blendable continual stimuli very well.

            With so many of our actions defined by our interactions with machines and computers, our movements become overly defined and focused.  They become like secular rituals.

            Many people in modern technological society are moving away from traditional religion, because so much of their secular life is so ritualized, and religious ritual no longer offers a sense of special transcendence.  Religious ritual consists of a series of events, and people are crying for the opportunities for meaningful connected experience, even though when the opportunities present themselves, they are usually incapable of absorbing it well.

            This notion of the gradual transformation of human life situations from warm bonding experiences to cool remote events is perhaps a difficult one to grasp.  It deals with life situations that we take for granted and with the flow of life activities in which we move.  But without a flow of organic life experiences from early in our lives, we lose the capacity to make, preserve and receive organic imprints, and we lose that which makes us organic mammals.

            We are so focused, in defining our life goals, on focused figure things like money, a nice car, a good home and on slightly less focused figure phenomena like a good marriage and a rewarding job.  Seldom would we think of aspiring to something as nebulous as a good flow of organic primary experience in a living environment that makes such primary experience possible, although this has been a non-vocalized aspiration of members of traditional societies.  The young people today who have a desperate ongoing craving to “experience the world” and who have difficulty settling down in a long-term job and a long-term marriage are telling us something.  To them, settling down means separating themselves from the possibility of taking advantage of those few diluted flows of primary experience available today, flows which they have difficulty properly absorbing anyway.  And when young people try to settle down today, they feel boxed in, forced into fulfilling what they experience as robotic obligations.  So they leave their jobs and divorce their spouses.  Or they stay in their jobs and stay with their spouses and are not mentally present for either one.  And either in reality or in their minds, they attain a state of freedom again.  Those that make the break in real life are left not so much in an ongoing flow of rich vibrant organic experience, which isn’t there for most people in today’s world, but in a highly diluted attenuated flow that is filled with vacuum experiences of numbing loneliness and abrasive experiences of disjunctive fragment situations that don’t fit together.  There is no unity and cohesion in life today the way that there is in more traditional cultures.  To paraphrase the title of one of my previous articles: life has become a fragmented and shallow cartoon. 

 But by being aware of this situation, we can start to chip away at it in small ways.  We have to retrain ourselves to be able to properly absorb primary experience again.  By doing that, perhaps we won’t feel such a need to run away from the commitments that our society as a whole needs to maintain in its members in order to properly survive.

© 2014 Laurence Mesirow

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wearing Your Computer Next To The Skin

            In a previous article, I wrote about the possibility that some authoritarian government might find the means to start planting computer chips in the brains of its citizens in order to better control them.  These computer chips would be of the type that are found in all the sensor mechanisms of the Internet of Things: the passport chips, credit card chips, clothing tag chips, etc.

            Such a possibility goes against everything people stand for as free independent citizens living in a democracy.  And inside our minds, we say that could never happen here, that won’t happen here.  That would truly be a revolution in how human beings would be configured and perceived.

            But other things are already happening that are gradually changing how humans are configured and perceived without requiring any internal physical alteration of the human essence.  People can merge experientially with technological devices without actually merging physically with them.  I am talking about the whole world of wearable computers: devices that are worn by a person so that the person is constantly interacting with computer technology.  The most well-known of such devices is Google Glass – a device that goes over the head, that performs many different computer operations, but that essentially reinterprets human primary experience in terms of computer information.

            There are many people that see this development as something fundamentally positive.  They like the idea that humans are merging with machines.  After all, unlike the computer chip implants about which I speculate, people are free to physically separate at any moment from their wearable computers, and become free-standing, organic mammalian human beings again.  In modern democracies, wearable computers don’t create obvious inalterable changes in people that would destroy freedom.  At least, that is the way it would appear to be upon first examination of the matter.

            Merging with machines is something that gives some people a sense of immortality.  Being made partially at least of plastic and/or metal rather than simply of perishable organic flesh means that one has transcended above perishable nature and has found a way to preserve the imprint of his existence into an indefinite future that is experienced as eternity.

            Nevertheless, there are unforeseen effects of wearing computer devices on an ongoing basis.  These devices increasingly mediate the primary experience world of a person such that he becomes reconfigured to absorb primarily the defined discrete stimuli of computer data.  In other words, not only does a person become more open to these defined discrete stimuli and more able to absorb them, but he becomes less and less capable of absorbing the organic blendable flowing continual stimuli of immediate sensory experience.  In other words, he becomes more and more dependent on these wearable computer devices to even stay connected to an external world.  This is where it could be said that a person becomes uncontrollably a part of the network of shallow-bonding computer devices that surround him in his modern technological living environment.

            I have defined modern machines as those phenomena that come into action exclusively through defined discrete stimuli.  The newer machines being built as they are with digital technology, with different combinations of discrete ones and discrete zeroes, are made to act with precise movements to correspond to particular combinations of these digits.  And wearable computer devices produce ongoing precise computer data as the product of the defined discrete stimuli of combination of digits.  It is these data that provide the stimuli that can move modern humans to action.  As people start using wearable computers more and more, they will become gradually reconfigured to respond more and more to these data to the exclusion of  organic blendable flowing continual stimuli.  Unlike smartphones, which have to be turned on and off, activated and deactivated, wearable computers are always on.  The smart glasses, the watches, the arm bands, the bracelets, the rings, and even the clothing are not implanted in a person the way a computer chip from the Internet of Things would be.  But experientially, the wearable computers become a part of the person.

            With their computer data, wearable computers create an overlay of stimuli that simply diminishes the importance of primary experience in a person’s life.  The connection to primary experience is weakened.  The ongoing perception of the computer information overlay prevents the deep-bonding with any sensory phenomena.

            In one manifestation of the augmented reality of the computer information overlay, one can get computer information from smart glasses as an overlay describing something one is looking at directly.  Just as one gets a brief description to explain each painting in a museum exhibition, so data can be brought up by smart glasses to give verbal data on anything one is seeing.

            Imagine this being done with people.  One could look at a person and, through facial recognition, find out all the salient points of his life history.  A lot of people have a lot of personal information being displayed on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google.  It would represent an incredible invasion of privacy, an incredible breaking down of boundaries of sense of self.

            In another manifestation of augmented reality, wearable computers can transmit images in real time of a person while he is living his life.  In such a case, a person is voluntarily giving up his own privacy for a sustained period of time.  In the process, he weakens the boundaries of his sense of self.  Much more than posting his thoughts on Facebook to his hundreds of Facebook friends, a person, in this case, is posting his life.  And we’re not talking about posting special performances, as when a person posts songs from a concert or a studio recording on You Tube.  We’re talking about posting ordinary trivial life actions.

            In still another manifestation of augmented reality, a swimmer or a runner can get information from goggles regarding their bodily stress reactions while they are in a race.  In that way, they can pace themselves accordingly.  In my opinion, in such a case, a medal should be given to the best computer device as well as the best athlete, ha ha.

            All of this truly represents the destruction of human nature as we have known it up until now.  We don’t have to wait for the hypothetical implanting of computer chips in the brain to realize that with wearable computers, we are approaching a time of real merger of humans and machines.  The person side of this merger goes through profound changes.  As the wearable computer increasingly mediates the interaction of the person with his field of experience, it is this computer that does the prehensile grabbing of direct experience, while the person sees the world passively and flat through the screen with the computer data.  It is the machine that becomes the assertive partner in the external involvement, while the person wearing the machine becomes the passive recipient of experience.

            Before we fully embrace these seemingly harmless little accessory devices, we better think through the situation carefully.  It is true that some of these devices have simple focused purposes like monitoring the heart rate for a person with heart problems.  But most of the more commercial devices totally disrupt a person’s journey through life as a human being.  These are the ones to particularly watch out for.

(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow