Monday, April 14, 2008

The Internet is the collective Trip

Mark Pesce once said that the Internet is humanity's collective trip. This sentence once sounded vague and unclear to me, but this week, as I was sitting in the social security office in Tel Aviv watching some woman grappling with the security guard I had a certain epiphany and it seemed to me that I understood what that meant a bit better.

As I sat there in the social security office I was reading Leo Buscaglia's book Love and trying to evade that pressing net of negative energies which surrounds this building. On the way out, when I encountered that security guard and woman quarreling I had to think about that bad vibe that rules that place. It was interesting because spiritual teachers in the New Age culture often speak about how we create our own reality, or in other words, how the things we think about influence the net of possibilities which surrounds us. Think good and it will be good, think bad and it will be bad.

Nothing new here yet. In fact the fact that we create our own reality has been reckoned with by spiritual teachers long before the New Age phenomenon was born and this kind of idea is actually crystal clear from within the psychedelic experience where each thought creates an hyperrealist reality. The only novelty here is that these ideas are now conveyed in films such as The Secret and become common knowledge.

But this element of creating your own reality which exists in the life of different people also has a collective aspect. People generally and quite validly argue against The Secret that it ignores the collective elements of the human condition. How can a boy who was born in Iraq, in Gaza, or in Shderot influence the reality of violence and poverty which surrounds him? Can he really create his own reality? Is his destiny not predestined to begin with? This kind of criticism is indeed quite valid, but if we see that the element of creating reality also has a collective aspect things might be a bit less difficult to understand.

And here comes the social security into the picture. The social security is a sort of really bad collective hallucination. It is Kafka's The Trial which has become reality, it is a bad trip you can just walk into any hour of the day if you wish to experience anger of frustration. Actually I am quite sure that a lot of the people who work in the social security office suffer from all kinds of problems just because they are working surrounded by that sort of energies many hours of their day.

In much the same way you can notice how the problems and maladies which are on the mind of the Israeli society is stuff that is being constantly transmitted through the media. I constantly get to meet people who think that the cosmic element which drives humanity and history is 'money' or 'sex'. This idea which might seem quite odd or myopic to people who are part of psychedelic or anyway spiritual circles reflects the order created by media shows such as Survivor or Israel's next top model – an order which is then reflected back by people into the media. And so a feedback system is created in which society and media feed each other with the notion that the important thing is money and sex. In this way the collective hallucination is created using the modern collective drugs of media.

To go back to the people in Iraq, Gaza or Israel. They all have a part in creating the reality in which they live. Something in the collective attitude contributed to the reality in which these societies exist today. But the Americans and the Germans also have a part in creating the psychic reality in which the live – this isn't even mysticism, this is plain mind-ecology*.

Let us get back to media. As I once mentioned in another post McKenna speaks about media as the tool which enables humanity to share symbols, ideas and actually share the collective unconscious. The media, the ruby in the crown of our magnificent noosphere is the psychic reality of our planet – it reflects the thoughts, symbols, feelings and notions which are going on on a planetary scale. It is the conscious and the unconscious of our planet. It is the not very lucid dream that we are having.

The Attention Economy

And here comes Mark Pesche's remark about the Internet as the collective trip back into view. What happens is that the more we continue in the information revolution, so does information become the most valuable commodity. And this trend will continue to encompass bigger and bigger parts of our economy in the next dozens of years, we are now only in the beginning.

Almost the whole of the internet is run on advertisements. The major sites, anyway. This economy which is based on advertisements is called the attention economy. It is called that way because the primary currency in this economy is attention. Everything we give attention to gets power from us. Whether we click on a link to read more about Lindsay Lohan, stay after the commercials to watch an item about Lindsay Lohan or watch a Lindsay Lohan clip on YouTube – we are wiring the planet's global brain and teaching it that Lindsay Lohan is something important – the same as when we click on any other subject, such as reading an article about Teilhard de Chardin.

The problem is of course that most of us would rather click on Lindsay than on good ole' Teilhard. These things are very clearly noted in editorial boards and by various bots and the collective mind keeps reorganizing itself in a process of feedback in order to readjust itself to the culture which has become a slave to primate conditionings, to monkeys with a mouse in their hand and dirty thoughts in their minds, going on in a perpetuate state of digital self-excitement. And while our culture used to have cultural standards which strove to limit or stir this process in a desired direction this is now all long gone.

But that is also the trippy part about this whole story. In the collective trip of the internet we are left to ourselves, to the whims of our consciousness. The attention economy is this trip. It functions like the psychedelic trip where everything we give attention too becomes ever more prominent while that which we ignore simply vanishes from existence.

Attention is the single most resource in the struggle for Humanity's future. Not soldiers, not airplanes, not sanctions, not atomic bombs – attention, something that each of us has a 100% of at all time – and we usually rather give it to Lindsay Lohan and it's myriad consumer variations.

Accusing the editorials and the program managers is in a sense like accusing ourselves. In the global brain there is not they, there is only us, as Rushkoff says. The editors and programmers act as feedback machines responding back to whatever impulses our brains create. We are the neurons of the brain, and we've got to think right – think about evolvement, transforming to something other and higher, to a flower to a new fractal.

In the attention economy confronting the infinite happens when you are holding the mouse in your hand. The place you surf to creates not only your reality, but also the collective reality. That attention is the one which creates reality, the worlds which are created around us. Everything we focus on grows and proliferates. Once we live it be, it will disappear. Your attention is the currency that builds and demolishes the worlds, it is the ultimate power, use it wisely.

* I wish to state that this description only explains a part of the situation and is of course incomplete and not exhaustive. Other parts of such situations are political, historical and circumstantial – and although it is not part of the discussion here. It is clear that no exhaustive debate about the historical fate of groups can be complete without it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alrighty, let's get down to this: It's probably most correct to interpret the hypermind of the Internet as a Bardo state. In the Bardo, your attachments transmute themselves - the thought-forms attaining a certain quality of reality - into wrathful demons. And you're chased by these very frightening spirits, but wherever they go, they have no choice but to follow you, because these demons are your attachments. Everything that you are attached to: your hopes, your fears, your lusts, your desires, your things, your future, your past, your everything-that-is-not-you-when-everything-else-has-been-stripped-away.

The Internet is, for lack of a better metaphor, an accelerator of this Bardo state. Where we were once slowly chased by our desires, now our desires have acquired light speed. This is profoundly destabilizing to both the individual and the culture at large.

Regaining balance - or, perhaps, just gaining balance - takes a level of self-consciousness and sublime indifference which can only be attained if the individual can create space in their own head-body-soul-what-have-you for themselves and themselves alone. This is not, as some would have it, selfish. The releasing of desires, of the future and the past, of dreams and lusts and fears, is actually the most profoundly selfless thing that we can do. It means that we realize that everything we are is, at some very essential point, unimportant.

From that foundation, we can work for others, and make something better.

Mark Pesce