THE UNIFYING FORCE OF TECHNOLOGY
The idea of a “global village” popularized some 60 years ago by Canadian thinker, Marshall McLuhan, has never been so true as it is today. By definition, it means the world considered as a single community linked by telecommunications. December 2019, when one distant family in our global village got sick, the other far-away members of the community did too. In our current scenario, the entire world has shared in something vital: survival. It’s been months now that we have joined together in our attempts to flatten the curve by social distancing, a truth rich in irony.
If you were the type of person who operated solo, you’ve been hit hard with this truth, like strong medicine. We cannot operate alone, 2020 declares, because we are that connected.
Even more ironic might be our sudden radical reliance on the internet and social media. Wherein we would regularly reprimand our teenagers or limit their screen time so they’d not ding their development or lose their humanity, we are now forced to cling to the laptop, our new shelter-in-place as our work-in-place, online all day, all the time. The shift was abrupt; the learning curve sometimes even pushing college instructors over the age of 70 into early retirement, brokering our ability to function in one way and one way only: Cyberly. Is that even a word? Virtually. Zooming, texting, Tweeting, cell-phoning, Skyping, Tick-Tocking, Instagramming, Facebooking, Face-timing, Marco-Poloing, Telegraming, What’s Apping, have I left anything out? We still have Reddit, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Prime, HBO, Network T.V., online libraries, Kindle digital books, podcasting, news media, need I go on?
By entering into a phase of human development wherein we use the internet as our primary (if not only) connection, we are evolving as a species. We are forced to rely on some unseen connection between us. Without these digitized signals, we couldn’t share with others. We couldn’t connect (other than the six-feet apart smile-and-wave habit that we morning walkers are so eager to exchange). Even our willingness to communicate has increased because of what’s been taken away. (Don’t humans want what they can’t have?)
This is our new dependence: The INTER net. The world-wide-web, responsible for my 45 minute conversations via Facetime with my UK-based daughter as she pours herself a glass of wine and I pour myself my first cup of coffee. The world-wide-web, the miracle of codes and wireless wiring that offer me the sounds and sights of my eleven-pound grandson, who I’ve yet to meet, without which I’d never experience what is so sacred to me. Our book clubs are toasting over the net, our college students jump on daily live lectures, our self-help, yoga, work-outs and theatre rehearsals ALL rely on the magic of cyberspace.
Didn’t we deem these tech-interactions detrimental a mere semester ago? Weren’t we beating the drum of connecting in real life, via face-to-face conversations, avoiding the impersonal nature of the charged-up devices taking charge of our lives?
How has our tune changed so quickly and without reserve? Well, we had no other choice. The conversation surrounding “your brain on computers” can continue, but at a later time. Why analyze and bash something we can’t shun? Our actual desire to use technology is a moot point.
The internet has suddenly become the brain of our giant collective human body. The nervous system of our grand species. The way we work, learn, grow, love and quite simply, BE.
Will this new way of being become permanent? Who can say? Is it harmful? Who can care? It’s pretty much all we have right now. That’s how we are getting vital information; our news feeds, all of the videos and photos and memes, the daily Whitehouse reports. That’s how most of us are receiving lockdown-lift information, how-to-endure-this-pandemic advice, humor and stress-relief. We can’t go to church, we can’t take a trip, we can’t do all of those activities that keep us human.
So, we BE the best we can, as humans online. Or is it online humans?
We, in fact, are the only species connected to a device. This separates us from all other life forms. Our relationship with technology differentiates us from the natural world and I can’t help but wonder about that. We have awareness of our mortality; we have a meta-perception that most other life forms do not. Our consciousness has always been more evolved than our primordial counterparts. But now, our human awareness is creating a new shape. The internet is providing a scaffolding for our mental energies, both public and private. Our online communities outshine real life, whether we invited it or not. It’s about all we have.
Our attentions now switch from the earth to the ethers. These millions of digitized thoughts now link us with others around the globe, conjoining us. Our consciousness has taken on literal form. Humanity’s communications now gird the earth, or at least merge anyone with Wi-Fi and opposing thumbs.
One of my favorite philosophers, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, practically prophesied this day would come. His mid-20th-century discoveries revolving around living organisms and their different levels of consciousness pointed to a collective unity of sorts. He predicted that our global ecosystem would be a superorganism with a whole much greater than the sum of its parts. He was right. Since his lifetime, our world has become smaller, epitomizing the term coined by McLuhan, the global village. Teilhard De Chardin hoped for correlative unity and now that we are forced into digital territory with no breadcrumbs to lead us back, maybe his wish will come true.
When (in tears) I pour my second cup of coffee and log into Jitsi, desperate to see and hear my gurgling grandbaby all the way in Argentina, I think of Teilhard’s wish and it becomes mine. “The point of all evolution up to this stage is the creation of a collective organism of Mind.” This hope of unity has taken on new meaning since Covid 19. With the breakdown of the stock market and the mayhem of business-as-usual, we can’t know what we will have when the lockdown is lifted. Hopefully, we will indeed have each other, but in a newly-integrated fashion, all over this earth.
“Someday, after mastering the winds,
the tides and gravity,
we shall harness …
the energies of love,
and then, for a second time
in the history of the world,
man will have discovered fire.”
~Pierre Teilhard De Chardin
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