Widening Circles of the Twitter-Verse
Last month there were over a billion messages sent in the twitter-verse. What does this mean for a potential wave of mass enlightenment and values-led citizenship? Whilst most of those billions of tweets and blog posts could logically be assumed…
Last month there were over a billion messages sent in the twitter-verse. What does this mean for a potential wave of mass enlightenment and values-led citizenship?
Whilst most of those billions of tweets and blog posts could logically be assumed to be fairly inane chatter, simple the sheer number of digitally-enabled connections seems to be re-wiring the world in a way that celebrates the grassroots over the government; the hoi polloi over the politicians; brothers and sisters over the brands. Even though companies (including the much-feted and heavily VC backed Twitter) are falling over themselves to make money from this web of daily snippets and quotidian haiku – doing what all dominant forces attempt to do with any new media form that enters the public realm (which is shove adverts down it) – the emerging phenomenon does have the potential to move the masses towards a self-recognized inter-dependant togetherness.
It is therefore conceivable that (with some smart content and designed-to-fit experiences), social media platforms like Twitter could help individuals bring to life a concrete form of what the Jains call ‘Parasparopagraho Jivanam‘ – the mutual assistance and support that beings (‘souls’ to be more precise) provide without limitation when feeling utterly connect to each other – but on a scale never seen before. This Jainist motto of ecological and social harmony echoes the work of people like eco-psychologist Joanna Macy, who runs workshops encouraging people to widen their consciousness to encompass the feelings of people, species and natural objects that appear to be different to them. In doing so they hope that people will sense their interconnected nature more acutely and more sincerely – and therefore behave different in everyday life because of it. So can technology help us all become Jain-like – helping us give of ourselves freely with a profound commitment to universal reciprocity?
Even the great physicist Einstein (trained as he was in the kind of objective science that has hooked our entire culture on a diet of subject-object dualism) saw that this work of widening our circles of understanding to The Others – just like the heros must do in the TV show Lost – is the greatest test of humanity (and key if we want to thrive). It is so unbelievably challenging because of a species-wide, deeply engrained narcissism – enshrined by Rene Descartes in his infamous ‘Cogito’ – where we utterly obsess on the mistaken belief that our ego is in fact our entire self, and that there is therefore a ‘me’ that is entirely different and separate to the you / it that I can see in front of me. Einstein’s writings on this are too good not to repeat:
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us – universe -, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
I firmly believe in the potential for the web to help bring about a new stage of conscious evolution that helps us in this task – one that mimics some of the joys of socialism, but is generated from within. I believe in it so much so that I have committed my life to this project. I believe we can harness technology (and media platforms such as film and TV) to encourage a voluntary and spontaneous outburst of moral and spiritual imagination which crucially avoids the pitfalls of indoctrination and repression, and above all the horrors of the Gulag, so seemingly inevitable with Communism. But to realize this extra-ordinary potential there are two major questions to be answered:
1) Will Twitter, Facebook and their ilk, funded (and thus held spiritual hostage to a large degree) by the wolverine Venture Capitalists of Silicon Alley and Valley, be forced to limit the social utility / spiritual unity of their technologies because they need to return profit to their masters in the form of advertising revenues or merchandise sales? The word from the Twitter 2.0 conference I attended, where the CTO of Twitter spoke about such maters, is that they are about to launch their advertising model but “will never do anything bad”. Yet history has shown us that once we make a free – and freely available – communication channel the slave of consumerist advertising, it will always be degraded in function and feeling. We have yet to see just by how much…
2) The second big question is for the content makers. How will the wonderful and the wise the world over (critically the sage-next-door as much as the self-styled guru) harness these emerging media forms and communication behaviours to set off ripple upon ripple of raised consciousness? Today, most of the work in the wisdom 2.0 field tends sadly to be old-fashioned one-way broadcasts from the guru’s to their acolytes (albeit with a few web 2.0 bells and whistles) – even the brilliant Charter for Compassion (TED & Karen Armstrong) or the Chopras’ Intent.com – rather than ideas that harness the sublime interconnectivity of new media to unprecedented degrees. So the promise of wisdom 2.0 (or rather I hope wisdom 3.0 – when semantic connectivity and serendipity engines are added into the mix) lies dormant – though evidence would suggest that the field is replete with Generation X-ers (and Baby Boomers) ready to innovate. Now it is up to these conscious visionaries to work out how to foster the transformation of millions of hearts and minds towards ‘enlightenment’ in brilliant new ways – and attract the funds from some of those self-same VCs to do it. Now that the limits of the workshop, the yoga class and even Tony Robbins and Mega-Church size auditoriums have been lifted by social technology – the sky really is the limit.
Let’s finish with that poet of poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, whose words set off the first ripple in this thread:
I live my life in widening circles
Which spread out over all things.
I may not achieve the last one
But I commit to it entirely
I circle around God, around the age-old tower
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
And yet still I don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm or an elemental song?