Implications of Computers and Cyberspace on Our Collective Reality

Written by Barry Beck

Any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.

- Arthur C. Clarke

Computers and the Internet are increasingly the central nervous system of our society and the heart of our world’s information, technology, commerce, culture, art and entertainment. In a sense, the Internet is becoming our planet’s collective mind in the form of co-mingled bits.

It is possible to compare the importance of computer literacy with development of language, conventional literacy (the alphabet, writing) and the printing press on the human mind, memory, attention and paranormal abilities. People, as a result of these earlier developments, have gained some aptitudes and lost others. In pre-history and among many so-called primitive tribes today, people were able to learn and remember in ways we no longer needed after things were written down. Long texts such as the Bible, mythologies, epics and genealogies were and are remembered very accurately by non-literate cultures in ways we could not now and do not need to remember. Today many decry the shortened attention span and lessened spelling, reading and mathematics skills of young people, yet that younger generation is often more attuned to computers and fast moving visual data than their older counterparts. So might this not just be another step in our evolution? Might we not (while losing some faculties of the mind which the computer can track as pen and paper do for us now) be releasing more potent parts of the mind, perhaps of a right-brained, intuitional or psychic nature?

A definition of cyberspace can be human minds combined with and expanded by the environment of computer hardware, software, data and networks. (The original use of the term was in a science fiction novel by William Gibson called Neuromancer, which appeared in 1984. Broadly speaking, cyberspace refers to the abstract space occupied by electronic information.) Does this not allow for an extension of the human mind and permit it to search out and find others of like mind (through Internet searches and web sites for instance)?

On the downside, some have argued that the printing press had the most influence on mankind because it facilitated the distribution of information and thereby passed on knowledge from generation to generation easily. Oral histories and story telling have become rare artforms. With the advent of the computer, the Internet and virtual reality, we can only speculate on the new abilities mankind will gain and those that will be lost. Forms of communications such as e-mail may become so widespread, that we may lose the ability and desire to pen beautiful prose in letters of our own handwriting or express ourselves face to face. Will the almost instantaneous distribution of information cause people to react rather than reflect on events and problems? And if we can create a true virtual reality of our own, would it become so real our mind would free itself of its physicality?

Contrast cyberspace and virtual reality with other realities and other realms of existence such as dreams, the space-time anomalies of quantum physics and relativity, Tibetan concepts of after and between lives, mythological and archetypal representations. Some would argue these have as valid a claim on the word ‘reality’ as does our three-dimensional physical world in that the world we are presently experiencing as well as the above perceptions as well as cyberspace, we are projections of who we are at this moment. We create our own reality in all these realms of existence. On the Internet, some people even project themselves as a different person. Time and space are artificial constructs in all realities. We form our experience though our thoughts, feelings, expectations and focus. We are all cooperating to form this (3-D) reality from our collective non-physical sources. We are multi-dimensional personalities connected to a larger whole. Therefore, might not cyberspace as an extension of the human mind have a valid claim on the term ‘reality’?

Money, records, services are represented as binary digits on magnetized metal disk. A computer only recognizes and understands two things: the digits ‘0’ and ‘1’ (zero and one) in the form of impulses on charged metal. All our data, most information in our society, most of our money exists as electrical signals on disk or tape; magnetic orientations or impulses on ferromagnetic oxide coated metal (silicon chips) representing binary digits (only zero and one). So perhaps binary digits can be seen as a basic code or symbol such as an ancient alphabet letter or DNA.

Many mystical traditions say that all answers to life and all information (personal or universal) can be learned by contemplating a symbol or code (anything: a cloud, rainbow, flower, navel, river, lotus, mandala, another person’s face, or the letter of an alphabet) if you stay with it long enough and peel away layer after layer. There is also a tradition that different letters of ancient alphabets (Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek, Runes, Hieroglyphics) have enormous meaning beneath the immediate written surface. These meanings can only be discovered symbolically and metaphorically and not through a logical, linear use of language. For example, in Hebrew mystical tradition, such as the Kaballa, it is believed the entire Bible can be understood and recreated from the very first letter if you knew how to understand all beneath the symbol. If you cannot, it can be understood from the first word. If you’re still missing the meaning, then the first sentence, paragraph, chapter (or whole book, if you’re really slow).

We now have access to all the information and knowledge in the world contained in universities, libraries, books, literature, government agencies, museums, research, newspapers, magazines. Also information for research, business, travel, education, health, and shopping.

Soon everyone may have their own web site; in effect a resume where they can introduce themselves to the world. One no longer needs a printing press or broadcast tower to become a media mogul. More than any other media before, the Internet is controlled by its audience; a kind of true anarchy exists on the Net. And the idea of handicapped people being freed by the Web (floating world - Ethernet) is something that may be closer.



by Barry Beck

Copyright © 1992 Barry Beck. All Rights Reserved.

Not to be reprinted without the permission of the author




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