Saturday, May 30, 2020

Fighting Wars And Pandemics In Today’s World

            A metaphor that is used quite frequently today in dealing with Covid 19 is that we are fighting a war.  On one level, I can see why such a metaphor would be used.  As in a war, people have to be mobilized in order to carry out their role to eliminate the enemy as a major threat.  In a war, people are urged to rise above their daily routine in order to defeat an enemy that threatens to destroy them.  An attempt is made to elicit transcendental noble selfless emotions in order to fight the battles.

            And after all, isn’t Covid 19 an invisible enemy that nevertheless has to be fought?  Well, it depends on what one means by fought.  It is my opinion that the way the average person experiences the actual fighting in a real war is very different from the way that he experiences the so-called war against a pandemic virus.  Not only are completely different kinds of responses required for these situations, but the way that the different wars are experienced by the average person are completely different.

            Wars in their traditional sense are abrasive and overstimulating.  Even when weapons are fired remotely or set off remotely as they so often are today, both the targets as well as the witnesses experience the ravaging effects of the ammunition and bombs.  Real war is bloody.  One can see the external effects of destruction to the human body.  One can see the blood and destruction.  One hears the noise of ammunition and bombs as well as people writhing in pain.  One smells the sweat and the rotting flesh.  It becomes very difficult for people to assimilate these intense sensations.  That is why people suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

            The average people who are fighting the enemy in a real war are actively participating in a concerted effort that requires a lot of energy.  It is an effort much greater than anything required in daily life.  It is definitely a tension-pocket experience with lots of different abrasive figures clashing with each other, hitting against each other.

            In contrast, the so-called war against a virus in a pandemic requires the average so-called combatant to be understimulated in quarantine, sheltering in place.  Here I am excluding the essential workers including health care providers as well as the scientists trying to come up with both a treatment and a vaccine.  These latter groups of people, who are in the minority, are metaphorically fighting the Corona virus on a more active basis and are certainly not being understimulated.  Regarding the rest of the people, I know I wrote a whole article about things one can do while sheltering in place.  But most people aren’t going to read this article and follow the suggestions, most people aren’t going to go deep inside of themselves and most people are going to be bored.  Most people aren’t going to be making, preserving or receiving any meaningful imprints while sheltering in place.  Many people are going to be doing mostly nothing. 

In other words, in order to fight a pandemic, excluding the previously mentioned exceptions, most people are not going to intensely engage the external world.  Instead, they are going to withdraw from it.  They are going to withdraw into what many people experience as an experiential vacuum.  And for many people this withdrawal is experienced as uncomfortable, if not more uncomfortable than being caught in the middle of a battle in a real war.  Look at all the American demonstrators in front of state capitol buildings to get rid of lockdowns.  It’s not just freedom to open their businesses that they are fighting for.  It’s freedom to move about freely and without masks.

            Now modern technology plays a big difference in the way both fighting a war and fighting a pandemic are experienced.  In both cases, the technology diminishes the presence of organic stimulation needed to create both grounding and bonding while the participant is engaged in the battle.  There is much less hand-to-hand combat today.  Certainly, sword fights are a thing of the past.  Sword fights were an intense organic immediate experience where one was face-to-face with one’s enemy and grappling with him.  But over time, warfare has become more and more remote.  A quick superficial inventory can show us some of what has happened.  Along came cannons and rifles and pistols.  Then machine guns where one could kill without really aiming very intensely at a person or people and thus, on some level, acknowledge their humanity.  And then bombing from airplanes.  And now we have remote control bombs and drones.  The trend has been an increased vacuum in the initial presentation of activation of the modern weapons (nothing happens close by when one presses a button) and then an explosive tension-pocket of the ultimate destructive effects.

            Contrast this with the growing numbing effects for most people of the sheltering in place, the quarantine required today from Covid-19.  Yes, there are people who engage with renewed vigor in their favorite hobbies and avocations.  And yes there are people who use screen reality as the best available substitute for face-to-face contact with people – namely Zoom and Skype.  But most people immerse themselves in other less salubrious manifestations of screen reality: movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones, and tablets.  They immerse themselves in this numbing media that, nevertheless, frequently have tension-pocket overstimulating content.  Movies and television frequently have a lot of violence.  Video games the same.  And the two most popular kinds of sites on the Internet are pornography and hate groups.  People use shock content to pull themselves out of the incredible numbing effects of screen reality.

            But, in general, both of these incredibly dangerous situations – war and pandemics – create much more dangerous sensory distortion in modern societies than they did in more traditional societies, due to the growing lack of organic stimulation in our fields of experience. This dangerous sensory distortion is an additional danger to the primary dangers of war and pandemics.  It can lead to greater anxiety and depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.  And as we wait out the Covid 19 pandemic, it is why, as much as possible, we should cultivate the primary experience hobbies and avocations we have from our pasts.  And if we don’t have any, perhaps we should develop some now.       
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow      

Losing Intimate Contact With People And The World

            Intimacy is a term that brings together a lot of related concepts regarding closeness and familiarity.  There is a physical closeness regarding sex both with respect to an actual sexual encounter as well as an ongoing sexual relationship.  There is an emotional closeness that includes private knowledge and an ongoing familiarity between two people.  The emotional closeness can be romantic or connected to family or friendship.  There is a cognitive closeness where one can have a thorough and deep knowledge of a particular subject matter.  There is also a sensory closeness that involves a thorough and deep knowledge of a sensory phenomenon.  Take, for instance, in the old days, a frontier scout’s knowledge of a particular terrain out West.  All of these involve an implicit almost tactile (and sometimes literally tactile) connected embrace of someone or something.

            Intimacy is an important factor in keeping us grounded and bonded to the external world.  It is an important antidote to numbness.  Which is why the social isolation and shelter in place required to deal with the Corona virus can be so destructive to our search for intimacy.  It has been bad enough to navigate through all the sensory distortion created by technological environments and our growing involvement with computers and other forms of screen reality, with the Internet of Things, with Artificial Intelligence and with virtual reality.  But Covid 19 is provoking us to use technology as a means of preventing ourselves through mediation from contacting it and contracting it in practically all areas of our lives.

            And yet, we all have a need for intimacy in its many manifestations.  We all have a need to get close up to and to get very familiar with some people, some things and some places in our fields of experience.  Again, I am using the notion of intimacy in all of its meanings. They are all connected with our need to touch the world, both literally and metaphorically.  Going through the different senses, where we see something both literally and metaphorically, we tend to experience it neatly, clearly, as a defined discrete entity.  Something is perceived visually in terms of its boundaries, and it then falls into place with other entities.  Order is experienced in the world.  With sight, our impulse is to focus on things and to be uncomfortable with blurriness except in the visual arts and other aesthetic experiences.

            With hearing, some sounds can be shrill and staccato, and voices tend to be defined discrete entities.  But one can’t always easily identify where sounds are coming from, so they lack the precision of sight.  And many sounds in motion tend to be flowing blendable continual stimuli like the flowing woosh of rivers or the hum of fields or forests or jungles. 

When we get to smell, there is so much less mediation and much more closeness.  There is much less of a sense of precise sensory boundaries with smell, and much more a sense of being enveloped by flowing blendable continual stimuli.  Now taste has the boundaries of a material piece of food that is chewed or sucked and then swallowed, but as it disintegrates in our mouths, it is experienced through a kind of immediate touch sensation.  Of course, taste in liquids, is a pure streaming experience of flowing blendable continual stimuli.  Finally, much of what we experience as taste is really smell anyway.

            And then when we get to touch, if we close our eyes and just touch something, we experience it frequently as another kind of pure flowing blendable continual stimulus.  For small objects, we can detect the boundaries in a blurry way, but for larger objects and things that are part of living environments, there is a sense that they flow without precise boundaries.  This is why touch is the metaphorical sense of bonding and grounding.

            Touch is the foundation of immediate experience, which is what intimacy is created from.  But as modern technology has increasingly turned more and more human experience into mediated experience, it has been causing intimacy to disappear.  In terms of cognitive closeness, what is the point in becoming intimate with a subject matter, if whenever one has a question with regard to it, one can just go on a computer and look it up.  Or one can go on a Smartphone and ask Siri or Alexa a question.  Why should one weigh down one’s brain with the baggage of knowledge, when one can pick it up so easily when one needs it.  In terms of sensory closeness, why should one become so familiar with a terrain, with a landscape, when one can use GPS to navigate on one’s journey.

            In terms of sexual intimacy, we are getting to the point where we will be able to replace humans with robot lovers.  But until then, as a result of certain apps today, one can go from human lover to human lover to human lover without having any of the emotional problems associated with an ongoing sexual relationship.  Finally, the increasing use of Zoom and other similar apps during the Covid 19 pandemic is going to contribute to a loss of an emotional closeness.  It is just very hard to maintain an intimate experience with a tactile foundation on a technological medium where the connection is exclusively visual and auditory.  Any organic imprints that are made and preserved on screen reality are much weaker than they would be if they were made in external world reality.  For person-to-person contact imprints, their intensity and depth are so much greater if one can get a sense of stereoscopic experience the way one does in external world reality.  It is the stereoscopic aspect that can give a tactile sensibility to the visual experience.  And one must not forget that people have personal scents, and physical surroundings have their own smells in external world reality.  And voices in external world reality don’t sound metallic the way they do on Zoom.

            The truth is that we need intimacy in all the ways that have been discussed in order to avoid living in an experiential vacuum, a living death where we are immersed in numbness.  And in addition to these ways, there is another way we have to engage in intimacy.  We have to be intimate with ourselves.  We have to know ourselves, and accept ourselves and love ourselves in order to have a sense of self that is both well-defined and coherent and generally strong.  We have to be able to go deep inside of ourselves in order to be able to obtain this kind of intimacy.  But with this intimacy, we should be able to survive and perhaps even thrive in the face of the sensory distortion created by the social isolation resulting from Covid 19 as well as the extreme weather events from climate change.

© 2020 Laurence Mesirow

Disrupting Our Lives With The Business Of Technology

            Over the weekends, I frequently attend an entrepreneurs’ group, basically a mutual support and education group for people starting or running their own businesses.  And lately, I have been thinking about the many different reasons people do start their own businesses.  All entrepreneurs, on one level, start their businesses, because they like to be their own bosses.  But what else motivates them to start or run their particular businesses, selling their particular products and services when they do?

            Location can be a particularly good motivating factor.  An entrepreneur can see a certain kind of business in one location and can sense that it would be a good kind of business to open in another location that he knows of, a location that is frequently close to his house.  On the other hand, sometimes one wants to open a business close to other similar businesses to get the overflow effect.  Think of all the Chinese restaurants that cluster together in Chinatowns, the Greek restaurants grouped together in Greektowns, the Italian restaurants that come together in Little Italys or the Korean restaurants that are close to each other in Koreatowns.  By coming together to create a neighborhood with ambiance, everybody benefits.  Rather than be competitive and disruptive, in the case of an ethnic restaurant neighborhood, restaurants can create a collective grounding with one another.  This collective grounding principle also holds in tourist areas with souvenir shops and stalls and in farmer’s markets.

            Then there are the businesses that are built on the notion of being marginally different from the businesses around them.  This is where people try to create a slightly different aesthetic experience: different designs in clothing, different variations in houseware designs, different variations in flavors of ice cream or other foods.  An entrepreneur creating such a new business is trying to generate a certain amount of competition with other businesses, but not necessarily to the point of replacing the other businesses.  Such an entrepreneur is certainly interested in creating a new defined discrete identity with the new aesthetic experience, but always within the grounding of the larger established economic category.

            And then there are those businesses that are based on new technological improvements of pre-existing items.  Supposedly, the Japanese are very good at creating such improvements for the automobiles they build, which is a major reason for why they seem to last forever.  Here the desire to create a more unique defined discrete entity out of the product or service being built is more apparent and the desire to stand apart from the grounded economic category of automobiles is more pronounced.  There has been an attempt by the Japanese to shake up the automobile market and to a great extent they have succeeded.

            Over the years, there have been businesses whose purposes have been not to shake up the marketplace, but to simply replace a pre-existing product.  Using cars again, when Henry Ford first brought his car on the market, it was in competition with the horse and buggy, the latter being a vehicle that the care ultimately replaced.  In creating a new kind of vehicle, Henry Ford created a vehicle that became a source of great profits.  Ultimately, for entrepreneurs, the more ways that they can separate their products and services from those of the past, the more potentially lucrative they probably will be.

            Finally, there are those businesses that come out with products that have no equivalent in the past.  A good example of this is the computer.  The computer is completely unlike anything that has existed before it.  It creates a complex world that becomes for many a superior substitute for the external world.

            These different entrepreneurial strategies represent, on one level, increasingly strong attempts by entrepreneurs to separate themselves from their peers in the marketplace and to leave an impact in their societies.  As the flowing blendable continual organic grounding for these entrepreneurs disappears in their communities and in their living environments, entrepreneurs feel a greater and greater need to leave an impact with their imprints in order to pull out of the numbness that they feel in order to feel alive.  And this desire to come out with products and services that shake up, replace and even create entirely new categories of products and services generates a particular problem.  Products and services are created with little regard to the long term secondary effects they may have.  An extreme case of this, even though the product was created by a government, was nuclear energy.  Furthermore, just like there can be problems with drug interactions, so there can be problems with technological interactions.  What it does to people to be surrounded by different kinds of screens all day.  As a result, we have all kinds of disruption from shake-ups, replacements and creations out of nowhere leading to all kinds of overstimulation, all kinds of tension pockets, all kinds of growing stress trying to adopt to new forms of technology that are making their appearance at an accelerating rate.  All kinds of attempts to become like human robots in order to accommodate themselves to their enveloping technology.  Or attempts to simply withdraw from an external world filled with screens and other kinds of technology into the psychological quarantine of numbness.

            The life of an entrepreneur can seem very exciting, adventurous and romantic.  Which is all fine except when it leads to the sensory distortion that is hurting so many people’s lives today.  One person’s adventure can in today’s world be another person’s deterioration or even destruction.

(c) 2020 Laurence Mesirow

Friday, May 29, 2020

Shifting Our Attitudes Towards Nature And Technology

            For the most part, in my column, nature has been the good guy, and modern technology has been the villain, at least in modern society.  It is because I have tried to show that modern technology is creating a lot of sensory distortion which, in turn, is creating a lot of pathological states of mind and pathological behavior in people.  When the column first began, I discussed both understimulation and overstimulation as sources of sensory distortion.  But as time went on, I realized that most people were fully aware of sources of overstimulation like overcrowding in modern cities, noise pollution, air pollution, modern construction sites, and speeding highways.  What they weren’t focused on were the negative effects of sources of understimulation: smooth mediated frictionless living environments and spaces like modern suburban subdivisions, highrise residence and office buildings, the interior ride of modern trains, planes and cars. And modern minimalist architecture and modern minimalist apartment and office interiors.  These understimulating living environments have been what people aspired to as a means by which they could rise above the perishability of more natural and traditional living environments.  At the same time, these environments generated so much numbness.  And the numbness has been exaggerated by all the time spent in the mediated world of screen reality: movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones and tablets.  It has also been exaggerated by the increasing encroachment of robots on modern human work activities.

            On the other hand, I have painted nature and more traditional living environments as sources of grounding, oases within the larger context of the desert of modern technological society.  If in the earlier history of humanity, nature was a source of constant perishability with its hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, extreme cold, extreme heat, drought, famine, disease, wild animals and poisonous plants, in more recent times, in spite of these dangerous manifestations, nature has seemed to be a good counterweight to modern technology.  A source of grounding, a field of experience that provides experiential surfaces for organic imprints.  A place to gain traction as one moves through life to create a narrative.

            Anyway, as modern technology became more and more powerful and more and more all- encompassing, it became increasingly the enemy and nature and more traditional living environments became increasingly the good guys.  Nature was that which supported our mammalian foundations with organic stimulation and prevented us from becoming robotized.

            But recently certain things have happened that, on the surface at least, have shifted the way that nature and technology are being seen.  As a result of encroaching on nature and its territory by eating wild animals, nature is lashing back with a horrific pandemic caused by the Corona virus.  Another more global encroachment that has been occurring for a long time has been our reckless destruction of natural environments in order to use their resources and this has led to the resulting climate change-based weather events that have occurred: the melting of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, the rising sea levels, the growing intensity of storms like hurricanes and tornadoes, the growing number of wildfires in the Western United States and in Australia.  All these situations are making nature more an environment to protect oneself against, rather than an environment to commune with.  Nature is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to live with and increasingly lethal.

            With technology, it is ironic that the very thing that has been the tool for destroying nature in so many ways and that is provoking the extreme reactions from nature is now being increasingly valued as that phenomenon that can help to protect us against these extreme reactions.  As we increasingly feel uncomfortable with nature, technology is what is increasingly clung to as our source of comfort, reassurance and grounding.  And because technology appears to be in our personal lives so safe, this augments its role in human psychology as a source of both mirroring and modeling.

            All of this is potentially very dangerous.  If we become numb to our mammalian natures, we lose our capacity to have a lot of meaningful experience.  We lose our capacity for organic bonding, both within ourselves and between us and other people.  And we lose our capacity to create coherent senses of self that are capable of creating a sense of personal agency, so that we don’t act like selfless machines with interchangeable parts.  And we lose our capacity to create strong deep relationships with others: family, friends, and significant others.  These mammalian natures are the foundations of a society with agency so that our societies don’t become conglomerations of robots that are valued only as long as they are useful.  We as individuals should be valued by others for intrinsically unique selves in the same way we value others for theirs.

            And we can lose our capacities to make, preserve and receive organic imprints.  By making and receiving organic imprints, we have rich vibrant lives.  By preserving our imprints, we create a surrogate immortality, something which allows one to ease the passage to death, by being able to leave something of ourselves behind.

            We lose our capacity to create coherent meaningful life narratives, narratives that normally allow us to turn our whole lives into journeys that by the end can hopefully make and preserve one enormous coherent imprint.  Such that our lives do not simply end up being a series of disjointed robotic actions and activities.

            Finally, as robotic people, we lose our sense of purpose – our sense that somehow we are living for something larger, something beyond our day-to-day actions and activities.  Whether it is a religious belief, or a political belief or a social belief, something that allows us to believe we are more than just the obsolescence of our organic material body parts.

            And this is why it’s very important that we go deep inside of ourselves for our mammalian roots.  This allows us to more comfortably accept the reality that during the pandemic we have to use the mediation of modern technology to compensate for the social distancing this pandemic imposes on us in order to physically survive.

© 2020 Laurence Mesirow


When Robots Become The Caretakers Of Our Bodies

            Many aspects of our lives are changing as a result of the Corona virus.  One important aspect is health care.  When a doctor has to see a patient and when Zoom technology or something similar is not adequate for making a diagnosis or treating the patient, there is a push to use robots as the medical interface.  The idea nowadays is that a robot can’t contract or pass along Covid 19.  Up until recently, robots in hospitals have been used either for precision surgeries or for basic routine tasks.  But now the idea is to use medical robots much the same as robots are used to clean up accidents at nuclear power plants.  They are to be used to prevent human beings from being exposed to dangerous elements in the person’s living environments.  Instead of radiation, medical robots will prevent people from being exposed to potential cases of Covid 19.  And so for the time being, robots will become our physical health care providers.

            And if this were to last for the duration of the Corona virus pandemic, it wouldn’t bother me quite so much.  But there are people in the health care field who would like to see the change become permanent.  Robots don’t get tired like humans do.  Robots don’t make mistakes in surgery like humans do.  And robots don’t require costly salaries like humans do.  Robots are expensive to purchase, but that’s basically it.  I don’t know if the use of robots will totally eliminate the role of humans as health care providers, but if the trend is sustained, it will certainly diminish the role humans play.  And this means a very different experience of medicine for patients who go to health care offices, clinics and hospitals.

            So what is wrong with this trend?  It assumes that healing is totally based on linear procedure.  That is diagnosis, doling out medicine, surgery, rehabilitation and, of course, hospital cleaning and maintenance.  It assumes that healing is a mechanistic process based on the defined discrete stimuli of focused actions.  It leaves out the very important ongoing emotional support given to the patient by doctors and nurses and receptionists and all the people in hospitals who perform the tasks of delivering food and other supplies to the patient as well as those who clean the hospitals.  As someone who has worked as a medical Spanish interpreter for a long time, I can tell you that the social skills of all the people connected in some way to the healing profession are just as important in helping the patient heal as the practical skills.  A patient not only needs the defined discrete stimulation related to focused practical skills in order to heal.  He also needs the flowing blendable continual stimulation from social skills and emotional commitment.

            A medical environment filled with mechanistic practical procedures and nothing else will put a patient in an experiential vacuum where he will experience intense numbness.  And that intense numbness will interfere with the organic healing a patient needs in order to pull out of his illness or medical condition.  In other words, for most people healing is a social situation requiring the emotional support of the people around him.  Smiles, encouraging words, the exploration of complex and serious medical situations in words that a patient can understand.  For children, the ability to be playful, funny and comforting.  For all patients, the ability to convey hope when hope is possible and the ability to convey in as gentle a way as possible when there is no hope.

            Some level of emotional bonding with a human health care provider is an intrinsic part of the healing process.  Emotional bonding is like a psychological nutrient, the psychological equivalent of taking vitamins or Omega 3 capsules.  If we reduce the presence of human health care providers in medicine, we are leaving a patient open to forms of both psychological and physical numbness and to diminished probabilities of getting well.

            There is something subtly insidious about having human health care providers replaced by robots.  Not only do robots create an experiential vacuum for patients leading to numbness and preventing a patient from harnessing his inner resources to help him heal. There is also the situation that humans and robots blur into each other in the mind of the patient.  Not only do robots increasingly present themselves as humans, but humans, including the patient himself, increasingly are perceived as having robotic qualities.  When one has to interact with robots in such emotion-laden circumstances as health care providers, it numbs one’s capacity to emotionally bond with other people who are now minimally differentiated from elaborate machines in the patient’s mind.  So perhaps the defined discrete medical condition is properly diagnosed and fixed or cured by the robot, but a larger more nebulous flowing blendable continual negative psychological condition is created or at least contributed to.  This is a perfect example of losing the larger forest in order to save the individual tree.

            Unfortunately, this kind of situation is occurring not just in medicine, but in many other areas of life as well.  Covid 19, with its requirements of social distancing, is going to make it seem safer to people to people to have to deal with robots in work situations, because robots can’t contract or pass on the virus.  We are all paying the price that has resulted from certain people consuming certain wild animals for an unnatural boost in certain kinds of organic stimulation.  The wrong kind of natural experience.

            Yet if we want to truly maintain our humanity, we must be conscious of this danger and cultivate our bonds with people as much as possible.  There are those in our society who have seen Covid 19 as a neat excuse to compose a robot vision of the world that they were eager to compose anyway.  And it extends to robot caretakers for children as was discussed in a previous article.  If as a result of the mirroring and modeling that occurs with parental figures and caretakers, the child with a robot caretaker loses sight of the boundaries that separate humans and robots, then the human race will totally undifferentiated itself and reduce itself to machines.

            Do we really want to give up our sense of agency over our lives?  That is what is in the process of happening, as we allow robots to take over more and more tasks and activities.  With the defined discrete behavior of robots, goals are reached in a bland flavorless way.   The flavor that is lost with robots is the flowing blendable continual stimulation that makes life so vibrant for humans.  Perhaps robots help one to get from all the smaller point a’s to all the smaller point b’s in a smooth efficient precise way.  But the life-giving properties of an organic coherent journey are lost.  Robotic efficiency turns life ultimately into a living death.  What is certainly the opposite of what we want if we are using medical robots to save lives.  But we are saving lives without the life.

© 2020 Laurence Mesirow

Feeling Alive In Social Isolation

            So now the new norm is going to be that no one is going to be shaking hands anymore.  Touch is out.  We are going to be viewing one another from a safe distance, preferably on a screen.  Covid 19 has given a tremendous injection to online everything.  Yes, we can still take a walk in the park (at a safe distance from others, of course).  But the bulk of all aspects of our lives is moving towards encounters with others in mediated experience.  On the other hand, immediate experience, primary experience, encounters with others in external world reality, sensory bonding with others through organic stimuli in the real world has mostly disappeared.

At this point, I am not talking about the rich organic stimulation that comes from living close to or within nature or being surrounded by more traditional architecture.  I am simply talking about living in external world environments that allow us to create narratives or interactions with flesh and blood people.  With Covid 19, we don’t ever have that anymore.  It has been hard enough to maintain strong bonding with people in what has become for us the normal sensory distortion of modern technological living environments.  But now with stay at home and shelter in place and enforced social isolation, we have mostly given up the struggle to maintain a series of real life external world relationships with other humans.

And the problem is that the Corona virus is emphatically reinforcing certain trends in modern society to use Zoom, Skype and other technologically mediated forms of visual and audio communication in more and more social situations.  As people get more and more numb from the increasing immersion in screen reality, face to face encounters with people in external world reality are experienced as overwhelming, overstimulating.  For a lot of people in today’s world, even talking on the phone is an overwhelming sensory experience, which is why they prefer to text.

Before the Corona virus, people were tossed and turned.  On the one hand, people tried to have intense vibrant experience, even kicks, in the external world to feel alive there.  On the other hand, they were sliding down the slippery slope to more and more immersion in screen reality and greater and greater numbness.  But the Corona virus has definitely tipped the scale towards even greater immersion in screen reality and, in particular, in the interactive technologies like Zoom and Skype.

So the question is how does one find good sources of organic stimulation in the age of the Corona virus?  We will assume that even a daily walk in the park is not enough, as more and more of our lives are filled with technological mediation in our encounters with other people: phone calls, FaceTime, Skype and Zoom.  Our encounters with people on these social media are not organic.  So what can we do?  If one is living on a piece of land with no natural source of fresh water on the surface like lakes, rivers, streams, creeks and ponds, one drills down into the earth in order to find underground water and create a well.  By the same token, we must find sources of organic stimulation deep within ourselves and deep in our relationships with the people with whom we are sheltering in place in order to feel alive in these times.  Deep organic stimulation within one becomes a substitute for spread-out surface organic stimulation in the external world.  One activates sensory and emotional expression within oneself.  Learning to be with oneself can be a challenge for those of us who are used to lots of activities in the public external world.  We can start with physical exercise.  For most people in today’s world, exercise is inconceivable outside of a gym where other people are also doing exercise.  But there are many exercises that one can do in the comfort of one’s home without fancy exercise machines or weights.  And if one doesn’t have a repertoire of such exercises today, one can temporarily go on screen reality on the Internet to find physical exercise for practically every part of the body.  One can find exercise routines that can give you a full workout for your body.  This can certainly be a very vibrant form of physical organic stimulation.

Then there is organic stimulation related to the arts.  If one does not have any musical instruments, one can always sing.  Singing is a good physical and emotional expression.  People talk jokingly of those people who enjoy singing in the bathtub or shower.  Perhaps we should all engage in singing during this time of self-isolation, even if we feel we can’t carry a tune.

And even if we don’t have a lot of art supplies, we can always do some free-form drawing with a pen or pencil and paper.  It doesn’t have to be a drawing of something.  It can be free-form and abstract.  Let your hand take you to where it wants to go.

And then, of course, there is writing.  It can be as basic as writing down your thoughts and observations or you can write down your experiences in the form of narratives or stories.  Or you can write poems and essays.  There are so many possibilities once you start to free-associate.  But all these creative endeavors allow one to go deeper inside one’s feelings and thoughts than one is normally accustomed to doing.

Actually, creative cooking allows one to really go into deep physical sensations that many people, as a result of fast food and restaurant habits, had put by the wayside in the name of convenience.  Food which goes from the mouth to the stomach, passing the nose on the way, is obviously a provoker of deep physical sensations, and in creative cooking, one can be in control of the sensations one experiences.  In creating these deep sensations, one can get deeper in touch with a part of oneself.

Now if one is sheltering in place with other people, other activities are possible.  With children, depending on their age, one can read to them and play with their toys with them and play games with them.  All three form good organic bonding activities.  Board and card games are also good bonding activities for adults as well.  Meaningful conversations among people of all ages can lead to deep organic ideas.  And if one is sheltering in place with an appropriate partner, one can engage in sex.  There is nothing in life like the fear of death that this virus generates in people to impel people towards sex as a potentially deep life affirming activity full of bonding and intimacy.

I am coming to realize that deep is the key not only for dealing with the numbness that is generated by all the time apart from the external world  and in screen reality during this time of the Corona virus.  Going deep into sensations and emotions is a key for dealing with the numbness in general that is generated by modern technological society.  Going deep into oneself and others allows one to make, preserve and receive deep organic imprints in a field of experience that does not have many experiential surfaces on which to leave such imprints.  Finding a way to deep-bond with other people, perhaps using the activities described here as a template and even creating organic interiors to one’s homes and offices, filling them with plants and more traditional decorative handicrafts and art, may be vehicles to pull oneself out of sensory distortion and experiential voids.  But it requires work and focus to create healing deep connections both within oneself and with others and with one’s living environment.  And, in particular, it will require work and focus during what is probably going to be our period of  modern plague years, from which, without a vaccine, there is no easy exit.

© 2020 Laurence Mesirow

Creating A World Of Relationships Through Images

            All right!  So I have a lot to be thankful for during this Corona virus crisis.  I have a roof over my head: a place where I can shelter in place.  I’m reasonably healthy.  I’m eating well.  I have a lot to occupy me during this time of staying indoors including writing my articles for  And most important, I am able to stay in contact with so many wonderful people in my life through my smartphone and, in particular, now through Zoom.  I have had several encounters through Zoom this week: a meeting of the Main Street Entrepreneurs, a colloquy on uncertainty (how appropriate!), a get-together with my daughters, my son-in-law and my grandson, and a Torah class.  Technology is allowing me to juxtapose my real physical presence with screen reality images of my family and friends, as if any one of these makeshift groupings had the connectedness of a real physical organically connected group.

            So what is it I experience through Zoom?  A cropped two-dimensional vision of an experience of several compartmentalized people as well as the audio connected with it.  What is missing is a full stereoscopic vision of people grouped together as well as natural vocal sound as well as touch, smell, and, when applicable, taste.  The last three would be called the more immediate senses.  Senses that can be major components of primary experiences.  The kind of experiences that, as a result of the flowing blendable continual stimuli that comprise them, help us to feel more alive.

            But as long as some people continue to eat wild animal meat, and there is no indication that this habit will cease, there will continue to be further pandemics, if not of the Corona virus then of some other equally dangerous virus.  This habit is not the only cause of pandemics, but it seems to have had an influence in other recent pandemics.  Each of these pandemic viruses will bring with it its own rules of social restriction.  And in many of these cases now, if people want to communicate to groups of people, they will continue to rely on Zoom and other similar technologies.  And, in the long run, there could be some long lasting effects to such a strong sustained dependence on these sophisticated forms of screen reality.  As Zoom and other similar technologies become more and more prominent as modes of communicating, they will start to blur together in our minds with primary experience external world communication.  Not only will communicating with Zoom on a screen seem more and more normal and natural and as if in the external world, but our communicating through primary experience in real life will start taking on the unreal cast of an ongoing video program.  Somehow, the field of experience will flatten as will our emotions.  Our ability to form deep connections with other people will diminish.  Even our ability to form deep connections with ourselves will diminish as our sense of self becomes more and more fragmented.  And we will lose our ability to properly know ourselves.

            In terms of the five senses, our growing tendency to experience the world on a flat screen will lead to a flattened experience of the external world as well.  As the world flattens around us, there will be fewer and fewer points on it to which we can connect ourselves and feel a part of that which is around us.  We will tend to become more and more the passive observers, even when dealing with primary experience, which we tend to grasp through flowing blendable continual stimulation.  But as the world flattens experientially, it will also harden into a sheet of defined discrete phenomena.  And rather than connect with it, we will slide right off of it into a pervasive numbness.

            Our experience of sound will create similar problems. Voices on Zoom have a subtle metallic echo to them, as they do on all electronic media.  The flowing blendable continual stimuli of the human voice in the external world get translated into a defined discrete phenomenon.  Rather than engaging and communing, there is something more distant and impenetrable to it.  Perhaps this is also to some extent true with a telephone conversation, but because it only consists of sound, we are never lulled into believing it is a substitute for a real encounter with a human being in the external world.  The same is also true for a radio broadcast.  But because a Zoom conversation approximates real life in many ways, the sounds of the voices emanating from these conversations will have a greater influence.  If voices become hardened defined discrete phenomena, their ability to really connect people become significantly diminished. We hear, but we don’t really listen as well.  These voices have a weakened capacity to make and preserve organic imprints on us.  And, of course the same thing begins to happen to the voices we hear in real life.  We hear them, but we don’t listen as well.  The voices slide right off of us, and we are left in an increasingly profound numbing solitude.

            Then there the three senses that are left out of not just Zoom, but all other screen reality: smell, touch, and taste.  In particular, smell and touch are part of most encounters with people in primary experience.  The smell of another person’s body scent and sweat and perfume or cologne.  And then there are the smells of one’s surroundings: marketplaces, restaurants, cafes, bars, farms and ranches, nature.  Touch comes into play in shaking hands with someone, kissing her or him on the lips or cheek, slapping him or her on the back, embracing him or her.  Some combination of these forms of affectionate touching plays an important role in most cultures in the world in connecting people with one another, and in confirming, at the same time, one’s physical place in the world.    And although affectionate touching has been significantly restricted in the age of the Corona virus with social distancing, this restriction will not remain in place forever.  But touch is also important for connecting to one’s physical surroundings.  Standing on the floor, touching doors, touching furniture, touching silverware and plates.  All this is like when you say you’re going to pinch yourself to make sure you are actually in the unusual situation in which you seem to be.  Touch is the ultimate criterion that one can use to determine the reality of a person’s time-space coordinates.  If you can touch something, supposedly, you are in the external world.

            But all this gets either distorted or lost altogether when dealing with Zoom.  And more so with Zoom and other similar technologies, distinct from other forms of screen reality, because we can feel that the different participants in the Zoom world are almost if not quite in the external world in terms of the social connections being created.  To the extent that spending a lot of time on Zoom in such a way that it is a substitute for our participation in primary experience and external world reality, it makes us somehow less fully human.  Less capable of being in touch with our internal feelings and less capable of fully expressing them in the external world.  Less capable of being able to make, preserve and receive organic imprints in a way that solidly connects us to other people and to form solid families and communities.

            In summary, during the Corona virus crisis, am I glad that I can communicate with people through Zoom, so I don’t have to be visually isolated from them?  I grudgingly have to answer in the affirmative.  But I am worried that there will be a lasting paradigm shift on how people communicate, so that there will be an ongoing predisposition to use Zoom and other similar technologies, even when it is no longer necessary.  People’s minds will become reconfigured to feel more comfortable with Zoom than with primary experience.  And that will be a sign of crumbling relationships within families, friendships, and communities.

(c) 2020 Laurence Mesirow