The topic we are investigating in June is “Mastering Our Digital; Recovering the Real World.” In a series of four articles and four follow-ups, our hope is to better grasp the nature of this barely charted course before us in order to maintain at least one firmly planted foot in the material dimension where we live and breathe.
We have a dilemma. Portable screens, social media, internet gaming, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and cable television have intruded to a point that we seem beyond the control of them and of ourselves. Even elections are compromised by dark forces bent on influencing who we are and what directions governments should take. It’s all pretty overwhelming, especially to skeptical generations which lived most of their lives without these machines. Though the dilemma may appear insoluble, it is not. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. After all, these ‘things’ are designed to make our lives better. The quandary is whether we should fully embrace, begrudgingly accept, or run away screaming as this New Frontier of Digital Life looms before us.
There is a wonderful story about President Eisenhower which circulated among my IBM friends back in the early 1980s. Ike had commissioned an early supercomputer for the Pentagon. When completed, an entire section of one subterranean floor was devoted to the machines. A master control station was set up behind impenetrable glass walls. According to legend, the President came to see his creation and asked to be alone with it for a minute. He typed out this question, “Is there a God?” and the computers all started flashing and whirring. After several minutes, a single card spits out of its’ slot toward Eisenhower. It said, “There is now.”
Bill Moyers queried renowned author, historian, and professor, Joseph Campbell during a 1988 PBS documentary called “The Power of Myth.” concerning computers and the role they might play in the future. Campbell looked over at his computer screen and said: “To me, that machine is almost alive. I could mythologize that damn thing.” but went on to say, “The first time anybody made a tool, I mean, taking a stone and chipping it so that you can handle it, that’s the beginning of a machine. It’s turning outer nature into your service. But then there comes a time when it begins to dictate to you.” It seems that Joseph Campbell had already foreseen thirty years ago what might happen in a computer age. But there is no reason to rage against the machine. With the Eisenhower story and Campbell’s warning in mind, what we must take charge of is the extent to which we allow the digital world to dictate our daily life.
Trying to find a good perspective of the digital era involves looking at some of the negative and positive aspects of its landscape as we experience it today. This is an early stage of technological development really. We have a better chance to guide and adapt now than if we wait very much longer. I am reminded of the popular modern myth “Game of Thrones” which just finished its’ final season on HBO. Despite a chorus of voices that warned “Winter is coming” everyone procrastinated. Old ways of dealing with conflicts, security, and enemy threat persisted even when the almost invulnerable White Walkers were in plain sight and civilization seemed doomed. Myths like this one have the power of validating or maintaining a society while providing a path forward (as Campbell tells us). Now is the time for action as we master our digital and recover the real world.
This is the direction we will take over the next four weeks together. Hopefully, our eyes will be opened a bit and we will be able to better navigate the seas ahead without too much upheaval. Follow the content link on each of the ‘concerns and celebrations’ below as you experience one of the many wonders of the digital age. Instant information.
Four Areas of Concern
There are plenty of areas in which we can focus our concerns about modern digital life. These are four which stand out as ones deserving of our attention:
- Digital Addiction/Electronic Screen Syndrome
- Personal Privacy and Security/Real Stranger Danger
- Global Cyber Crime/Hacking our Future
- Physical and Mental Health/Soft Brains and Bodies
Four Areas of Celebration
It’s a small world after all. Our digital world has connected us in ways we could have never imagined. People who are not like ‘us’ become potential friends as we forge into this new frontier. Here are four of many reasons to celebrate our screens.