Thursday, 26 September 2013

Thoughts on technology and the evolution of political, cultural, social and religious forms (Part 2)

Part 1

Marshall McLuhan also realized that each new medium creates enables a new way of retaining the past. More and more of the past is present in people’s lives, stored in museums, books, libraries, and now social networks, YouTube, email archives, etc. The result is that we live more and more with the past, if not in the past. People grow up in a bubble of self-chosen interests, friends, news sources and music. As Jared Lanier observes in You Are Not a Gadget, the evolution of music has changed in a fundamental way: up to the point that the internet became widespread, each decade had its own distinct music, Ragtime, Jazz, Swing, Rock and Roll, Disco, Hip-hop, Rap, etc., but the music of the last two decades has no clearly defining sound. Much of it consists of the reworking and recombining of music from earlier eras.

The magnification of the role of the past in modern society is in stark contrast to the role the past played in traditional societies. In traditional societies, the past was revered. The overarching view was that one realized one’s highest potential as a human being by emulating examples from the past, whether Christ, Mohammed, or Buddha. In today’s world, the past is to be transcended and one realizes one’s highest potential through exploration and individuation.

Each person’s past is now a scattered mass of fragments, an ever present but fractured mirror in which he or she is reflected. Few take the time to assemble the fragments into a narrative, and even if they do, the narrative itself depends on what is selected and emphasized, and that, again, is influenced by the medium in which the narrative is presented. Because the past is always present, a creative urge arises for a future that is open to new possibilities and free from the constraints of the past. Ironically, the extent to which the past endures in the present makes such transcendence more and more difficult.

Part 3

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Thoughts on technology and the evolution of political, cultural, social and religious forms (Part I)

New technologies create new forms of communication and new media. Language, writing, the phonetic alphabet, the printing press, the telegraph and telephone, film, radio, television, fax, email, cell phones, the internet in general and now social networks and robots, all make different forms of communication possible and have led, or are leading, to significant social, cultural and political changes.

Marshall McLuhan pointed out that "the medium changes the message." Consider presenting the traditional account of Buddha Shakyamuni encountering old age, illness and death up to his awakening. Imagine this story presented as a novel, a short story, a film,  an opera, a television series, a monologue, a play, a graphic novel, a YouTube video or as a tweet. Each medium emphasizes certain elements and downplays others, and the result is a different message in each case.

Each new medium  also creates a new form of interaction. For example, writing enabled personal and cultural histories to be retained without reliance on human memory. With the invention of paper, they could be retained indefinitely. With the invention of printing, they could be distributed widely and become part of the cultural heritage. The new form of interaction often arises in unexpected and unforeseen ways, such as the immediate distribution of photos and videos through cell phones or the tracking of new trends by hashtags in Twitter.

These new uses lead to different kinds of relationships and new forms of intimacy and solitude, as Sherry Turkle describes in Alone Together. They also lead to new social forms. For instance, the telephone enables people to talk with each other even though they are physically separate. Because, communication is limited to voice, body language and other nuances are limited or eliminated by the medium. Thus, people who communicate by telephone may have a very different relationship compared to when they are conversing in person. Email, of course, takes disembodied communication a step further: mass emails are possible and communication in widespread communities is easy. Email and texting also change the way phones are used. One is now more likely to set up a phone meeting via email than call someone out of the blue.

Part 2

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Prayer and meditation

Traditionally, prayer and meditation go together, but in many Western forms of meditation practice, there is little, if any connection, between the two.
Prayer is a way to give emotional expression to your deepest yearnings and aspirations. The two reinforce each other. Prayer raises emotional energy and strengthens intention. Meditation brings attention and focus to prayer.
You may not be able to connect emotionally with the forms of expression in traditional prayers. Confusion about emotions further complicates matters. Reactive emotions or afflictive emotions have a bad rap in Buddhist practice and many people feel they should avoid emotions altogether in their practice. This is more than unfortunate because the power of practice comes through our emotional connection with it.
Meditation devoid of emotion is pretty flat and doesn't go very far. 
In place of the ritual prayers (e.g., refuge, bodhicitta, prayers to the lineage, etc.), try taking a few minutes before you start meditation and feel, in your heart, your own spiritual yearnings. Feel what leads you to practice, even if you can't put it in words. Just feel it in your heart. Don't be concerned about goal-seeking or wanting to achieve something. We all do, at some level, or we wouldn't practice.
Or, if it comes more naturally, touch the faith or devotion you feel to your teacher, or to your practice. Feel how important your teacher or your practice is to you.
In either case, when you touch the depth of feeling in your heart, you may be surprised at how deep or how strong it is. Rest with the feeling, not analyzing it, or trying to understand it. Just let it be there and let yourself feel it.
Then turn to your meditation.
That's all.

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Ken McLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.