- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
According to Donald Dulchinos, the real action on the Internet isn't in the realm of commerce. It is, plain and simple, in the realm of religion. But not exactly that old-time religion. This book is about the spiritual impact of our increasing ability to communicate quickly and with enhanced evolution. It's about our search for meaning, our hunger for a glimpse at humanity's future development in which "frighteningly or excitingly,"the trend is clearly toward increasing integration of telecommunications and ...
According to Donald Dulchinos, the real action on the Internet isn't in the realm of commerce. It is, plain and simple, in the realm of religion. But not exactly that old-time religion. This book is about the spiritual impact of our increasing ability to communicate quickly and with enhanced evolution. It's about our search for meaning, our hunger for a glimpse at humanity's future development in which "frighteningly or excitingly,"the trend is clearly toward increasing integration of telecommunications and information technology with the body itself. Electronic prosthetics, direct neural implants, and the brain's control of electronic and mechanical limbs move the boundary that used to exist between human and machine to some undefined frontier inside our bodies, our brains, and, perhaps, our minds.
"And, if the electronics inside my brain connect directly with the electronics inside your brain, how is it meaningful to speak as though we are not part of one, larger entity?" Dulchinos writes. Another way of saying this might be that everything that rises must converge. Or, we are all part of God. Or, we are all moving toward living in the field, sharing Group Mind.
Dulchinos traces ideas of evolution, anthropology, biology, and theology, all of which point toward a betterment, a unity, and argues cogently that these ideas find their embodiment in the technology of the World Wide Web. Neurosphere or God or Group Mind, call it what you will, is about technology and the mechanics of unity.
Although other books on new technology and new consciousness touch on many of the ideas in Neurosphere, none do so in quite such a straightforward, logical way. Dulchinos has a way of telling personal stories that make the technical accessible to the dreamer, the spiritual comprehensible to the skeptic, and the future of body technology less fear-inducing to everyone.
"In Harmony, great efforts will be made to bring together the devotees of extremely rare manias. For each of them the meeting will be a pilgrimage as sacred as the journey to Mecca is for Moslems."
When looking for signs of global change, it's always best to begin locally, within your own community. My community, these days, is not so much the town in which I live, but a shared virtual space on the Internet called the Well. How did this come to be?
The phenomenon of computer-mediated communication began years ago with ARPAnet, later called the Internet. This computer network was invented by the U.S. Defense Department's brightest minds to preserve telecommunication capabilities in the event of a catastrophic nuclear war. Although the network was created for that purpose, however, its spare capacity was quickly adopted by scientists who wanted to share their research, and then their hobbies.
As the civilian world became aware of the potential of data-communication technology, businesses began to exploit this potential by creating electronic "spaces" where individuals could meet and talk. The mega-corporation now called AOL Time Warner started from this humble premise, and a number of scattered virtual communities slowly grew around this and several other online services. Among the communities drawn to this new medium were a bunch of ex-hippies led by Stewart Brand, editor of the Last Whole Earth Catalog. Born of an experiment by Brand and the staff of Whole Earth Review (the magazine spawned by the Last Whole Earth Catalog), the Well was an online computer service dedicated exclusively to discussion of various topics—no graphics, no video games, no sports scores, just conversations spread out over time. The Well participants' slogan was simple: "What it is is up to us."
GETTING IN THE WELL
I was a subscriber to the Well long before the advent of the World Wide Web. I found great enjoyment in this activity, joining in conversations on topics important to me that I couldn't share with my everyday friends and acquaintances—comparative religion and psychology on the intellectual side, basketball on the mundane side, and telecommunication and computer technology for my professional interests. Indeed, it was the latter that really justified in my mind the $15-$20 a month I spent in those pre-Internet days to dip into the Well.
When my wife and I moved to Boulder, Colorado in the spring of 1994, we looked for a discussion area—or "conference" in Well parlance—that talked about life in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region in general. After several months of settling in, new-job angst, and some exploration, a group of Colorado residents (including myself) and other Well subscribers with interests in the Rocky Mountains started a new conference on the Well called Rockies. The Rockies shared an interest in the romance of the cowboys and Indians and exchanged information and opinions on various regional topics and outdoor activities such as skiing.
We were all pleased and a little surprised at how quickly a little community developed. One thing group members had in common right from the beginning, besides a willingness to use a new technology, was a great deal of satisfaction with and pride in the quality of life available to them in Colorado. As a new arrival, I was especially vocal, as only the recently converted can be. I should add that my wife never did and never has joined the Well. She met some Well people when we lived in Washington who fit the "computer nerd" stereotype a little too well (and had bad table manners), and she decided that she just wasn't interested.
In fact, in its early years, computer conferencing, even about nontechnical topics, was dominated by men because it took a determined technical professional to master the technology. The Well was unique in its somewhat larger minority of women, but even there, women felt compelled to carve out a private, women-only space to preserve the dynamics of feminine interaction.
The Rockies group started to attract new participants from different parts of the country with family ties to the region or to outdoors interests. What startled many of us was how we began to discover different links between individuals. As personalities established themselves in the group, people inevitably started talking about things they had in common in their personal lives. A death in the family of one was a cause for mourning for all.
People often tell me they don't understand how I can form a personal relationship with someone I've never really met. This is, in many ways, the fundamental premise of this book. In the virtual world of the Well, we actually meet at a level that is, in many ways, more essential to who we are than the small talk that often passes for friendship in the "real" world. Because all subscribers pay for their time online, they tend to focus more clearly on what is really important to them. But another element of the Well serves to cement these relationships in a broader way—F2Fs, or face-to-face meetings.
F2Fs became popular in the San Francisco Bay area where many original Well members lived (and still do live). Originally centered around activities like monthly gatherings at Chinese restaurants or outings to baseball games, these activities served to bring people together in the flesh. Not surprisingly, some of these online friendships turned into intimate relationships and even marriages.
Computer-mediated communication has a unique characteristic that gives it a unique value. It allows individuals to communicate, yet remain unknown, at least in some respects. This can be good or bad. Several Well participants are wheelchair-bound or otherwise so disabled that getting around town is hard work for them. The Well and forums like it give them a meaningful way to get "out." Others who have a hard time in social situations because they are, or believe themselves to be, unattractive physically, or because they are not verbally agile and are perceived, at best, as quiet or, at worst, as dull and boring, have found some protection in virtual space. Virtual spaces level the playing field, if you will, so these individuals can participate in ways they might otherwise find difficult.
On the Well, people get to know each other by posting the thoughts and feelings most important to them. And some, ultimately, form relationships. Despite the "bad rep" that the Internet has acquired as a place of anonymous "cyber sex" (which amounts to little more than phone sex transposed to a different medium), it has also been the starting place of many significant relationships.
I watched one adulterous relationship develop in our group. Rather than take offense, however, the group sided with the woman leaving her husband, celebrating the new couple as one of their own. The husband tried to stalk his wayward wife online, but eventually gave up. In the "real world," we might see this as just a little bit tawdry and even unbalanced. As I watched this online dynamic, however, I was struck by the notion that the electronic connections that had been formed were more powerful, and somehow deeper, than ordinary friendships. The woman, after all, opted for her virtual partner over her husband.
A NEW KIND OF COMMUNITY
Ever since computers were called electronic "brains," it was inevitable that people would start to theorize about their effects on the nature of humanity. Howard Rheingold, a technology writer and early Well enthusiast, wrote a book called Tools for Thought, a phrase taken from J.C.R. Licklider, a researcher and professor at MIT. Licklider was among the first to see computers as more than efficient number-crunching automatons and analyze them as devices that could help individuals think and perform more efficiently. In Rheingold's view, the computer could also serve as a more effective tool of communication than any experienced so far. Rheingold went on to write a book called Virtual Communities, whose point of departure was his experience on, not so coincidentally, the Well.
I have struggled to define how the community Rheingold foretold has become part of my thoughts, not just on a conscious, but on a subconscious, level. The closest I have come to articulating this is to call my friends on the Well "a community that lives in the back of my mind." Their comings and goings and achievements and disappointments are tracked over time just as other people track their families and close friends. In some ways, because of the everyday nature of the medium, this community has become even closer to me than my "real world" communities. I'm part of it, as it is part of me.
The communal characteristics of the Well first became apparent to me while living in Washington, D.C. The first few meetings of Well habitués that I experienced were characterized by the immediate development of deep conversations that so swiftly bypassed small talk that it amazed me, living as I did in a city where small talk is a prerequisite of day-to-day political life. It was here that I observed an eye-opening incident. I watched as a certain cross section of the Well that had begun to leverage their online experiences to further their careers as journalists, lawyers, and financial analysts specializing in the Internet phenomena were galvanized into concerted action.
Not long after the World Wide Web opened the Internet to the average, nontechnical user, we started to hear the first horror stories of people being swindled and kids being exposed to pornography on the Internet. Predictably, the Internet was exploited early on by frauds and sexual predators—as had every other advance in communication before it. Journalists, lawyers, and analysts who opposed such exploitation came together online and combined their talents to debunk a Time Magazine horror story. It is not the result of this collaboration that interests me, however. It is the clear and early demonstration of a "group mind" that came together to investigate the subject. It was a very informal process, and a very organic one, made possible by the community of interest that already existed within the physical infrastructure of the Well.
Rheingold documents many examples of this phenomenon in Virtual Communities—examples that point to how the Internet and related online technologies encourage the formation of community. It is important to emphasize, moreover, that the idea of "community" as defined in these examples is real community.
Some Well users question the notion that these online communities are "real." Their arguments are valid in some instances, and certainly these communities have characteristics that distinguish them from communities defined in other contexts. In one case, however, the user's actions seem to have contradicted his arguments, since he was consistently among the most prolific posters and ubiquitous presences on the Well. When diagnosed with terminal cancer, he even went so far as to hold his own online wake. He was unrepentant of his stand on the issue of community until the end, but in this case, the medium was indeed the message.
The ease with which communities and group minds are formed in virtual spaces is also illustrated by the negative characteristics of those groups. This was described by a friend who participates in Echo, a New York-based forum similar in structure to (though different in personality from) the Well. While referring to yet a third such entity, a Union College alumni group called Virtual Schenectady (or VS, after the city where the college is located), this individual reported:
On the Echo BBS we have a regular mob phenomenon we call "The Next Big Thing," whereby collective boredom or angst builds into a big ball of acrimony which is vented like the blowhole of a baleen whale. Just like on Echo, VS seems to enjoy the same phenomenon, which occurs in regular cycles. And given that such a routine doesn't seem to exist in the offline world, I must conclude that it's peculiar to this medium.
Given these examples, it is also not surprising that online technology and behavior ultimately intersected with another collective pursuit—politics.
Political activists of all stripes are eager to adopt new ways to make their influence felt. Online communication networks offer some real opportunities to reverse the increasing distance citizens feel from their government. The pace of modern life seems to increase inexorably, and as people make tradeoffs, they choose to spend time as soccer moms rather than as political activists or even interested voters. The benefits to special interests, with paid advocates watching the political process closely and cultivating close relationships with elected officials, increase in equal and opposite measure to the disengagement of a majority of citizens. But what if technology could level that playing field?
A new phenomenon in the computer networking world emerged with the appearance of Cleveland Free Net—a nonprofit organization formed to give more people more equitable access to email and other online technologies. Other so-called "community networks" arose that aggregated information about different geographical communities, usually no larger than a single metropolitan area. These networks ranged from government information services, to community calendars, to other types of resources. This type of information service was familiar to many by this time through cable television access channels, with their scrolling local announcements. That format was almost impossible to use, however, because it was not indexed and could not be searched for specific information. The concept was good, but the technology was limited and could only support one-way communication. Nonetheless, the information was out there, albeit in various incompatible data formats. And even a bloated bureaucracy was either unable or unwilling to support the creation of easy two-way access for all.
Indeed, easy access to searchable data was still a new concept to 80 percent of the population in the U.S. as late as 2000. Things change slowly, and some changes lose momentum. But the opportunity remained, and soon products like Microsoft's Sidewalk, CitySearch, DiveIn, and AOL's Digital City appeared, marketed by major telecommunication corporations seeking to capture the "community network" market. These sites, unfortunately, have developed largely into newspaper listings translated to the Internet and generally exist only as vehicles to sell advertising. They make almost no attempt to foster discussion areas, and thus provide little more than lip service to the idea of community.
By contrast, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Boulder Community Network, I was committed to helping BCN develop into a force for electronic democracy that could change the way we look at ourselves as citizens and Americans. I was committed to the principle that the closeness allowed by the technology could truly recapture the idyllic democracy of early America's town meetings. And I'm not talking here simply about the use of online polls. I'm talking about a true electronic democracy based on conversations that go on for days or weeks, with time for reflection on complex policy issues. These online exchanges get us a lot farther than one-hour televised town meetings once every couple of years. Real democracy is grounded in the exchange of ideas and the participation of a truly representative body of citizens. Voting just ratifies the decisions that are made through debate and collaboration. Through electronic democracy, we can resurrect the body politic, a group that acts as a single organism.
THE INTERNET AS TEMPORARY AUTONOMOUS ZONE
In a democracy, where majority rules, minorities are frequently disenfranchised. Pornographers were among the first minority to identify the potential of the Internet to distribute their particular narrow brand of content. However, a number of other equally small (and much less offensive) minorities discovered the Internet comparatively early in its career. They view the Internet as a tool to preserve minority thought—however unpopular or even heretical. This intellectual diversity is essential to a healthy world society.
Author Hakim Bey (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) wrote an essay in 1986 called Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ). Bey saw the Reagan years as the final death knell for organized resistance to the concentrations of economic and political power achieved in the 1960s. The Reagan revolution drove the outcasts and heretics who had flourished in the Sixties from their place in American society, forcing them to find temporary havens to engage in their countercultural activities.
Excerpted from Neurosphere by Donald P. Dulchinos. Copyright © 2005 Donald P. Dulchinos. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1 Virtual Communities
2 From Darwin, to Teilhard, to McLuhan—and Back
3 The Internet as Neurosphere
4 The Electric Human
5 Omega Points
Afterword: 9/11—A World at War with Itself
Posted November 14, 2010
No text was provided for this review.