Technology and the Mind: Extension vs. Reconnection

  • 5 December 2015
  • sjanicke
Virtual Reality is now on the top of our fingertips. It is affordable for everyone who owns a smart phone and it opens doors for education, recreation and even physically or otherwise handicapped.  For example, a VR game from the company Specular Theory can give wheel chair bound people the experience of surfing while actually standing on a board. 
Unfortunately, the reality is that the beautiful wave that we would be able to see through a virtual reality in reality looks like this picture here. Full of litter; showing the throw-away-culture we have become with little to no consciousness beyond the materialistic self. While I don’t see humanity as dark as that, for a majority of the population, unfortunately, sustainability, mindfulness, and actions that go beyond immediate gratifications are beyond their scope of living.
While listening to an episode of Buddhist Geeks this week--a non profit organization dedicated to discuss the convergence of Buddhism with technology in an increasingly global culture--something that the interviewee of this episode,  Michael Heim pointed out about Virtual Reality and raising consciousness really resonated with me. He said, with the start of the technological revolution, tech-innovations were geared towards extending our senses, minds, and emotions, providing us with opportunities to enter worlds we may have never entered (and never would be able to) and a way to communicate and extend our thought processes oftentimes unimaginably.
The fast pace of the digital world often creates a disconnect with our current realities. 
A disparity between our thoughts and reality, and our thoughts and our bodies. In a way our bodies are the segway between the mental and the real. The most common example of this is probably the “instragramming” situation.
We are at the beach watching the sunset and get the immediate urge to take a picture of it to share it with our social media friends. So, while we stand on the beach during the sunset, we take the picture, put it through an Instagram filter (to make it look even more beautiful?), think about which hashtags to use, write a funny and thoughtful description for the picture before we finally post it on all our social media, and before we look up from our phone again, the sun has completely set. All that time we missed out on feeling the sand underneath our feet, the ocean waves crushing in, the salt smell in the air and the cool night breeze petting our body. We Missed Out On The Moment (MOOM), a moment that could have inspired our mind to reconnect with the segway--our body--and our body reconnecting with nature and the reality in that moment. Helms argument is that with the advancements in technology we have lost the ability to synch our mind with our body and thus “seeing” and “realizing” the world and reality as it is. He argues, instead of advancing the intellectual internet realm through technological innovations, people need to re-experience their physical energy and reconnect with the earth again.
In general, we walk through the world thinking we are immortal. 
We disregard science that clearly tells us that cured meat is a contributor to cancer, or blue light messes with our melatonin and thus, our sleep, or that cows are one of the largest contributors for the greenhous gas emission. We think we have a magic shield and nothing will happen to us. Nor will global warning  affect us, or our kids, because surely by the time our kids are grown up, technology will have advanced so much that we have a cure for that. 
Technology is only contributing to this immortality illusion. Not only is our phone now the extension of our hands but the internet is the extension of our minds. With that we continue to build a disconnect between the endless possibilities of the technological realms and what is actually happening in our physical reality and in the present moment, which ultimately hinders us to take action for the betterment of ourselves and the world.
It reminds me a little bit of the social psychological attentional blindness experiment. Even something so obvious as a monkey does not come to our awareness when our mind is focused on something else. However, once we shift our attention away from the Basketball players in the white shirts, we suddenly see the most obvious that is in front of us. So, the question is, of course, can technology help us to reconnect our minds to our bodies and the reality we are living in?  I wrote about this before in a previous blog post, but after listening to the Buddhist geek podcast it is even more clear to me:
In order to create change in society, we need to become aware of the “monkey” in front of us.
Wheres it is good to expand our consciousness and be in “other worlds”  through technology (may those worlds be FB, films, youtube videos, or games), we also need to be able to reconnect with the actual world around us. One way to do that is reconnect with our bodies, as Heim suggests. This can strech from physical activity, to mindfulness practices and yes, also to take in the sunset without creating it virtually, for a virtual audience and a virtual reward. Why be satisfied with virtual rewards when the reward can be real?
Only once we surfed through that wave of dump we will actually pic up a flyer about recycling in our locale grocery store, but that will not happen when we surf virtually through a perfect, clean wave. Unless, even that virtual wave has litter in it. And that is where the conversation about the role of technology connecting us to the realities of our lives could start.