HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)
Time was, and it wasn’t too long ago, when hardly anyone cared about what was going on in places outside their own city or country. World events were the concern of world leaders and policymakers and the few souls who thrived on that kind of stuff. Now, with media and social networking, what is happening elsewhere in the world may as well be happening in one’s neighborhood. A natural disaster in Japan, a big war in Afghanistan, unrest in Tunisia, a scandal in New York, and a new pop craze in a country whose language and culture we hardly know anything about becomes fodder for everyone’s amusement or worry.
We have all become interconnected. Worlds, peoples, cultures, concerns crisscross geographical boundaries and rush into our laptops, cellphones and other digital devices and take a hold of our consciousness. The digital world is changing everything.
Almost everything can be converted into bytes and its digital form is practically within reach. The past 20 years have seen a transformation in communication never before witnessed in the history of man.
The world has become flat, says New York Times writer Tom Friedman. What he means is that it almost does not matter where one lives — New York, New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Manila or Seoul. Everything is within reach. Geography has lost meaning in many ways. A Filipino call center agent is servicing the needs of someone in Minnesota. A Russian geek is making websites for clients in Scotland. The economic crash in Greece is sending shivers to the Nikkei in Tokyo.
Where our ancestors looked up to the sun and moon and the stars to help them navigate their journeys, or arrange their activities throughout the year, we will soon have a fixture to assist us in living our digital lives: We will have the Cloud.
Apple, Google and other companies are making it possible for everyone to upload their whole digital library of songs, photos, essays — anything that can be digitized— into what they call the Cloud which will make them accessible to all the devices you own in an instant. In effect, we will no longer need memory discs in our computers since everything will be externally filed and kept somewhere.
And where is the Cloud exactly? It really does not matter where it is. It could be in Timbuktu or Kazakhstan and it would not make a difference. What is significant is the meaning of the Cloud on different levels. One may argue that our memories, and in a big way, our consciousness, are now “non-local.” We need not carry them physically.
This has ontological implications, in terms of how we see ourselves. While I use the Cloud as a metaphor, it seems to suggest that the view of consciousness as something trapped in synapses inside the brain that we carry in our body is being challenged. In many philosophical, spiritual circles, some argue that consciousness is not something that is inside us which science can measure but something intangible that pervades everything. Our brains, in effect, merely make it possible to detect and use it. Our brains are conduits. As the new Cloud computers will not need applications and will automatically access Google upon power up, we are the conduits of Big Consciousness tuning in to the reality around us.
Modernity opens all aspects of our lives to new ways of experiencing the world and ourselves. Think of governments, religions, educational curricula, cultures as operating systems. Some work well and serve the needs of its constituents and are easily upgradeable while others are less so. Some may need to be junked altogether.
The leaderships of the Arab states have seen the rise of “Facebook rebellions,” which their governments and traditional cultures were just not prepared for. In a recent speech, Syrian strongman Bashar-Al Assad grudgingly (albeit belatedly) acknowledged the phenomenon of the “electronic army”that the youth had formed to challenge his rule.
The religious rulers of almost all sects also feel the threat. Modernity is a tidal wave that they must either resist or ride. While many religious argue that tradition, dogma, and the like are values we need in a changing world, I realize that much of the holding on to ancient rituals, mindsets and thinking comes from the fear of the new.
I am not an atheist. I agree with all religions that there is a God and He/She/It is unchanging and eternal. What I hope many will wake up to is that it is our concept of God that must be upgraded to catch up with the dynamic one that continues to reveal His/Her/ Itself in ways we cannot immediately anticipate or fathom. God is too big to be trapped in the past centuries. To dig in and live in a literalist bunker is to become irrelevant and iconoclastic. Metaphors must change. There must be creative, perceptive ways to see in the God here and now, in His/ Her/Its modern glory and manifestation.
The sex scandal involving US Congressman Anthony Weiner would not have been such a sensation if it had not involved the novelty of new media. Twitter and Facebook are changing the ways we relate to each other. If cyberspace has become part of our nervous system, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that it will influence even our sexual behavior. More than at anytime, pornography is within reach of practically everyone. Chat with or without video as a tool of communication opens new ways of indulging in something as primal as sex. If we can enjoy sports, politics and entertainment digitally or cyber-wise, why not sex?
Alas, there is no escaping modernity. Whether that is good or bad is not clear. Let it be said that despite its blessings, our modern lives can seem like they are plagued with all the ‘modern inconveniences’ that can delude us from seeing what is real and what is not. Do we really need an ‘upgrade’ of gadgets/computers every few months? How much change can people take, and at what pace? We have both digital and non-digital lives that have their own separate and shared realities.
The world as we know it today can be confusing. We are poked, texted, tweeted, e-mailed, sexted, shouted at, dialed and called unlike any generation that has ever existed. We have real friends with unreal body parts like Bluetooth ear gadgets, headsets, silicon, etc. By definition, they are cyborgs — part human, part machine.
Despite all these new ways that we can interact as humans, it is not surprising that there still exists the alienation that many feel in their lives, that won’t go away. It is the human condition which is always yearning for something that is not there and will never be, that is to blame. This is caused by the refusal to be present to the here and now, as if happiness and contentment will always be found somewhere else, like modernity, for its own sake.
And I’m quite sure there won’t be an app for that for a long while.