Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is Wireless Just a Metaphor?

There are so many things we tend to take for granted. For me, sitting with my laptop in the living room and transferring files or accessing my desktop, or going online through a wireless network is so routine that I seldom consider what it entails.

Energy is flowing through what appears to be empty space.

What scientific evidence do we have that it's happening? Well, obviously if the files open or the web page loads, we know that wireless technology is real.

But what about or own technology? Neuroscience has shown that electrical energy actually moves through the brain as we think.

In fact, the stimulation of such energy can occur in surprising ways. There is a phenomenon known as "mirror neurons" that fire not by direct stimuli, but rather just by observation. The Fast Company blog describes the findings of Dr. Marco Iacoboni at the Brain Research Center at UCLA who believes that we are actually "wired for storytelling."

His research is based being able to measure the differences in mirror neuron activity when individuals were shown images or told stories by people with whom they empathized or identified; the greater the sense of connection the higher the mirror neuron activity.

This is fascinating on many levels, not the least of which is that it is literally a tangible measure of a quality we might term "emotion" in the brain.

In some personal matters I had occasion to connect with an individual in a professional setting, but one which was highly charged with emotional energy—and to feel our connection we held hands. Then I moved back across the room, and was asked whether I still felt the connection, and I joked, "I don't really believe in wireless."

But actually I do, and you probably do too.

How many times have had the phone ring just as you "happened to" think about who called?

Where this leads me is to the issue of what science considers "real" -- like mirror neurons – and what it considers irrelevant do to an apparent absence of evidence.

While we may certainly believe in wireless with respect to our laptops, we may not readily admit to such a belief with respect to our own technology – our minds and our bodies.

But the more we connect with either – through meditation, body work or some other "New Age" (and apparently unscientific) method – we can determine the reality directly based on our own concrete experience.

Do you miss someone who died or you no longer have contact with?

Have you ever identified that feeling in your body?

Is it any less real to you than your wireless connection to the Internet?

What about compassion, for others or for yourself?

Do you experience it when you meet certain people, or even when you see a posting on Twitter or Facebook? Do you sense it inside yourself, can you sometimes feel yourself shutting it off, or denying its reality in order to numb yourself to a painful reaction?

In a recent blog entry I wrote about Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation by Douglas Rushkoff as a particularly powerful description of why social media is growing as a response to the pursuit of profit at the cost of humanity. ("A shrill condemnation of how corporate culture has disconnected human beings from each other.")

But there is an undeniable movement toward reconnection—from the election of Barack Obama to the growth in social technologies—more and more people are accepting the reality of how important the energy of love and compassion is – and its reality as a physical, psychological and real force of nature.

One might speculate as I have that in some ways the Internet is an evolutionary nervous system in its ability to transmit this energy (wirelessly?).

But as many have noted, the key to conducting the energy of compassion, love or any emotion is belief. In another blog I mentioned a book by biologist Bruce Lipton, actually titled the Biology of Belief. (Its new subtitle is "Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles")

Such a concept and much of Lipton's work is enough to give many traditional scientists heartburn.

What about you?

Can you make the connection between the undeniable reality of wireless energy that performs in our computer technology to the presence of a different flavor of energy (organic but no less real) that permeates our own being?

To me the recent advancements in neuroscience, psychology and quantum physics easily let me accept it intellectually—which can be the first step. But in my own experience, through meditation and sensation, I am finally beginning to know it, profoundly in my depth.

Unfortunately there is no real manual to troubleshoot our own technology – or perhaps there are too many conflicting manuals – from medical textbooks to religious works.

And so there are also no clear answers. But just as my web page loads, and my laptop's inner state is changed, so too, if I connect with the cells, tissues, organs and senses within me, I can sometimes feel and observe my own state changing.

Who performs the observation? That's a tough call. But the reality of wireless emotion and thought is no longer open to question, at least for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Social Media: The New Humanism?

This morning I briefly insinuated myself into a Twitter discussion between Marsha Collier and Chris Brogan, co-author with Julien Smith of the best seller about social media, "Trust Agents."

The topic was a story about a lame video posted on YouTube to address concerns by many irate users on social sites about the messaging shortcomings of AT&T's network for the iPhone.

The video featured a geek called "Seth the Blogger" (not to be confused with Joe the Plumber) using charts and graphs to explain the technical problems AT&T faces in trying to implement messaging properly for the iPhone.

Brogan and Collier discussed how ineffective this approach is at a time of social media, and Collier suggested actually responding substantively to issues raised on the social sites and demonstrating that the company is really listening as a more viable response.

Brogan, an evangelist for social media, has written often about how suspicious people are of corporations and institutions, so that the more influential people on the web, in social media, are dubbed "Trust Agents". They come by this status not because they are CEO's or spokespeople but because their actions, over time, have demonstrated competence, credibility and compassion in terms of sharing information and building relationships with others (through blogs and "tweets" and so on).

More recently Brogan recommended "Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back" by Douglas Rushkoff as a particularly powerful description of why social media is growing as a response to the pursuit of profit at the cost of humanity. ("A shrill condemnation of how corporate culture has disconnected human beings from each other.")

If you watched President Obama's speech on health care last night, perhaps you were particularly struck, as I was, by his description of frank testimony by an executive for a health insurance company in which he admitted that depriving people of coverage was a policy in line with what Wall Street demanded for the sake of shareholders, in spite of the fact that people were dying and suffering.

This is another blatant example of the corporate trend in customer "disservice" that is perhaps exemplified by the inability in many cases to call a company on the phone and talk to a human, and if one does, the human is reading a script and sounds like a robot.

To me, the growth of social media is, as Brogan and Collier also point out, a movement in opposition to this trend, to reimpose real and tangible human values over those of abstractions like profit and financial gain.

Wikipedia defines "Humanism" as "a perspective common to a wide range of ethical stances that attaches importance to human dignity, concerns, and capabilities, particularly rationality. Although the word has many senses, its meaning comes into focus when contrasted to the supernatural or to appeals to authority."

In my lifetime the distrust of authority has grown from a soft whisper to a bellowing roar as we have seen the growth of multi-national corporations and the pervasive power of influence in Washington.

While many might still scoff at Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social sites, the fact is that their rapid growth speaks to the need for people to locate and connect with similar sensibilities both for their own nourishment and sanity, and also to counteract the megalithic powers that threaten to snuff out humanistic values.

When United Airlines broke a musician's guitar and ignored him, his video on YouTube went viral, and suddenly he had power as an individual and the company had to take note and respond.

In this way the democratic aspect of social media is in complete harmony with American values of fairness and individual responsibility and autonomy.

Corporations and governments are certainly not all or intrinsically bad; many of our blessings would not exist without them. But we must not lose sight of the fact that these institutions are frequently run at cross purposes to the needs of many of our citizens.

There was a time when money represented the value inherent in tangible labor, goods or services. Now it has become a blip on a computer screen and an abstraction so that the recent prosperity came at the expense of huge debts amassed by financial wizards with no direct relationship to actual labor, goods or services. Instead financial instruments which leveraged debt at ratios as high as 40:1 on the dollar have made a few wealthy and many destitute.

Some like the Dalai Lama have suggested that this economic crisis was a wake-up call for humanity to reassess its most basic values.

And Social media is in many ways a natural response to these inequities, both in terms of the need for anyone and everyone to be heard and listened to, and also to reclaim the disproportionate power of institutions that abuse their might.

We have seen even more dramatic evidence of the power of social media to inspire and motivate disenfranchised people in places like Iran. The fact is that human needs trump abstractions like a balance sheet, and will be recognized, one way or another. It has become a global phenomenon.

Of course some people will use their own concept of humanism to assert their views over others, but what social media has shown (and Brogan's term is "social capital") is that people inherently recognize truth and decency over time, so that those with influence on the Internet generally earn it.

Human ingenuity has given birth to a new global nervous system, the Internet, through which humanity may be coming to its senses--with social media leading the way to a new recognition and reevaluation of priorities--so that people and decency matter more than power and greed, as we connect with one another in networks of community and renewed understanding.

The alternative is not pretty.