A critical examination of technology
These past two weeks I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, not by anything happening in my life rather by the news but more specifically — the news about technology.
If you’re not aware, Facebook, I mean, Meta, has announced a new virtual reality environment called the Metaverse. In the Metaverse, you’ll be able to create for yourself a second life. Similar to social media, you’ll be able to manage how you present yourself to the world but now within a three-dimensional virtual space.
You’ll be able to visit your friends, check out their NFT gallery, and present yourself in any way you want (blue hair? fashionable clothes? of course) Today, companies are already conducting meetings and business in virtual spaces. Somebody even experimented with what 24 hours in the metaverse feels like.
In the Metaverse, you’ll be able to purchase virtual properties (which are already selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars), virtual clothes, virtual pets, and make virtual friends — you’ll also be able to take classes, play games, explore new (virtual) worlds, and you can also meditate in VR.
According to the Oculus VR meditation app:
Bring peace, joy, and calm back into your daily life with Guided Meditation VR™. Now in 5k on the Oculus Go.
Leave the worries of your life behind to return calmer and stronger.
Find your happy place™.
Not just any happy place but happy place™ and in 5K.
What the hell.
Large corporations are now racing to enter this space and claim their corner — companies like Nike and Walmart and so forth, now have a new space in which to compete for our attention and money.
And before I proceed, I do want to mention that I am not against using this technology. I use Facebook and Instagram daily. I own an Oculus and I actually find VR to be quite fun. I find NFTs (non-fungible-tokens) to be interesting and believe they hold useful potential. Rather my aim is to analyze its impact and role — and perhaps how we can form equitable and healthier bonds with it.
Today data is extracted from our online behavior — what we look at, search for, and engage with, all build a picture that allows tech giants to generate profiles that feed us content and information. And what is fed to us isn’t always useful or of much value — yet because we engage with it, more of the same is to be presented to us. And because of data-driven decisions that are often made by technology and not people, there tends to be very little room for spontaneity, surprise, and wonder. You don’t have to look very far to see that most digital experiences look the same — companies are offering very similar products and services. 🥱
However, let’s keep in mind that technology does in many ways improve our lives. It keeps us connected, allows us to get things done faster, can keep us safe, and introduces us to new things that can enrich our lives.
I use technology to share my photography, bring people together, access knowledge, work, play, and do essential tasks like banking and shopping. Right now, I am using it to communicate with you. But it is imperative to be aware of technology’s increasing fight for our attention.
Attention is a valuable resource to us as individuals. This resource is also valued by businesses, political campaigns, nonprofits, and countless other organizations that try to entice us to spend money or volunteer our time.
– The Attention Economy
There appears to be a big disconnect between reality and the fictional worlds technology creates and you see it through the increase of polarization amongst groups and increased obsession with identity politics — which limits our peripheries to the quite literal fires that are rampaging around us. This is when technology can become dangerous when it isolates us and removes us from the context of the natural world.
Remembering to be human
The spectrum of our human experience is complex — it spans highs and lows. With intensity we feel desire, anger, jealousy, love, angst, affection, loss, joy, and so forth. And it’s in our nature to innovate and seek habitual antidotes to soothe and comfort. We cling to that which gives us a sense of peace despite its long-term consequences.
With technology’s relationship with capitalism and greed, assumptions are often made about what’s in the best interest of its users (us). The distorted assumption is that somehow we need to be busier with more things.
Often the luxurious commodities and innovations only favor a small percentage of people with access to technologies. Take for example, the homeless who walk the cold streets of Chicago and the elite who are purchasing virtual properties.
These harsh realities should be constant reminders through the facade of progress, the inequality gap continues to rise. So yes, while Lamborghini enters the NFT space, the fact is that none of it matters as long as injustice prevails and the planet suffers. With every new innovation that is presented through us by the corporate titans, the line between the privileged and unprivileged strengthens. Technology despite its usefulness, aims at converting us into points of sale — and we can see it with how the United States’s emissions continue to surge thus taking us further away from our course to a greener future.
So rather than feel the pressure to submit to more technologies, adhere to new trends, and consume more — we should work towards normalizing a slower pace of productivity, reflect more, and have critical conversations in our local communities — taking ownership over our autonomy and being skeptical of mammoth industries whose primary key performance indicator is to maximize their profit off our most valuable currency — time.
The theorist Ann Thorpe defines activism as 1) opposing exploitation, challenging what is accepted as the norm, 2) proposing change, 3 ) working on behalf of the neglected excluded, or disadvantaged, and 4) disrupting routine practices. That’s one blueprint and there’s no shortage of them. For instance, the seven-generation sustainability concept proposes for generations of today to work for the benefit of seven generations into the future. It’s a form of stewardship that moves us from a self-centered short-term view and more into a holistic planet-centered approach.
Although there appears to be a pessimistic tone of this issue, there is hope, and as musician and theorist Brian Eno in conversation with the podcast Sounds Like a Plan reframes the doom and gloom of the climate emergency as an opportunity for innovation that can disrupt how we’ve been conducting our affairs, damaging the planet, and creating more inequality and division.
Our call to action is now to be critical, work together alongside and not for technology, and define what our values are.
Where to start
The most radical act we can do is slow down, rekindle our love for simplicity, and find joy in the mundane. We can work to reacquaint ourselves with what’s important and do that which technology has yet to perfect (and most likely will never perfect) — which is to sit still, breathe, and say this is enough.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
If you follow the Beginner’s Mind playlist below on Spotify, every issue, it’ll be updated with new music. I’ve also added the titles of the songs below.
Ride Into The Sun The Velvet Underground
Love’s Theme The Love Unlimited Orchestra
Danza Lucumi Duo En
Try Better Next Time Placebo
Doing The Unstuck The Cure
Silver Moon Over Sleeping Steeples David Sylvian
Personally. With Facebook or Meta or whatever you call it. I have a strong strong whiff of AOL-Time-Warner in the lead up to their absolute collapse.
I like these newsletters you are publishing. They are thoughtful. I also own an Oculus and enjoy the VR technology but I also see how social media is contributing to stress and anxiety in many. How can we keep technology in a human perspective? Realize that large corporation which do not serve life, planet or community are mining our attention every day. How to be in service to life and the planet while using these technologies? There are no easy answers here - so I appreciate you beginning the conversation.