Surviving the net

Sunday Life
Surviving the Net
Sunday, September 14, 2008

Never before in the history of man has there been so much information available. The Internet, as we all know is host to an ever-growing body of data that can be accessed by anyone. It is said that the growth of websites, blogs and the like are actually exponential. With the advent of the web now within reach even with one’s cellphone, iPod or PDA, the temptation to browse, surf or, more accurately, to swim and drown in the ocean of information, most of it useless or at least, non-vital, is both irresistible and inevitable.

I confess that I spend an inordinate amount of time on the web. I often find myself using the Internet for hours on end. With browsers that carry features like Stumble Upon which are programmed to take you to “random” pages that you will most likely enjoy, the Internet has glued me to my chair and computer screen for long periods, sorting through pages upon pages that grab my interest.

Sometimes I wonder whether what is transpiring here is still man’s indulgence of an insatiable quest for knowledge, or an increasingly unquenchable thirst for titillation and amusement.

When I was in high school, before the advent of personal computers and the worldwide web, I remember a teacher assigning us to read an essay that dissected the difference between what it called “books of wisdom” against what it pejoratively called “books of the hour.” It was a dig at people who spent too much time reading trivial things like comic books, magazines and other types of pop, contemporary reading instead of the literary classics. I can imagine how disturbed the writer must have been at the proliferation of what was to him, mindless, shallow reading material that had exploded onto the scene during the golden age of printing in the early 20th century. Such works, undoubtedly brought about by the democratization of access to printing by just about anyone, must have irked the writer to comment and make the distinction between proven works of great value and anything newly printed and passed on as “literature.”

He lived in a much slower world, for sure. He simply had no inkling whatsoever that things would get progressively worse in so short a time.

But while one may find it curious or even laugh at the mindset that would feel the need to point out the distinction between “books of knowledge” and “books of the hour,” it is actually worth pondering. The point really is how and with what we feed our minds.

While an active, inquisitive mind is better than a dull and slow one, there is something to worry about when the mind is constantly racing, agitated, titillated, excited — as what seems to be happening to a lot of people today. The world is exploding with so much information that it drives many brilliant minds to explode as well. We have become treasure troves of information but not necessarily of knowledge and wisdom.

We have an armada of statistics, data and information at the snap of our fingers but not the time nor even the inclination to process them and turn them into true and useful insights. We may know the breaking news, sports scores, surveys, the latest downturns of the markets, the weather, etc.; but do not have the time nor the ability to analyze and convert all of this into knowledge that can help us make better sense of our world and of ourselves. Why? Because, well, there is simply more new information coming all the time that needs to be digested. And we hardly digest it. Who has the time? In fact, we may all be suffering from info-indigestion.

The irony is that even as the Internet has opened up most of the world’s data banks for everyone’s use, this has not necessarily created a better-informed and awakened citizenry who can really think things through with wisdom and discernment. Instead, we are a society enamored with and addicted to trivia. You would think that with the classics like the complete works of Shakespeare, Nietzsche or Rumi available for free on the Net, there would be a beeline heading for them. Instead, the kids who are supposed to read these works head for their summaries. And the Internet hits are most probably directed towards the latest videos on YouTube, or gossip about the latest star to fall in Hollywood.

This is not surprising since the ways of the world and the ways of the truly awakened have historically been at odds. I believe they are more so now. Consider that the learning and acquisition of wisdom usually happens at a much slower pace — it can take months, years, or even lifetimes to achieve — while accessing trivia on the Internet is only a few instantaneous clicks away.

Media, including the Internet, can be a noisy place where millions of pages or portals or URLs are shouting for our time and attention, seducing us to be passive consumers of other people’s thoughts, feelings and products. And our consumption of media and the Net makes us mindless consumers of data mostly for the sake of amusement. In fact, we may even be already addicted to the onslaught of electronic data we get every day. Many of us can’t let a day or two pass without surfing the Net. It’s as if the web has become our own mind and exploring it has taken the place of exploring the self. The Zen question — “Are you in control of your mind, or is your mind controlling you?’ — is more relevant than ever.

On the other hand, the cultivation of a mind that knows itself, or an awakened mind, demands that our thinking become uncluttered, spacious, peaceful and unperturbed by the goings-on in the world. The awakened mind is not really an informed mind but an open one. It is not constantly thinking but is, in fact, many times devoid of opinion. It is open to understanding the world as it is, and does not force anything to fit into a preconceived concept. I call the awakened mind a “Teflon” mind because nothing sticks to it permanently. It always can be wiped clean and therefore has a fresh view of life.

So how can an awakened mind reconcile living in today’s world where what we know is constantly updated and upgraded even before we have even come to grips with it? I think the reflective mind may be in a better position to use all this information without being an addicted consumer. Why? Because it does not feel the need to cling to the opinions and knowledge it constantly receives. It is always open to the new, the useful and the truthful.

The awakened mind may be the best mindset to have in this day and age. If it is truly awakened, it can distance itself and even drop out of all the noise when it feels that its spaciousness and equanimity are being assaulted. It can even turn off the computer if it wishes… It is probably the best way to control the Internet, in fact. Otherwise, it can end up controlling you.

* * *

On Sept. 24, my exhibit entitled ‘SKIN: a photo exhibit by Jim Paredes in black and white and red’ will open to the public at the Renaissance Gallery at the Megamall. It will run till Oct. 2, 2008. It is an exhibit of artful nudes taken through the years. Please do come and appreciate. This exhibit is sponsored by Panasonic Philippines. For some of the pics, i used the Lumix DMC-L1, a great camera.

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