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Becoming Real

We are connected every minute of every day, seeking, like the addict, another hit.


What has been lost in this process is that we seem to have become more machine than human. The depth, the three-dimensional, textured experiences that make up a good life, which make us human, are lost. This loss has altered the human brain and is radically transforming human culture. There are many—perhaps most—who would describe this transformation as good. And there are indeed good things about it—access to information is a benefit, for example.

But there are also many problems. First, technology is something of a false prophet, a promise of a quick fix that never comes. And, in fact, it distracts us from the real, more difficult solutions. Recall the assessment of technology as the solution to climate change. Without a change in attitude about consumption— metanoia —new technologies alone lead only to more consumption. Moreover, access to more information does not give one the ability to discern what is useful or correct information, nor does it give one the wisdom to use the information sensibly.

Human beings process information holistically, and we are experiencing the world less holistically with greater reliance on these technologies. Human beings process information through narratives, which require imagination, not merely information. The addictive nature of our gadgets and of the Internet, particularly social media, leads to a profound loss of mindfulness. We are constantly connected and, oddly, disconnected.

That is, we have lost the constant attention and presence in our cultural, communal and ecological context that gives us our sense of place in and peace with the world. We end up, like the addict, on edge, looking for the next hit, never satisfied with what lies in front of us. It is worth making a distinction at this point between community and network.

becoming real authenticity in an age of distractions Manual

That is, it is designed to direct us to those who will reflect back to us our own viewpoints. Moreover, the kinds of connections made through these networks remain two-dimensional. We only know the surface positions of people, not their deep, holistic selves. We are capable, in community, of finding common ground with people with whom we disagree because we learn to know them in a deeper, more nuanced way.

Such knowledge is only possible in the context of a whole community—spaces in which we are touching one another, communicating non-verbally, and building lasting relationships. None of this happens in the on-line network. Of course, there is also an appeal to the network that pulls us away from community. Networks re-affirm our beliefs and values rather than challenge them. They allow us to present ourselves as we wish, for we have greater control over what comes through in the network.

Networks, to put it simply, are less messy and challenge us less than communities. It is this movement away from the three-dimensional, textured life that must be challenged. The question, for us all, is the extent to which we actually are tasting even our own lives. Do we feel our bodies, the elements outside? Are we attentive to our personal relationships? Much effort has been put forth in the Modern world to sterilize. We no longer want to feel, because feeling is scary.

Notes on 'The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction'

It requires us to be emotionally vulnerable. A screen is safe. A car is safe. We risk much less living behind metal and glass or in front of a screen.

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Of course, we are all slowly dying in our cars and in front of our screens. We are losing so much of what makes us human. There is a sense that I suspect most people have that there is a freedom to be found on-line, or through the smart phone. It is ironic, however, that it is the addictive quality of these things that tethers us to them. They have become chains, like the gold chains of capitalism for the shopping addict.

Distraction And Digital Culture

The line between human and machine has become so blurred that one has to ask: who is in charge, the human being or the phone? Who is making the decisions? There is a totalitarianism in the tech revolution perhaps more comprehensive than any Orwellian government. By totalitarianism, I refer to the completeness of control over mind, body and spirit that these technologies—and the few corporations that control and mediate these technologies—now hold.

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Control is enacted by the demonization of privacy. Everything is shared. Indeed, we begin, in subtle but undeniable ways, to deny the reality of that which is not shared and stored and recorded in the information cloud. At play here again is the close relationship between false freedom and loneliness. To be free of deep, human relationships—and this is the kind of freedom the Information Age promises—is the ultimate loneliness.

It would be useful to introduce another term for the sake of distinction: solitude. For solitude and loneliness, while they both are found in being alone, are opposites of human experience. Solitude is the healthy space in which to practice mindfulness. In various traditions, from East to West, solitude is an important spiritual practice. In the Christian tradition, for example, the desert fathers initiated the monastic tradition as a response to the ways in which Christianity was being co-opted and watered down by Roman society.

It was no longer countercultural, but a part of mainstream society. The desert fathers did not believe that true Christianity could occur in this context—for they took seriously the apocalyptic teachings of Christ; they understood that Jesus had called for a complete transformation of the soul and society, that Jesus did not believe salvation and empire could be reconciled without an apocalypse. In their solitude, the desert fathers found not only a benefit from the absence of conventional society, but also from the presence of the mindful practices that were only possible in solitude.

For Buddhists, solitude and mindfulness is primary. Buddhism begins not with ideas but with practices intended to awaken the individual to reality—eventually revealing the illusory nature of absolute individualism. Awakening requires mindful practices. In a way, Buddhism provides a template for facing the ultimate illusion of the tech revolution. For the illusion of the world of the Internet is only an extension of the human tendency to delude oneself with attachments and addictions. The Buddha saw this thousands of years before the advent of the computer.

It could be said, therefore, that the Tech Revolution is the ultimate end—the apocalypse—of what I will call techno-abstraction.

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It promises freedom, but in reality only provides loneliness; it promises connection, but provides only networks devoid of community; it promises knowledge, but provides only information without meaning. In a broader context, we may understand the Tech Revolution as the ultimate end of an apocalyptic process of abstraction, not unrelated to the other journeys we have undertaken toward abstraction in economics and ecological relationships. Perhaps the revelation at this stage is to discover a new monasticism. Facebook YouTube Flickr Email.

The Tech Revolution and the Printing Press To understand the impact of the tech revolution it would be useful to find a historical corollary. Technology, Individualism, Capitalism, Pornography The character of the Tech Revolution is such that it favors radical individualism. How Is the Internet Changing Us? From Lonely Freedom to Mindful Community There is a sense that I suspect most people have that there is a freedom to be found on-line, or through the smart phone.

Facebook Twitter Google Pinterest. Latest from Theory This is the way the world ends, This is the way the. Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Explore Now. Buy As Gift. Overview We live in a frenzied world.

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  • Many of us find that the relentless pace and constant distractions of our lives greatly limit our abilities to do anything well, including forming an authentic identity. Being authentic is such a struggle that many people have given up the quest for an integrated, whole self. Becoming Real addresses this critical personal and cultural crisis. Through personal stories, spiritual ruminations, and philosophical analysis, Sessions explores what it means to be authentic suggesting paths to follow for those who wish to lead more genuine and happy lives.

    Product Details About the Author. He has taught philosophy and humanities at four colleges, including twenty-six years at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City. He is the co-author of Working in America: A Humanities Reader and has published articles on environmental philosophy, the philosophy of work, and the philosophy of technology. Bob is the proud father of five children and grandfather of three.

    He lives in Iowa City with his wife, Lori Erickson.