Friday, 17 February 2017

Digital Dilemmas, Part 3 (How we are Affected Emotionally)

Because the modern digital technologies that we use are potentially and in actuality so pervasive in their effects, it is easier to unravel some of the strings of implications for our, and future generations, by considering their effects upon the different levels of our being.

So far we have examined, in a very cursory way, how they affect us physically.

In terms of our emotions these effects may be more subtle, more difficult to label, but nevertheless, in their way, just as pervasive and profound. As time goes by we will be able to gauge much more accurately just how these technologies are changing our way of living for better and for worse.

In a general sense our emotional responses take us into the realm of human moods, behaviours and reactions. These can be likened to the ever shifting sands of hope and fear that push and pull us into endless cycles of fluctuation and change. How we place ourselves within the world as functioning human beings is often reflected by the way that we connect and interact with one another and the world wide web is all about 'connections' and 'inter-connected-ness.'

No one can deny that in one sense, this has bought us all much closer together. We can connect instantaneously, we can interact easily, almost effortlessly, cheaply and from just about anywhere on the planet. Never before has our Earth appeared to be such a small place. Suddenly we find ourselves inside the solar system and less intensely focused on the small family, tribal and communal groups that were always so pivotal to our sense of place and belonging within human societies of the past. These are still very much present but now put into a context and within a much bigger 'world view.'

If anything can reveal 'inter-connectedness' clearly, it would have to be the technologies and social media tools that are available today.

At the heart of this connectedness is the incessant tug of war between hope and fear.  These underlying forces drive most of our emotional interactions and are often bound to be magnified in the cyber 'realities' that we create on-line. Our emotions may be fleeting but they are nevertheless powerful and compelling. Are we not constantly driven by them in one form or another?

Think about it. Our need to belong, our need to excel, our need to be liked, our need to feel important, etcetera. Often at the very inception of an idea, before it is put into actuality it is motivated, consciously or otherwise, by some very visceral emotion. Facebook was virtually built out of one man's desire to impress a girl. We have played into this instinctive need. Facebook and other social media networks have flourished and spread around the world fuelled by our almost obsessive need to be 'connected' with one another. To make our little splash in the vast pond of existence. To reassert our existence as independent and yet interconnected beings and all of this on a much grander scale than ordinary people like you and i may ever have dreamed possible in the past.

In these times, the ubiquitous 'like' button, the instant 'tweet' and the flurry of other communication 'tools' that have become part of the very fabric of modern human communication offer us immediate gratification adding fuel to an illusive and inflated sense of importance or its opposite.

Cyber technologies and social media have enormous potential for reaching out in a way that previously was never possible, but there is also a shadow side. They give us a degree of on-line anonymity that makes it easy to enter into 'relationships' in which our normal responses and responsibilities can be evaded. What might this mean to the younger generation who are being brought up within this kind of environment?

The 'normal' responses of the past, which take place on a day to day level between people in their living and work environments are being affected the trend towards 'working at home.' New incentives are beginning to rise up in order to combat the isolation that this can cause. 'Open offices' are beginning to emerge and people are finding ways to still work and yet be with one another in a physical space.

The mercurial pace with which an online 'moods' or trends can take hold and then be forgotten, is such that it can be difficult to keep apace. Such 'trending' gives us a taste of the ephemeral nature of our emotions and along with that a sense that everything is speeding up.

Is there an emerging paradox in this trend?  While we may appear to more connected, in actuality we seem to be more disconnected than ever.  The nature of our communications is instantaneous but also in many cases very superficial and fleeting. These interactions often lack the vital exchange of energy that can take place between people within eye contact and actual physical presence. This is giving rise to a whole new 'language.' The 'signals' which, in the past, formed the basis of our interactions and our ability to interpret what others are conveying to our senses, both consciously and unconsciously can easily be misinterpreted and lead to confusion and misunderstandings which in turn can increase the sense of 'isolation' in the current media environment.

For those of us who have been around for more than a few decades, the magnitude of these changes can be somewhat daunting. We now see ourselves beginning to function in ways that we did not function in the past and the younger generations are growing up with very different expectations and agendas.

The whole basis upon which this evolution is developing is of a very non substantial kind.  Our philosophical tomes have stated over and over that our world is an 'illusion,' and with the new technologies and all that they stand for we can begin to sense very clearly how true this really is.

Digital technology has provided us with new toys and tools with which to interact with the world on a scale that heretofore has simply not been possible.

What are some of the characteristics of our reactions to these technologies in terms of how they affect us on an emotional level?

1. Compulsiveness.  We can see this manifesting as a fidgety preoccupation with almost constant distraction. Its become a common sight to see people in all sorts of environments busily multi tasking. Here in India, it is not unusual to see people on their way to where ever, on a cycle, a motor bike or in a car, text-ing or talking on a mobile phone. Have we not all seen people gathered waiting for something, or sitting at tables together, all busily engaged with something happening on their phones or computers in the very midst of the throngs of humanity.

2. Connected and yet disconnected. I recently visited friends who have a number of children. Everyone, parents included, was gathered in the living room together but the room was silent, each was busily engaged in some kind of cyber activity on their iPad, phone or pc...

3. Dissipation. The energies favour dissipation. The attention and emotional indicators experience an incessant pressure that draws one outwardly from the natural centre of silence and peace.  This then gives rise to a growing inner sense of loss and isolation.

It is a paradox that the very tools that were supposedly created to bring us nearer to one another are in fact isolating us from one another in many subtle ways. Its a little as though we are cast out to sea, surrounded by the ocean and yet all this water is incapable of quenching our thirst.

We can get sucked into a cycle with digital technologies which can lead to some very unhealthy side effects unless we become more aware and make practical and discriminating judgements and then actually implement them.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Digital Dilemmas, Part 2 (How we are Affected Physically)

What can be said about the physical impact of the digital age in which we live? Its effects are so far reaching that there are very few areas of our lives, our homes and our workplaces which are not in some way affected.

Lets start with the good stuff, and there is plenty of it depending on ones point of view.  Naturally we can't mention everything but in broad terms we see things like, instant communications, easy access to information, and inter-connected-ness on a scale that is unprecedented. Ease of online services such as banking, travel bookings, online shopping etc far exceed anything we ever had in recent history.

Computers and the digital technology that powers and automates so many of the functions which we now take quite for granted; in fact virtually the entire infrastructure of our modern world, especially in western economies, is based upon recent cyber technologies.

The potential for life changing innovations continues to emerge at a dizzying pace and is undeniable. Automated cars are already on our roads.There is currently technology in development for a car/plane as a viable mode of personal transport. This would be a computerised car cum drone. Safer, swifter and more comfortable than anything we now have to get us from A to B and all automated of course! There are many, many other positive developments due to technological breakthroughs from health and transportation to education and instant information. The list could go on and on.

The bad stuff.  Physically the lives of those who spend a lot of time on  personal computers or at gaming or who work from some form of web based technology are far more sedentary than would have ever been possible in the past. These technologies have also become part of institutional education from primary through to college and on wards giving rise to all manner of health problems and psychological issues in our up and coming generations.

While we appear to be more easily contactable more and more people are actually alone with their devices than not. Take the ever increasing instances of when family or friends are sitting together in a restaurant, or at home, ostensibly to share a meal together and yet all the while busily tapping out messages or fiddling with something on their smartphones and quite oblivious of one another.

We may be able to easily contact one another and be wired into a whole planetary network of information and instant 'news' and yet our 'personal space' is also routinely invaded 24/7 by mobile technologies along with their electromagnetic radiations.

There are surveillance issues that are genuinely worrying despite the fact that we are told that we are 'watched' for our own good.

IDs are quickly moving towards using bio data that imprints our iris configurations and encodes our finger prints. One by one countries are beginning to phase out passports in favour of online bio data.

Here in India, of all places, I had my iris encoded along with finger prints in an ID process that is currently taking place all over the country. These days in India, even a Sadhu living on the street, has an Aadhaar Card with all his bio-metric details encoded into it.

Getting my own card sorted was a surreal experience. There i was sitting in this dusty office, the paint was peeling off the walls, the fans were outdated and whirring loudly above our heads. There was book work and papers all around the walls stacked in untidy piles from door to door. The electricity went out while i was there and we had to wait until the back up generator kicked in. The fellow taking my details was making dozens of spelling mistakes and there was a constant stream of village people coming and going. It was all thoroughly incongruous and more than a little disconcerting.

What are the privacy issues at stake here? It would appear that privacy is a thing of the past and simply not possible in this new age of digitisation.

On another tack, one question I often have in mind is; what if there is a massive solar flare? Few seem to even be aware of how vulnerable our technologies are to extra planetary events which are taking place constantly and over which we have absolutely no control. These solar flares have incapacitated electrical grids in various countries during recent years and there is no reason why it won't continue to happen. We are currently in a solar minimum cycle but even so, events of cataclysmic proportions are going on continuously on our sun to say nothing of other events taking place throughout our solar system and beyond.

Once again it is not possible in a short article to give an exhaustive list of all the disadvantages but we must mention one that is yet to be fully understood and very likely will become extremely controversial in the years to come.

This is the long term effects of the low level electromagnetic radiations which are constantly bombarding not only us, but every living thing within their radius.

Can most of us go for a day without coming into contact with a mobile phone, a pc, a micro-wave or a cell phone tower...? These towers are perched on the top of buildings, in the midst of the most densely populated areas of our cities and towns. We also see the infrastructure for these towers marching up hills sides in even very remote locations, although now most of the technology is being moved to satellites orbiting the planet.

What about Wi-fi radiations that so many and by the day more and more people are bringing into their homes? We are exposed to these radiations in a different form also from household items that we barely blink at now such as hair dryers, T.Vs and even fluorescent lights.

Some would say that this kind of talk arises from paranoia but the fact is that recent research is overwhelmingly proving that
the electromagnetic radiations that are emitted from the electronic devices that we use every day, to say nothing of the cell phone towers and all the other transmitters that exist within our proximity, have long term and insidiously detrimental health effects.

The physical implications of long term exposure to electronic radiations are only just beginning to be uncovered, at least to the main stream public. Cell phone operators have long known of the dangers of their devices and their towers and they have managed to wrangle legislation with law makers that will protect them from future liability related to the use of their products. It has even been rumoured that these same companies have endeavoured to bring in a legislation that would make it compulsory to sign an agreement prior to purchasing; an agreement that would exclude them from the possibility of being dragged into a law suite at any time in the future!

All of this is a loaded bomb waiting to explode, the clock is ticking, its just a matter of time..!

The dilemma.  How do we balance our increasing dependence with the long term implications of using digital technology?  Do we even have the option of trying to do something? The physical implications are alarming and the research and resulting data that is beginning to emerge is likely to be only the tip of the ice berg.

What are the emotional, mental and spiritual implications? One can easily begin to see just how completely pervasive the effects of our digital age really are. The sooner we expand our awareness and understanding of these, the better.