In July of 2008, The Atlantic published an article by social critic Nicholas Carr entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid; one which dealt significantly with how people were losing the capacity to concentrate, follow their thoughts to a point of completion, or read long passages of text due to the effects which the Internet, social media, and large search engines such as Google were having upon them. Three years later, Carr published his best selling book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which dealt more extensively with these issues, as well as such issues as how our working memories themselves and our capacity to think clearly about complex issues are likewise being affected by our digital addictions, and with how those addictions are actually being used and manipulated by social media and large search engines in order to insure their profitability.
Since then, as most everyone who has been following this issue now knows, much greater attention has been given to how the digital age has been affecting our working memories, ability to attend, our capacity to assimilate the written word, our emotive lives, personal relationships, and even our physiological brains. More recently, the issue of the digital age and the resultant addictions it has engendered has found its way into examinations of how students in our schools learn in this new Internet age; as well as how the web of young people’s social relations, one that once took place increasingly outside the home, has become ever more constricted by their need to spend time alone in their rooms with their smart phones, searching for connection in the virtual world rather than the real one. Then, of course, the issue of how our privacy and security has come under assault in this new Internet age has also become significantly important to many people.
One thing, however, that hasn’t been really addressed in this new cyber age in which we now all live, most likely because so few people have a genuine interest in it, is the potential effects which the digital world and the particular addictions it has engendered might have on the search for a larger, limitless reality which exists outside the boundaries of our rational minds, memories, and our own conditioning by the world. For if it is true that our obsessive use of digital devices is affecting our working memories, the length of our attention spans, our capacity to follow our thoughts to a point of completion, the depth of our emotive lives, and even our sense of self, then we may eventually reach the point where we no longer have the necessary access to these dynamics in attempting to understand them. And if that becomes the case, then it will become increasingly impossible to transcend them in search of something larger.
For instance, the late writer-metaphysical thinker Alan Watts wrote of the necessity to embrace what he called the stream of life in our potential search for a larger reality outside of our everyday existence; referring to the ever changing flux with which we might come into contact provided we don’t attempt to continually dam this stream with our personal desires, and by our need to continually control the details of our everyday existence. Needless to say, when people today jump increasingly on their phones or PCs between different, fragmented pieces of information, or when they obsessively multitask using their digital devices, then they are damming the stream of life to which they might have access just as surely as if they were the Hoover Dam impeding the flow of the Colorado River.
In similar fashion, many who came of age during a particular time will surely remember the series of books by Carlos Castaneda which dealt with his experiences with the Yaqui Indian Don Juan in the Mexican desert, ones having to do with his search for a separate reality which might exist outside the parameters of the thinking mind, one’s memory and the past, or the psychological constrictions of the self. In his lessons with the Indian sorcerer, Castaneda was continually instructed about how he might sweep the tonal (the self and the past, as Don Juan called it) in order to reach the world of the limitless which he referred to as the nagual. Yet, it seems obvious that if one is to embark on such a journey with their sanity intact, then one must first have full access to the clarity of their memories, the ability to attend clearly to what one’s experiences might be teaching him or her, and the capacity for a certain depth of rational thought if one is to ever transcend these things. Needless to say, this is not what the current Internet age is providing us.
Although few people may have a genuine interest in this search for something larger, this however may be the ultimate danger of the Internet and the manner in which we are using it. That is, how the very cognitive and emotive tools, if you will, which we need to explore our minds and selves in search of a limitless reality are being continually diluted by how we use our digital devices, and how the Internet and its powerful search engines are conditioning us in ways that make it veritably certain that this will occur. Yes, of course the Internet and digital age has given all of us an increased ability to creatively and clearly connect with others in cyberspace, yet at the same time it may also be diluting that same creativity and clarity within us. It’s almost as if some great scientist were given the tools to more fully explore his/her world while at the same time his access to some larger vision toward where that exploration may be leading is being significantly dulled and diluted by those same tools.
For the present, this site will be devoted exclusively to the issue of how our current digital age might be impeding our potential search for a larger, metaphysical reality; regular posts on the subject to follow. If you have any comments, please make them.