by Stan Hirst
I’ve been pondering on three items these past weeks.
The first one was an observation I made some two months ago while travelling through Argentina. Visiting the Iguazu Falls had been a firm item on my bucket list for more than 30 years, in fact ever since the movie The Mission hit the circuits. Iguazu did not disappoint – an incredible natural spectacle and, I thought, one of the great natural wonders of the world. I took 160 photographs of the Falls and their environs – thank heavens for digital cameras!
As to be expected, the whole area surrounding the Falls and the many walkways were clogged with tourists of all shapes and sizes. The overwhelming majority carried smartphones or tablets and all were shooting pictures from every angle. What intrigued me about my fellow Falls gawkers was that more than 9 out of every 10 shots I saw taken were selfies of themselves with the Falls in the background! This spoke volumes about their underlying motivation for using photographic recording.
The second thing clicking through my rickety brain was related to the December 19 election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the U.S.A. That event in itself was enough to give me serious cerebral machinations, but one specific thing jumped out at me. Believe it or not, Trump’s success has been attributed in large part to Facebook! The social media giant has been credited (!) as being massively influential in the election outcome, not because it was tipping the scales with fake news (although it probably helped some there), but because it helped generate the bulk of the campaign’s $250 million in online fundraising.
The third item of reflection related to a recent meeting of the Education & Community Engagement group of the Suzuki Elders where, after some raucous round-table discussion, it became evident to me that my fellow Elders had little clue about blogs, websites, electronic bulletin boards, hyperlinks and electronic media in general. I was left musing how this meshed with our view of ourselves as personifying the traditional repositories of societal wisdom.
Over the past few decades modern writers such as Ray Kurzweil, Roy Ascott and others have elegantly pointed out to us that people across the planet are changing radically in body and mind. It’s not just a matter of the prosthetics of implants, artificial body-parts or surgical face-fixing, however much such technologies may seem a godsend to us Elders. It’s also matter of consciousness.
People in the 21st century have acquired new faculties and a new understanding of human presence. We have developed the ability to inhabit both the real and virtual worlds at one and the same time. We can now be both here and potentially everywhere else at the same time. This is giving [some of us] a new sense of self and new ways of thinking and perceiving that extend beyond what we have long believed to be our natural, genetic capabilities. In fact, authors like Ascott and Kurzweil go so far as to state that a debate about artificial and natural is no longer relevant in this context. We are increasingly interested in what can be made of ourselves, not what made us.
The sanctity of the individual may now be a defunct concept. Thanks to social media we are now each of us made up of a set of selves, so we are actually many individuals. Actually, the sense of the individual is giving way to the sense of the interface. We are now all interface – computer-mediated and computer-enhanced.
These new ways of conceptualising and perceiving reality involve more than simply some sort of quantitative change in how we see, think, and act in the world. They constitute a qualitative change in our being, a whole new faculty. Ascott has coined a term for this post-biological faculty – cyberception.
Ideas come from the interactions and negotiations of minds. We are looking at the augmentation of our capacity to think and conceptualise, and also to conceptualise more richly and to perceive more fully both inside and beyond our former limitations of seeing, thinking, and constructing. We now have a new term for the sum of these artificial systems of probing, communicating, remembering and processing the data, satellite links, remote sensing and telerobotics – the cybernet.
How is cyberception different from perception and conception? It’s a lot more than simply the extension of intelligence provided by silicon chips in our computers, smart-phones and robotics.
We are offered the opportunity of a new understanding of pattern, of seeing the whole instead of just the parts, of flowing with the rhythms of process and system. Until recently we have thought and seen things mainly in a linear manner, i.e. one thing after another, one thing hidden behind another, division of the world into categories and classes of things. Objects have had impermeable boundaries, surfaces have had impenetrable interiors. Simple vision ignored infinite complexities.
Cyberception means getting a sense of a whole, acquiring a bird’s-eye view of events, an astronaut’s view of the earth, a web-surfer’s view of whole systems. It’s brought about by high-speed feedback, access to massive databases, interaction with a multiplicity of minds, seeing with a thousand eyes, hearing the earth’s most silent whispers, reaching into the enormity of space, even to the edge of time.
If my Elder colleagues have read this far they will doubtless be asking “What does this bafflegab have to do with anything?” Well, everything!
We’ve seen how hand-held devices such as smart phones can influence political decisions at the highest levels even while the owners think they’re doing nothing more than polishing their own vanity by taking a selfie or clicking an innocent-looking link which sends $5 to somewhere or other. We’ve all become cybernauts of one kind or another.
Our choice now is to join the cybercommunity and participate at a meaningful level or let others do it for us. Which choice would best represent the ‘elder perspective‘ for us?