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Bringing Mindfulness into How We Integrate Technology into Our Civilization

By Kate Kheel of Safe Tech International
Image by Joe from Pixabay

LISTEN HERE – 22:43

Can our collective and individual consciousness expand faster than the speed of technological growth; and can we seed a wiser technology that con-serves (i.e. serves together with) all life? 

Right now, we are facing multiple threats, each of which alone could bring us to the brink of extinction. These range from nuclear war, to bioweapons, synthetic biology, insect decline, AI gone rogue, oceans that, according to predictions, will have more plastic than fish by 2050. And of course, the full throttle global push to connect to the internet every “thing”, being, place and event on Earth, in the sky, and in the ocean; not to mention gaming, social media, and the many other for-profit platforms designed to generate data, manipulate minds, and sell products. 

In much the way that tools increase the capabilities and reach of our bodies and minds – for e.g., a hammer affords the hand greater force – technology and AI extend the capabilities and reach, not just of a hand, but of our entire civilization.

Technology and AI exponentialize and accelerate nearly all undertakings – good, bad, or other – that we humans engage in. 

Up till now, Earth could handle human foibles and our youthful hubris. But layering technology and AI onto a civilization that worships progress at all costs, and that sees itself as separate from the natural world, is at best a recipe for disaster. As Daniel Schmachtenberg says, 
“We’ve created a social sphere that’s not aligned with the biosphere it depends upon.”

The crises we face have increased in scale, complexity, and velocity so much so, that people have come up with a new term to describe this: the Metacrisis  or Polycrisis, i.e. the multiple and interconnected global crises that our civilization now faces. 

Add to this Jevons Paradox which posits that every invention that increases efficiency, simultaneously increases demand for the product, service, or technology. So, while we’re already stretching the limits of Earth’s bounty, by adding tech and AI coupled with Jevons Paradox, we are on a collision course with Mother Earth… unless, that is, there is a shift in our world view. A shift in consciousness. 

So, what are some of the givens in our current way of life that have locked us into this runaway paradigm? 

In most countries of the so-called “developed world”, individuals or companies come up with a product or service that presumably fills some niche and at the same time provides a livelihood. The project or service may have negative effects downstream or somewhere else on the planet, but as the sayings go: Each man for himself. Survival of the fittest. And CEOs, at least in the US, have a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and must show quarterly profits. Further, if a given company does take time to look into and possibly mitigate second or third order effects, that company will lose first mover advantage to other companies who just rip. 

This same scenario is repeated around the world millions of times over, disrupting the possibility of creating a culture of care. But when extended to our global economy by a few multi billion dollar mega industries such as Big Pharma, Big Tech, agri-tech and so forth, we are spiraling into a mad race to the bottom. Daniel Schmactenberger and others refer this as the multi-polar trap defined as “a situation where multiple players, acting in their own self-interest, collectively contribute to a harmful outcome, even when none of them individually desires it.” 

A multi-polar trap occurs in much the same way between nations. Theoretically, if one country were to take time to investigate detrimental longterm effects from AI or from the proliferation of ever more lethal weapons, it would risk being at an economic and geopolitical disadvantage – something no country seems intent on chancing.

But things don’t have to be this way. The group that produced Sesame Street back in the 60s posed the following question: “What would TV look like if it loved people rather than just trying to sell them stuff?” We might ask now: 

What would technology and AI look like if they loved people instead of using them? What would society look like if it weren’t a giant machine for instrumentalizing everything? And what would human beings be like if we loved Earth and all her beings instead of seeing one another as resources?” 

A few of the externalities of technology and AI

Technology and AI are helpful in numerous ways. But following is a small sampling of the many, many externalities these have introduced into our world which often go unreported by legacy media outlets and unacknowledged by governments. I focus here primarily on the psychosocial effects although there are externalities that extend far beyond these. See here, here, here, and here.

Tech and AI have reduced much of our lived experience to mainly two senses: sight and sound, and even these are not the real deal, as they are delivered through screens and microphones. We have been largely stripped of the rich experiences of real-world living. Absent are the scents, touch, eye-contact, kinesthetic movement through space, presence, and all the infinite subtleties that make up our felt experience of the world. These senses, intelligences, and abilities have atrophied due to excessive time in front of screens. Our bodies and brains are being dulled and dummied down, and our children are growing up barely skimming the surface of life’s riches. 

With our devices, immediate gratification and control are accessed with the touch of a button or swipe of a finger. We can change our online world in an instant. Don’t enjoy something? Swipe it away. Post boring? Click onto another. In the real world, relationships and trust take time to develop. Disagreements require patience and deep listening. Through group projects we learn cooperation and concentration. In our tech-infested world, we’re largely missing out on developing our minds and affects through real-world interactions. 

Mono-Culture

To maintain good health, we need a varied diet filled with micro-nutrients largely absent in processed and fast foods which provide mega-doses of calories, fat, salt, and sugar, but leave people malnourished, unsatiated, and coming back for more. With our tech “diet”, it’s much the same. Most of us are consuming mono-culture – i.e., nutrient-deficient entertainment “diets” made to order by an incoherent, for-profit consumer culture. Spiritually malnourished from hours of meaningless time online, people either go back for more, or, to be enticed out of cyberspace, require activities that match the thrill and stimulation of their online experience. Essentially, the world must scream for us and our children to pay notice. Shall the world become a simulation of the online experience? (Parenthetically, it’s noteworthy that legacy media is itself a monoculture each echoing the same narrative, leaving the public ill-equipped to make wise life choices.)

The technology craze and over-use of screens has wreaked havoc on children and families around the world. Playing, exploring, friendship, and imagination, all birthrights of children, have been collapsed into online games designed to addict. Whereas in the past, children spent long hours on the laps of parents, grandparents, and elders, imbibing wisdom, values, and love, our kids are now largely stationed in front of screens like zombies, imbibing the latest frivolity, immediate gratification, and violence that sells. Corporations have literally colonized the minds and hearts of our kids. And competing with gaming designers, many parents don’t stand a fighting chance reclaiming their kidnapped children. 

The question before us is, do we want to preserve our children, Earth, and future, or do we want to preserve our techno-economic civilization and ethos of so-called “progress”? The answer is evident. So why are we getting this so wrong? 

Are we one or a multiplicity of beings? 

Iain McGilchrist has studied and written extensively on the human brain, particularly focusing on the left and right hemispheres. In his ground-breaking book, The Master and His Emissary, Iain discusses at length the relationship between the two hemispheres. Greatly simplified, basically, the left hemisphere, he explains, is goal oriented…much like when an animal is stalking its prey, their eyes are glued intently on the object of desire creating a powerful, straight-arrow, targeted vision. But what if there is danger hovering somewhere unseen, in the distance, or perhaps behind the predator? That’s the domain of the right hemisphere. The right brain senses, perceives, and abides in the wholeness and interconnectedness of all. It helps us sense and intuit our surroundings as well as to experience the bliss of inter-being with all life. 

We need both hemispheres to complement each other and to generate a fuller picture and richer life experience. But as the title of the book indicates, one is the Master – the right hemisphere; and the other the Emissary – the left hemisphere. 

We find a similar concept in the Jewish tradition as well. Though there are many names of God, the ones most often used in prayer are Adonai and EloheinuAdonai, meaning My Lord, points slightly more to God’s unity; and Eloheinu, meaning Our God, focuses more on the multiplicity within the unity of God. Adonai – like the Master in Iain’s book – has a slightly “holier” inference than Eloheinu, and is always recited first in prayer. Like the Master and Emissary, they too complement one another, and together afford a fuller understanding of the Unity of creation. 

Verb, not noun.

The distinctions we experience in our world often appear to us as nouns or absolute concepts. You are you, and I am I. We are separate beings. We can engage in actions with one another such as talking, arguing, exchanging information, going for a walk, etc. But most of us tend to perceive the noun as the predominant feature of our lived experience and the action as secondary…something we or others do. 

Yet there’s another way of perceiving the world, to see it more as verb. In this paradigm, nouns serve as kind of markers or place holders, but the game of life is predominantly played in the energy field and relationship between nouns which is where experience abides and story unfolds.

Life lives in the field of interrelating. By over noun-ifying ourselves, others, and the world around us, we risk arresting the natural flow of life. 

So too with dualistic concepts such as good and evil, or true and false. As with nouns, they too serve as useful markers creating a polarity wherein a vibrational field is set in motion, offering a spectrum within which we may journey. But again, if we focus primarily on the goal posts – good, evil; true, false; right wrong – rather than on the vibrational field between these and countless other polarities, our vision will be skewed. And what might otherwise be perceived as gentle ripples caressing the shores of our felt experience, may become tidal waves in an ocean of confused emotions, pain, and conflict as we flail about trying desperately to hold onto our concretized perceptions of the world.

We don’t need absolutes, just light touch polarities that provide just enough distinction to set up vibrational fields, and directions to move toward or away from. As Stanley Kubrik says, “Nothing is as dangerous as a sure thing.” 

In our Western civilization, the two hemispheres have been reversed for quite some time now. We feel separation more than Unity. Left brain more than right. Noun more than verb. We have come to view Earth and nature as separate from us, as a marketplace of resources up for grabs on a first come, first served basis. 

When we reside in this paradigm of othering, or separation consciousness, the only way we can connect with others is through attachment – by owning, extracting, controlling, subduing, using, or consuming. When residing more in the paradigm of verb and relationship, there is an ever-present flow to and from that sustains and is the essence of life.

Othering can occur the other way round as well. We often reciprocate the sentiment towards those whom we feel have harmed us. We “other” the Telcos. the FCC. Big Pharma. The CDC. 

Othering also helps us form tribes whereby strong delineation between “us” and “them” increases our sense of security and belonging. We boost our identity by underscoring the distinctions between ourselves and others. “They’re not as cultured as we,” or, “They’re clueless and way behind the times.” The stronger the demarcation, the safer we feel and the closer the bond with our kinfolk. And sadly, with hyper-accentuated divisions in our global civilization, we become susceptible to manipulation and coercion.

Othering – i.e., focusing more on the distinctions between ourselves and others – is foundational to our Western civilization. Without it, we wouldn’t have our so-called “developed world”. Our way of life in the Global North is predicated on “othering” the Global South, the oceans, animals, and Earth.  

And now we add tech and AI to the mix, which not only exponentialize our dysfunctional civilization, but the DNA – so to speak – of tech and AI is the separation and recombination of trillions upon trillions of disparate bytes of data. The idiom itself is one of separation to the nth degree.

So, what are we to do with a system locked into left brain overdrive, exponentialized by technology and AI, which themselves embody the essence of a separation paradigm?  Obviously, we must continue to work on the issues of our time we feel most aligned with. In our case, the harms of electromagnetic radiation. Talking with politicians, raising public awareness, mitigating the effects of radiation in our homes, schools, and communities and so forth. All these are helpful. But what else? What can inform our work and help bring about a consciousness shift? 

We cannot make deep change happen; we create the conditions that allow it to emerge. Change most often happens when the vessel is ready to absorb the new. Each day offers the possibility for incremental softening and trying something new, something ever so slightly different…if it feels right. It will take time, but the miracle of healing happens a whole lot faster when we trust nature – which includes us – to find our way. 

We needn’t find solutions. They are finite, nouns, dead ends. Infinite wisdom can only be accessed in a field of “not knowing”, of uncertainty.

We can slow down. Live simply. Declutter mind, heart, home, and time. Revel in the sweet point of satiation…just enough and not one drop more. Notice and savor the tiny treasures in life. Ask questions, rethink and reconsider. Help others and open to asking for help. Share new insights and discoveries. Rebuild trust, so lost in our times. Tune into and trust our own intuition and wisdom. Reclaim time to be. Choose local. Give. Receive. Grieve. De-armor hearts. Sing. Dance. Live artfully. Connect authentically and celebrate together the myriad miracles of life.

And for sure, spend as much time as humanly possible away from technology, and seek out settings more conducive to sensing inter-being and peace.

Every breath, bite of food, encounter, and even a night’s sleep, changes us ever so slightly as we digest new nutrients. In fact, the word in Hebrew for “sleep” means “change” because as the happenings of the past day infuse us, we awaken to a new day and feel a bit different. 

Much in the same way micronutrients are vital to life and well-being, so too is micro-evolving essential. Eight billion people micro-evolve every second, as well as do trillions upon trillions of animals…and countless plants. All life is changing moment by moment. It’s what we do, and so we may as well enjoy the ride. 

A tight rope walker adjusts for balance with tiny micromovements throughout her body as s/he walks across the rope. Hips may move slightly to the left while the torso veers to the right. Some muscle groups retract as others elongate. Constant adjustment is needed to maintain balance. Step by step. 

Civilization too requires the same micromovements. As we journey through time, we need to adjust. One part of us may need to veer more toward absolutes, while another may be drawn more toward relaxing constructs. The more verb than noun lens on the world, like everything else, is not an absolute we must cling to. There are times when absolutes are absolutely called for. And the next moment, perhaps not. We can also change our lens to respond to the times and to what’s before us each moment.

The only constant is change. And from my perspective, at this moment in time, from where I stand today, it feels necessary that many of us add to our repertoire perceiving the world a bit more as verb. But as my cousin said the other day after a nearly three-hour conversation, “I reserve the right to change everything I said in an instant.”

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