3.1 On the reflections outside
The psychologist Philippa Perry noted, ‘All of us have a need to have our internal selves mirrored by the people around us’.
Arthur C. Clarke once proclaimed ‘The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible’.
In the digital age, what’s inward and outward are of equal value and connected. And both are a part of the binary nature of emergent code.
I was seven years old when I watched the first human, Neil Armstrong, land on the moon. Sitting cross-legged on a classroom floor at school, there was the sense that everyone there, adults and children alike, was aware that what we were witnessing was an amazing moment in the history of human experience.
Watching a TV at school had never happened before either! It was all very strange, exciting, and a little scary and it ushered in a new perspective, expanding our horizons about what human beings could do.
World events such as that set us on a slightly altered course, something that can happen on a small scale daily, in our own lives too, when little experiences trigger the means to see things differently.
With apps like Google Earth, online maps and geo data, we can zoom around the world, digitally, on command. Fancy checking out a street view of Capetown or Kyoto from your desktop at home? No problem. We can decide what perspectives we see and program for ourselves. It’s all on your iWatch.
It seems to me that one of the things we’re all struggling with today is how the connected world is altering how we see ourselves and others.
The digital age challenges how we handle our internal selves as mirrored outside. It pushes us to go beyond the limits of what we accept and know as possible and to make connections in ways that might not make sense to us. In this task, we are now able to be guided by a new ingredient, which is data.
As Monica Lewinsky said recently ‘The invasion of others is a raw material, efficiently and ruthlessly mined, packaged and sold at a profit. A marketplace has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry.’
Her global shaming and TED talk, as well as what happened afterwards, is an illustration of some of the challenge of the reflections outside and how we can grow from them.
What we see in others is often that which we find unpalatable. It is like a dark shadow, a cast of what we struggle to see in ourselves; the dark side of our own personal moon.
Very frequently, this lack of acceptance and inability to accept what is outside is expressed online today through networked shaming and ‘mob rule’ judgements.
The ego is a controlling mechanism. It’s there to help us support our internal selves and it likes to see a world view that conforms to its expectations.
The ego doesn’t like portraits of others who may be different and are challenging to it. For the ego, the idea we might accommodate contradiction is completely alien.
With more than 7 billion of us on the planet, and with each one of them containing an ego, being connected digitally throws up big challenges around democracy, individuality and human and technical boundaries.
If free will is to remain on the agenda for the digital human, then we must consider how we can co-exist with machines. If neuroscience is worth having, then we can used some of its smarts and understanding of human behaviour to go beyond the ego’s whims.
Over in Hollywood, ‘I am Legend’ actor Will Smith knows a thing or two about this and in a recent interview he talked about it.
‘After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective – viciously. And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about ninety minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.’
As we become conjoined and coded the challenges ahead for humans are not the same as they were before.
Today we know how to tame the planet and have huge capabilities there, but for the sake of the planet, and humans on it, the real challenge now is how to tame ourselves.
To connect, we must equally know ourselves and what’s ‘out there’. We need to be accepting of the shadows of who we are.
We have the opportunity to learn a great deal about our greatest potential through connection and from the reflections outside. At the same time, we have to reconcile our individuality with ‘group think’ in order to fully achieve what’s possible digitally, and the fact that both can be a help and a hindrance in meeting the needs of our deepest selves.