I'll be the first to admit I don't want the year to end on the tone of my last post. But I also feel the post was necessary for me to write.
As I've said recently, I've been ignorant of living within the cloud of feminism, and I also have become aware of another cloud that I have been living within and yet been ignorant of, namely the Internet.
It was good to write my last post to correct views that I've allowed to arise, primarily due to the fact that I was blind to my own role in the "Internet cloud."
Some of the questions I've spent a good portion of 2012 thinking about and sitting with are:
- How much a part of reality are the internet and interactions on the internet?
- How much can (or should) life on the internet substitute for real life in three dimensions?
When I started this blog, my intention was to increase interactions with friends that I'd made on Twitter, which were taking the place of a Sangha that I'd lost due to a move. I viewed my blog, etc as semi-private. Recently, I've begun to see that in switching from a passive to active role on the Internet, I was taking on more social responsibility than I was aware of. (My blindness of the effect of taking an active role on the internet can be explained, if not excused, by the many years I'd used it passively for information gathering as a scientist.)
What has made me see the social responsibility attached to an active role on the Internet, as opposed to the semi-private diary of thoughts exchanged among friends? In part, by analogy, the science fiction novel Ender's Game. To quote Wikipedia:
Set in Earth's future, the novel presents an imperiled humankind who have barely survived two conflicts with the Formics (an insectoid alien species; normally called "Buggers" by most of the population). These aliens show an ant-like group behavior, and are very protective of their leader, much like Earth ants protecting their queen. In preparation for an anticipated third invasion, an international fleet maintains a school to find and train future fleet commanders. The world's most talented children, including the novel's protagonist, Ender Wiggin, are taken at a very young age to a training center known as the Battle School. There, teachers train them in the arts of war through increasingly difficult games including ones undertaken in zero gravity in the Battle Room, where Ender's tactical genius is revealed.
As the first series ended, it was revealed that when Ender and his friends were practicing their tactic maneuvers on computers they were actually fighting the real war against the Buggers. Ender and his friends just didn't know. (Apologies for the spoiler if you haven't read the series.)
With Ender's Game in mind, I think that our blogs and interactions on the internet play a much bigger role in reality than we might initially think. (And that's not even considering Facebook, where preferences and conversations are fodder used for commercial profit.) As far as I can tell, the reason relates to the idea of six-degrees of separation, which, if you think about it, isn't that different from Indra's net. The basic idea is that the maximum distance between people of the world, in terms of interconnection, is six steps:
Although I admit I don't know that much about the theory (I'm definitely going to read up on it), if you consider the rapidity and world-wide nature of interactions on the internet, the six steps may reduce to even fewer as the internet grows in influence. Any person with an active role on the Internet has a very real opportunity to influence collective thought. And our minds are not only what we use to process information on the Internet, but also what we use to live our lives, so while the internet is no substitute for life in three dimensions, it has a powerful effect on life for each of us here.
The Internet contrasts very favorably with television and even movies, where we are force fed information about how we should live, what our definition of success should be, and heavily biased information about world events that we use to guide our thinking about world issues. The Internet allows us to question. I get the very real sense that our independent presences on the Internet are a potentially powerful influence that can be used both directly and indirectly in debates of social issues, against main stream media, which is powered by conglomerate interests, and on a more even playing field against those with money and power: the Buggers. I don't want to be a political blogger (I very much like posting my Shobogenzo notes and the occasional poem and tracking my journey), but it's a mistake to think I can entirely avoid the social responsibility that I was unaware of when starting this blog. In battles for our individuality it's a good idea to try not to develop buggers of our own, though I admit it's easy to say and much harder to do. I think it's important for each of us to recognize that it's a responsibility that extends beyond the mahasangha on-line, since each of us lives within overlapping clouds, i.e. have multiple roles in our lives.
In an attempt to answer the questions I posed above, I think the Internet is a bigger part of reality than I previously might have guessed. And I also think the Internet can be used to influence and affect change in our real three dimensional lives. Nonetheless, the Internet is not a substitute for real life. Our experiences on the Internet are more direct and interactive than what we experience watching a movie, but from a practical perspective, reality is based on space and time. The Internet, although interactive, omits two-and-a-half of the five skandhas (form, sensation, and to some extent perception, of the five skandhas which are: form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness). The power of the Internet lies in that it affects our consciousness and the way we live our lives, but it's not reality any more than emptiness is form.
As I'm writing this post I realize that the end of 2012 is rapidly moving towards me and that even if I started walking, running, driving, or flying west I couldn't escape the transition. In fact, due to the sometimes confusing nature of time and space, as well as the way we keep track of time, if I were to try and run away from the transition into the new year, I'd run into the new year! And that's basically what happens to each of us if we try to avoid reality.
One of my favorite songs I found this year:
Wishing all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR.