Mechation/Seminal essay by Ffdssa
INTRODUCTION (2019)[edit | edit source]
Progressive ideas making sense of change usually take place in slow steps. Sometimes there is a breakthrough. Science is a collection of breakthroughs and incremental steps.
In the realm of social science, "surveillance capitalism" has been recently discovered and carefully described at the start of this century. Its analysis penetrates current economic, psychological, and political thinking and is startling people in charge of powerful systems dominating everyday life. Surveillance economics has been accompanied by surveillance politics: "it's not the polls, it's the ratings." If millions of clicks (generated by older voters with high voter-turnout rates) are returned for an idea, one doesn't need to go through the cumbersome process of validating the idea using traditional polling processes. Using the click reactions to generate the next related idea assures success.(1)
Paralleling this development in thought, "mechation" describes similar developments from the point of view of the sciences of biology and evolution. These two ideas can be merged into one comprehensive description which becomes a useful label attempting to make sense of the modern transformation of the Earth:
Let "mechation" refer to a force which parallels the force of evolution and is (as Shoshana Zuboff so eloquently puts it) "the product of technological forces that operate beyond human agency and the choices of communities, an implacable movement that originates outside history and exerts a momentum that in some vague way drives toward the perfection of the species and the planet."(2)
(2) Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, 2018, p.255.
Surveillance Economics[edit | edit source]
Capitalism began as:
(1) labor was "named" (it was no longer just some people working in a field) and then bought,
(2) nature was "labeled" (as land, trees, lakes, etc.) and then bought, and
(3) bartering and exchange became money and a market.
(4) surveillance capitalism became visible (in 2004) when it was discovered that private human experience (a person's clicks) could be bought and sold for a futures market (when a business's prediction of human behavior paid off through a targeted sale).
The impact of these developments permeate every aspect of daily life (from smoke covering a million square miles of Brazil to a smartphone notification to buy a desired item now because the super sale ends at 6pm). The mechanics of surveillance capitalism can be summarized in a simple chart:
|SOURCES OF BEHAVIORAL SURPLUS:||extraction imperative begins||less predictive behavioral surplus at first|
|Online World||collection of clicks||analysis of 100,000 elements of your behavioral surplus|
|Physical World||your GPS data and your purchases||plots of your habitual patterns|
|Your Daily Life||Alexa or Cortana and your conversations||a spectrum of your wants, desires, and contacts|
|Your Body and Self||facial recognition and your moods||analysis of your personality, voting pattern, etc.|
|Modified Behavior||targeted advertising-->||more predictive behavioral surplus--> GUARANTEED OUTCOMES|
(2) Adapted from Zuboff, p. 132.
To get at the foundations of mechation ("the product of technological forces that operate beyond human agency. . . that exerts a momentum that in some vague way drives toward the perfection of the species and the planet,"), it is necessary to seek a viewpoint from the more primitive perspective of life science. It then becomes apparent how biology and evolution drive humans and their machines toward the perfection of the planet.
Mechation (2018)[edit | edit source]
ABSTRACT[edit | edit source]
A new theory is proposed stating that the powerful forces of evolution on the earth have been supplanted by stronger economic forces. Using either a space view or a street view, mechation is now the most visible and effective change agent on the planet. Like evolution, mechation includes processes which undergo continual change and develop new forms. The forms are inorganic rather than organic, but are just as prolific. Two observable characteristics of evolution are intention and fragmentation. These can also be seen in mechation. Evolution and mechation are compared using three charts from biology and anthropology: natural selection, human biology, and modern cultures (including both concrete and abstract anthropological concepts). Three human beings living in three different levels of abstraction are contrasted: a jungle dweller, a twentieth-century professor, and a twenty-first century "iGen" living in the generation which experienced their teenage years in 2011 when iphones started to predominate.
It is hypothesized that mechation has four branches: (1) consumer products and the networks that support them, (2) penetrating and targeted advertisements (that can appear next to or even inside sentences being read), (3) disinformation (where facts are altered and then broadcast without verification), and (4) the fragmentation of both human cognition and feeling that is occurring because of patterns of smartphone usage. An analysis of media habits of the twentieth century reveals both the progression of changing patterns in the human/machine interface and the new characteristics of distinctly different humans who are now becoming adults.
We Evolve, It Mechates[edit | edit source]
Change happens, and the patterns of modern change defy the thought systems of the past. The word "evolution" is now used in many contexts to mean changes resembling the progression from monkeys to humans or fish to lizards. If you think carefully, however, the transformation of a desktop into a smartphone is completely different and deserves a new word. One didn't evolve into the other, although something similar happened.
Create a new word, mechation, to use to describe changes which are happening that can be compared to evolution but are not happening to what we have been calling "living things." An easy example is your smartphone, which has changed from a large awkward box to a handy and sleek palm object in a couple of decades. It isn't alive, like a tuna fish, but it has a significance, and the process that led to its creation needs to be described.
The progression of mechation seems to have a power of its own. We created smartphones and they are creating new ways of being human. Just as with evolution and living things, there seems to be an intention unfolding in the patterns of the new machines. Lizards once spread their legs and began to swoop out of the trees to slowly evolve into birds using the habitat of the air. It took millions of years. Fast engines turning wheels on the ground gradually spread wings, lifted their wheels, and flew into the air. It took many decades. The evolutionary intent was just to make use of a new environment in which to live: not sea, not land, but air. The mechational intent is similar, but guided by cultural codes of writing, design, construction, law, and programming (rather than mutations in DNA).
Of course humans controlled this progress, initially. As we look around, however, the intentions of mechation are now beyond the human grasp. Recently it was stated that "negative emissions" must replace "reduced emissions" to prevent today's young people from spending $500 trillion to fix the planet in the future.(1) Humans were not able to prevent climate change, even though they knew about it for decades. Pollution from machines couldn't be stopped and humans now assume that they can clean it up (like a hazardous waste spill). Other studies predicted that there is only a ten percent chance that current planetary heating can ever be reversed and that the Paris Agreement goals of a 1.5-degree Celsius increase by 2100 could no longer be met; a four-degree Celsius increase is much more likely.(2) Months pass. Then this four-degree projected heating is given a 93% probability as scientists slowly correlate computer models with temperature measurements.(3) Meanwhile, the earth's energy budget continues on its upward trajectory. What/who is in charge of all this? A comprehensive study of the Great Dying during the End Permian extinction (with 90% of ocean life and 75% of land life disappearing) shows a resemblance to our modern climatic situation. A scientist has determined, after studying 31 carbon isotopic events over 542 million years, that we will have put 300 gigatons of carbon into the oceans by 2100 if we are able to meet the (now unrealistic) Paris Agreement ideals. At 310 gigatons, we will trigger another Great Dying lasting for thousands of years.(4)
In the End Permian extinction, volcanic magma apparently burned into Siberian coal deposits 250 million years ago, and caused a massive release of carbon dioxide. The current burning of coal in coal-fired plants resembles that progression, except that year-to-year we are burning coal at ten times the ancient natural rate. China built coal-fired plants at the rate of one per week at the start of this century. Are they going to be dismantled? Intentions usually don't shift like that in our modern world. And India also wants more energy.(5)
Or looking at the effect of machine use in a completely different realm, college students have shown a 40% drop in empathy skills over the last two decades as computers have penetrated into their palms. What binds humans to each other better than empathy skills? To maintain our human communication quality, we need to emotionally relate to each other in a deep way. But a decline has been noted, and it is attributed to the accelerating use of smartphones.(6) What are most of us looking at? Chamath Palihapitiya (the former vice-president for user growth at Facebook) says we are looking at "tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth."(7) He and other "refuseniks" (believers in tech who have stopped believing) have changed their personal use of these tools. He believes these "hearts, likes, thumbs-up" are "short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created [which] are destroying how society works." What/who is in charge of all this? The progression of mechation surely seems to have a power of its own.
(1) James Hansen, "Carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere to avoid extreme climate change, say scientists," The Independent, July 18, 2017.
(2) Griffin, Andrew. "Climate change will almost certainly heat the world so much it can never recover, major study finds." The Independent, July 31, 2017.
(3) Brown, Patrick and Caldeira, Ken. "Greater future global warming inferred from Earth’s recent energy budget." Nature 552, 45–50 (07 December 2017) doi:10.1038/nature24672.
(4) Rothman, Daniel. "Thresholds of catastrophe in the Earth system." Science Advances 20 Sep 2017: Vol. 3, no. 9, e1700906 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700906
(5) Brannen, Peter. "When life on earth was nearly extinguished," New York Times, July 30, 2017.
(6) Sara Konrath, Edward H. O'Brien, and Courtney Hsing, "Changes in dispositional empathy in American college students over time: a meta-analysis," Personality and Social Psychology Review 15, no. 2 (May 2011): 180-98, doi:10.1177/1088868310377395.
(7) Wong, Julia Carrie. "Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart," The Guardian, December 11, 2017.
A simple observation can help elucidate all of this: As evolution proceeds, it is guided by the two processes of intention (moving into new environments with new adaptations) and fragmentation (mutations leading to unique organisms adapting to a special niche). Mechation is also characterized by intention and fragmentation, but in a different manner. To understand this new idea, charts are useful in comparing mechation with evolutionary science. Here is a chart comparing the theory of natural selection (the cause of evolution) with mechation (machine knowledge and knowhow).
Natural Selection and Mechation[edit | edit source]
|EVOLUTION BY NATURAL SELECTION||MECHATION|
|1. Overproduction: Organisms produce more offspring than can survive. Some will die, but some will live on.||1. Signs and Symbols: Mechanical systems (which have no carbon and are inorganic) have been created by humans through the use of symbols, signs, and codes. This vast array of codes resembles the DNA of organic life (containing carbon). With manuals to assemble, service, and drive a car, we have information for a mechanical system.|
|2. Inherited Variation: Each individual has its own combination of traits which are similar, but not identical to its parents.||2. Information Banks: All codes are constantly being collected in huge databanks. Trillions of bits of information are constantly captured and stored. Creativity results in a constant barrage of new code: even “perfected” software soon changes into a newer version. Machine processes are completely described and stored. Obsolete machines could be recreated from collected information. Change happens: Ford Pinto to Toyota Corolla to Prius to driverless car.|
|3. Struggle to Survive: Some organisms may be caught by predators, may starve, or may get a disease. Others will survive to adulthood.||3. Infrastructure: Mechanical systems require established infrastructures to spread and reproduce. Roads, conduits, satellites, and internet connections allow machines and codes to be exchanged. Fiber optics provide high speed. Laws regulate lead in gasoline or the number of nuclear power plants in a country or the context of computer surveillance.|
|4. Successful Reproduction: The organisms that are best adapted to their environment are likely to have many offspring that survive.||4. Production Centers: Factories and assembly locations insure that machines and codes will be produced and maintained. Hardware and software function for decades and often get repaired. Some machines never "die" but still work in a museum. China and India learn the techniques to generate millions of future cars.|
|5. Market Advertising: Intentional messages encourage the increasing production and spread of machines. Planetary direction is now derived from machine intention. Humans still work in advertising agencies, but most of the ads between the clicks are not about humans. The "attention merchants" and the "happiness industries" grow and develop.*|
|6. Economics and Finance: The use of money and stock exchanges allow mechanical codes and products to be exchanged on a global scale. Economics and advertising have a special relationship.|
- See Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants, New York: Penguin Press, 2016, and William Davies, The Happiness Industry, Verso, 2015.
Much of this comparison is very easy to visualize. Most people have seen both a picture of an assembly line from a century ago and a modern robotic factory containing very few humans. Older generations have all witnessed the rapid growth of infrastructures, malls, and advertising as we shopped, called, clicked, or just walked around town. What is usually confusing, however, is how signs, advertising, and consumption work. They create brain changes, not environmental changes. It isn't obvious and takes some analysis.
The modern study of signs began in 1867 and became popular by the end of the last century. Advertising followed behind and applied the knowledge of signs to sell consumer products. By now, it has reached levels of extreme penetration. Understanding how it works requires careful thought. This is the beginning of comprehending intention and how it operates both in today's world and in the world of a million years ago (when lizards decided to move into the air). While the evolutionary fragmentation process began with DNA mutations in living things, the mechationary fragmentation process is new, relatively unstudied, and harder to evaluate: smartphones make interruptions the new norm,* media changes the way families interact, and clickbait vies for your attention. Your cognition and your feelings have been altered, not your DNA.
- See Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, New York: Penguin Press, 2013.
Understanding the Structure of Mechation[edit | edit source]
Over the last centuries, science has brought about a complete understanding of how the human body works. Hopefully, the same careful process will someday shed light on mechation. Using a chart to compare characteristics of human biology with the characteristics of machines, we can expand and rearrange the overview of mechation.
Human Biology and Mechation[edit | edit source]
|HUMAN BIOLOGY||MECHATION'S KNOWLEDGE AND KNOWHOW|
|1. Systems, Support, and Movement: The skeletal system provides support and protection while the muscular system makes movement possible.||1. Factories, Engines, and Computers: Worldwide factories produce all machine parts and assemblies using motors to create power. The hardware and software of computers produce the artificial intelligence required for machines to assemble, move, and process materials and data.|
|2. Absorption, Digestion, and Exchange: Systems of respiration, digestion, and urination provide oxygen, break down food, and remove waste materials.||2. Raw Materials, Infrastructures, and Malls: Minerals and elements are transported on land, through the air, and through cables to allow construction at specific sites and transport to commercial stores.|
|3. Transport and Protection: Systems of circulation, immunity, and integumentation (skin and hair) transport materials, defend the body, and shield it from the environment.||3. Data Exchange and Security: Massive amounts of information are radiated or transmitted around the planet while systems are created to keep information safe from outside manipulation.|
|4. Control and Reproduction: Nerves, glands, and reproductive organs respond to stimuli with control, produce hormones to regulate body conditions, and allow human reproduction to occur.||4. Laws and Security: National and international laws regulate the flow of goods, services, and information and keep them safe from interference to allow constant reproduction and replenishment of goods and services deemed to be required for progress.|
|5. Growth, Development, and Health: While the human body changes over time, its systems function to maintain health while science helps people prevent and treat disease.||5. Advertising, Finance, and Research: Information promoting products ensures their consumption and use, while the regulation of money ensures stable worldwide economies. Constant feedback and research enables human desires to be satisfied by new goods and services.|
|6. Information: The exponential growth of information has an accelerating effect on the growth of knowledge and knowhow as well as on each of the five aspects of mechation mentioned above.|
With these two charts, a big picture of a new idea now exists. From the Biology Departments of the last century, other sciences emerged and defined specialized aspects of human life including the role of culture. Anthropologists of the last century were very careful to document and analyze elements of culture to help understand human development and to help preserve cultures in threat of extinction. Over the last few decades, however, what can be considered culture has changed significantly. How would anthropologist Mary Leakey (who made major discoveries in the 1940's) have compared shards of clay and the internet? We are now living in a different era.
It is convenient to use an idea from Cesar Hidalgo to describe the material forms of culture.* Rather than consumer products, he uses the term crystallized imagination. While not very science-sounding, the two words precisely explain what we have: a human imagined something and it became crystallized into a product. A stick became a spear, a rock became a hammer, and an animal skin became a shirt. Later, a desktop became a personal computer, and a cell phone became a smartphone. In each case, someone imagined something and was able to crystallize it into a product. Slowly over millennia, there was a human-machine interface in which human imagination crystallized into products.
- Cesar Hidalgo. Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies. New York: Basic Books, 2015.
Signs and symbols are key elements in material culture that help the human-machine transition. Crystallized imagination can easily be described by looking at the first numerals from various cultures: I, II, III, 1, 2, 3, and in Chinese - (yi), = (er), and /// (three horizontal lines is san). These symbols are very concrete and it isn't hard to figure out what each one symbolizes. The 2, like er, was originally two horizontal lines that later were slightly abstracted by scripting them together into a "2". The higher numerals, though, are all abstract: IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. You have to make a mental jump to get the idea that the two slanted lines of a V mean five items. A 6 doesn't have six points on it, but means six items. The number four (originally constructed through four points) is concrete, but typesetters abstracted it by joining the top two to make only three points in the modern "4". The four in Chinese is a four-point box, but there are two tiny lines inside the box that make it abstract. A piece of hardened clay was noticed, thought about, and some imaginations (independently from all over the world) crystallized it into a clay drinking bowl that was later fired to make it almost permanent. Signs and symbols were the first steps that led to the creation of the huge data banks and information explosion that we are witnessing today.
By just noticing the material culture, the behavioral culture, and the ideas seen in different societies, another model can be constructed to compare and contrast culture from both the viewpoint of a human and the viewpoint of artificial intelligence:
Modern Cultures[edit | edit source]
|concrete: I II III, 1 2 3, hardened clay, . . .||Crystalized Imagination||abstract: IV V VI VII VIII IX X, 4 5 6 7 8 9 0, clay drinking bowl, . . . .|
|1. Spoken language, art, music, food, dress, race, picnics, . . .||MATERIAL CULTURE||1. Signs and symbols, broadcasting devices, smartphones, production techniques, measurement devices, . . . .|
|2. Eye behavior, patterns of conversation or social interaction or facial expression, traditions, body language, . . .||BEHAVIOR||2. Social media, news media, personal device interactions, activity trackers, . . . .|
|3. Beliefs, norms, expectations, values, religions, states, . . . .||IDEAS||2. Analytics, policies, monitoring, planning, research, surveillance, . . . .|
|still concrete: driving a car, talking on a phone, going to a movie, computer searches, . . .||highly abstract: driverless trucks, texting, talking with robots, wearing virtual reality goggles, chess champion Deep Blue, go champion AlphaGo, poker champion Libratus, . . .|
Culture in the human-machine section of this model at the top (molding clay) varies greatly from culture in the machine-human part at the bottom (driving a car). One way to carefully examine these viewpoints is to focus on a jungle dweller (molding mud) and a professor (driving cars). It has been a slow transition between the two settings and took thousands of years to accomplish. The end product is two humans that have very different lifestyles. Yet it is possible to compare these two lifestyles by looking at the lives of two people living at the same time on the same planet a few thousand miles apart.
Anthropological accounts present snapshots of life in the jungle, but one account that stands out in modern history is that of Tobias Schneebaum in 1955. Part of the problem of being an anthropologist is the tools of the trade: start writing or taking pictures or videos and the mood of the population that you are observing shifts. Schneebaum was able to shift his own viewpoint before starting to observe.
Tobias Schneebaum completed college in New York and received a Fulbright fellowship in 1955 which allowed him to hitch-hike from New York to Peru and live with the Harakmbut tribe in the Amazon basin for half a year. As he entered the jungle, he noted that "my fears were not so much for the future but for what I left behind. Not for the people or places, but for my knowledge. I was cutting away all that I knew about myself, I was removing my own reflection, and as I walked on, I walked into an incarnation of myself that had always been there. . . ."*
- Tobias Schneebaum. Keep the River on Your Right. New York: Grove Press, 1969, p.66
Arriving at a rocky beach, he encountered a dozen natives clad only in red paint made from clay. He knew they were cannibals, but he slowly walked up and smiled. He "put a hand easily upon the nearest shoulder" as he silently slipped into the tribe. "The body got up, straightening out, and the frozen smile split open and laughter came out, giggles at first, then great bellows that echoed back against the wall of trees. He threw his arms around me . . . until I realized that all the men had got up and were laughing and embracing each other . . . rolling on the ground with feet kicking the air."
As Schneebaum slowly became a jungle dweller, he experienced how his mind was different:
"Darinimbiak crouched over the coals and pulled out more yucca, testing each one to make sure it was done. We ate by the fire and I got up and took out pen, ink, and paper, and began to draw. Darinimbiak moved up, took the paper from me, turned it over, tore it, took the pen and began to chew the wood, then the nib. Reindude and others were already around me. I pushed Darinimbiak and arranged him in what I hoped was a comfortable position, with him frowning at me in wonder, and I motioned for him to sit still, and I began again. Someone sat on my shoulder, someone pushed my arm, someone took the pen and pushed it through the paper several times and everyone laughed at the holes. I laughed with them and tore the sheet into small bits and threw them up into the air like confetti." Schneebaum started drawing, the mood shifted, and he shifted with the mood.
He had simply been trying to make a sketch of two women sitting by the fire with their babies, a very simple and concrete use of signs and symbols in the human-machine continuum. The tribe could make no sense of it. They had never been to New York. Their interface with a simple tool (the pen) provoked laughter and confusion. Schneebaum just threw away the paper and joined them.
Over thousands of years, of course, pens and papers did have an enormous effects on humans as they gradually became literate. Signs and symbols then seemed to have a life of their own, both in the humans' minds and in their books or data on the shelves. In the same year that Darinimbiak was poking holes in the paper in Peru, another mind was reading through millions of words on paper in the United States. Slowly, Kaja Silverman was working her way toward a PhD thesis on semiotics--the study of signs. In the 20th century, many efforts were made to analyze signs and symbols. Semiotics (or semiology) tried to be the science of how signs and symbols worked. However, without neuroscience and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), it couldn't get very far. Kaja Silverman made a thorough investigation and did reach a point where she saw networks in the mind which stored impressions as in a modern fMRI:
"It is important to stress that the memories or thing-representations become linguistic signifieds only after the binding operation has been completed. The conceptual network does not pre-exist and determine the linguistic one, but comes into existence along with and in relation to it. The memory traces take on significance only after they have been organized."*
- Kaja Silverman. The Subject of Semiotics. New York: 1983, p. 103
Using the powers of abstraction and analysis, this professor was able to present in words what science proved with machines a couple of decades later. She gained those powers by looking at millions of words on papers, not poking holes in them!
These abstract signs and symbols of Silverman's hold meaning for professors, but less meaning for lay readers and no meaning at all for Darinimbiak. As time and science relentlessly move on, a recent college textbook now notes that ". . . spatial memories appear to be stored in the parietal area [of the brain] and verbal memories in the left frontal lobe"* as seen in an fMRI photograph.
- Bob Garrett. Brain and Behavior. London: Sage Publications, 2011, p. 369.
This progression from jungle lifestyle to professorial lifestyle and the fMRI scans helps describe the continuum in the model presented above: humans interact with machines (through signs) which then become more abstract or complex and then the machines dominate interactions with humans (beating them at chess or showing how the inside of their brains work). Darinimbiak's daily attention was focused on throwing spears at monkeys to provide meat for the tribe. Sticking the pen through the paper was on his mind. Silverman's daily attention (as she wrote her thesis) was analyzing five semiotic theorists (and Freud) to form a theory validated in a later generation by brain scans.
Intention Shifts Attention[edit | edit source]
From wonder into wonder
--Lao Tzu (trans. W. Bynner)
William James once noted that "My experience is what I agree to attend to."* Darinimbiak's attentional experience (as a hunter) was tracking a monkey, getting close, and spearing it. When he looked at Schneebaum's tools, he saw the pen as a spear and stabbed the paper. Living at the same time on the same planet, Silverman's attentional experience (as a PhD candidate) was putting together abstractions for signifieds (the meaningful form) and signifiers (the concept which that form evokes) and describing how these sank into the memory of the brain. Science's fMRI showed this concept to be correct a generation later. "Who we are can be determined--at least in part--by what we attend to."*
*The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, Tim Wu, 2014, p. 93-94.
As primitive humans slowly changed into literate humans, modern culture provided the template for interaction. Education developed over millennia and the human intention was no longer to hunt and gather. What was the prime motivator for hunting and gathering? Finding food, of course. Food can no longer be found (for most people) in this manner. What is the prime motivator for getting an education? Although there are thousands of altruistic humans with knowledge equivalent to the PhD population, the fact is that each degree attained gives you more money: median weekly PhD earnings (2015) was $1,623 (only 1.7% unemployed) while high-school-diploma earnings was $678 (5.4% unemployed).* If these figures were reversed, it is unlikely that people would spend an extra eight years studying to get a PhD. Silverman may have derived her life meanings (and income) mostly from her theory, but Darinimbiak had to make sure that there was food for the day. In developed countries, many modern humans are searching for money and only need a small part of it for their food. What else should they buy? What else should they attend to?
*Earnings and employment rates by educational attainment, 2015. Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor.
The first fish to start skipping with its fins in the shallow waves found food in the beach environment. So slowly, but steadily, those fins evolved into legs allowing deeper penetration of the beach and the land beyond. While it seems odd to refer to this change as intention, there can be no other word for it. The food was on the land and the beach, and the fish with fins changed their lifestyle so that they could get to it. Amphibians so slowly stopped needing water on their skin and then became toads moving onto the land. Lizards stopped needing arms or legs and became snakes moving into the deserts. This force of intention helps evolution happen. "From wonder into wonder, existence opens."
A new shift in evolutionary intentions happens in human minds through modern culture and machine intentions. As mentioned above, at the basic level it is easy to picture: an early automobile assembly line in the 1920's has several workers performing different functions on a car chassis as it rolls by. A man puts each right wheel on the finished product, and the car rolls off to join the highway traffic. A century later, an automotive robot adds each right wheel with exact precision in an automated assembly plant. There are relatively few humans in the plant. There is no problem understanding these two scenarios and what changes occurred. The intention is for machines to produce human consumer goods. Machines are serving human needs.
It requires an advanced viewpoint, however, to understand how intentions shift evolution's driving energy into mechation's driving energy inside a person's head. How can a computer beat a person at poker? Why do addicted gamblers stop caring about the win and just get hypnotized by hitting the button?(1) How can a computer learn enough to beat a video game like humans can? How can algorithms allowing figures on a screen to walk slowly change into algorithms allowing figures to play soccer after twenty generations?(2) When a person turns on a computer for a brief check (which turns into hours that can't be recalled) or when a lost smartphone is delightfully found,
"We don't cognitively grasp the state we fall into -- we only feel its grip on us -- the way we've merged circuits with the inanimate. You are the machine; the machine is you. And it feels. . . the words fail. In fact, it feels like words failing because it is at the edge of human experience, . . .
--Alexis C. Madrigal, The Machine Zone: This is where you go when you just can't stop looking at pictures on Facebook, The Atlantic, July 31, 2013.
(1) See Natasha Schull, Addiction by Design. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.
(2) Natural Motion: Biped learning to walk using evolved neural nets. Torsten Reil, YouTube video, 2004.
Comprehension at this complex level begins with connecting the viewpoint of Darinimbiak's mental processing with Silverman's. Darinimbiak eats the monkey and then sits around the fire talking and telling stories. Silverman cashes her paycheck and then chooses what to buy, what to watch, who to vote for, and where to go. Things are different for her: her mind attends to different choices and her intentions have shifted. Money in her pocket means that she doesn't have to chase monkeys, but has to decide instead where to spend her disposable income (which may be a large amount).
Forty-five years after Schneebaum's jungle trip, he returned. This time he came with a camera crew and made a movie about his unique experience. He found Darinimbiak dressed in clothes (not paint) and watching television in a community center near his original jungle habitat. They reconnected and talked about old times. Darinimbiak sheepishly said that his tribe no longer cannibalized other tribes. As they looked at the television, of course, advertisements popped up. Darinimbiak may have been drinking a soda while he watched (not juice from a yucca). Advertising was soon to have an effect on Darinimbiak, as it had on Silverman, and has had on most humans. As they give ads their attention, it shifts their intentions in major ways.
Attending to Media Shifts Intention[edit | edit source]
The general intentions of organisms to explore their environments and find food have guided evolution for billions of years. As money took the place of food, however, the new focus of attention generated a shift. Unlike food, money creates new abstractions related to wealth and a plethora of new products for humans to enjoy. You don't really need a washing machine because the sink and clothesline would do, but why not?* This massive re-directioning of human intention is drastically changing our lives, lifestyles, and the Earth.
- Before 1970 in China, four items were regarded as essential purchases: a bicycle, a sewing machine, a wristwatch, and a radio. By the 1980s: a fridge, a color TV, a washing machine, and a tape recorder were added. By 1990: a car, a computer, a mobile phone, and air conditioning. (Active Hope, by Macy and Johnstone, Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012, p. 16.)
Classified advertising on notice boards existed in New York in 1833, but modern advertising began when Benjamin Day decided to self-print and sell his own newspaper for one cent per issue to undercut the normal six-cents price of his main competitor. He included free advertisements from businesses that he had never solicited, which he hoped would lead to the eventual purchasing of advertising copy.* For months he lost money on his venture, but then during that first year, he began to make a profit as the advertisers he had volunteered began to pay for their space. Soon, his paper was selling twice as many papers as any other competitor. His goal had been to sell his readers' attention to businesses. He did, and he became suddenly rich.
- Wu, Tim. The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, New York: Penguin Random House, 2014, p. 12.
If you give your attention to an ad, it joins your identity. If you actively negate the ad, you won't buy the product; however the ad is still there in your mind and has an effect.* Modern shock-and-awe reality politics partially based on fake truth is similar because it gets your attention and stays there. You can learn to drive along and not look directly at or read any billboard; you can learn to read the center of your computer screen and miss all of the peripheral advertising. However, most people don't. (The only way to do this is zero tolerance: if you let one ad in, it is very hard to continue shutting them all out.)
- "Robert Hall's this season, will show you the reason--low overhead, low overhead!" Here are the lyrics from a jingle that was implanted in my brain in the late 1950's by a clothing store in Philadelphia. The jingle is catchy; it is stuck in a net of my neurons. I disliked the store and would never have shopped there. I would love to get the memory of the jingle with its absurd 1950's lyrics out of my head. It won't go.
Our attention is sold and we buy from the merchants. Early on, Benjamin Day discovered that "while his readers may have thought themselves his customers, they were in fact his product."*
- The Attention Merchants, p. 12.
Unlike Darinimbiak with his spear walking along the river looking into the trees, we are making decisions of a very different nature: Which kind of new car or athletic shoe or gardening tool do I want? The forces of mechation overtaking the forces of evolution in the human mind are just a shift in "cosmic" consciousness. Darinimbiak's traditional consciousness focuses on meat, roots, fire, and stories around the fire, while Silverman's consciousness shifts to a myriad of abstract things that have to do with mechanical and theoretical surroundings: purse, memories of an interview, glasses, keys, lists, hats, . . . . Then, a couple of generations later in the mind of a Millenial youth: presence of smartphone, charger, keys, bank card, . . . Through a gradual process, mechation has become the dominant change agent on Earth. The shift of intention and the journey from Darinimbiak's thinking patterns to Silverman's has primarily been guided by information from media. The shift in the perspective of a modern millenial has happened as the media moved into their palms. Gradually, faces have been dropping to look at screens rather than people's eyes on the corner, in the office, in class, or even at the party!*
- Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, p. 138.
Commercial Intention[edit | edit source]
It would take a department of a university to completely describe the big picture of what is presented here in outline form. The basic idea is that evolution has changed almost imperceptibly into a progression labeled mechation which includes four "arms": the first (always on the physical level) is the robotic car factories or the driverless trucks or thousands of consumer products and their malls; the second arm is the ad you remember from yesterday (which is still in your neurons to some degree, depending on how hard you looked and whether it was well-targeted); and the third arm is disinformation, in which facts/truths from reality are altered and broadcast as "real"; the fourth arm is the fragmentation of your cognition and emotions as you exchange attention toward friends and family with attention to the smartphone in your palm. As demonstrated by youth dubbed the "iGeneration",* online virtual reality slowly becomes more meaningful than face-to-face experience. The first arm is really obvious, seeing or hearing the second can't seem to be avoided (unless you live in a jungle!), and the third is hard to see and really hard to understand.
- Jean M. Twenge, IGen, New York: Atria Books, 2017. Jean Twenge wrote this book after studying various sources of data that spanned half a century. She noticed a sharp cliff on the graphs of many different survey questions that occurred in 2011. She deduced that the iphone's release that year had caused a rapid shift in worldview of what she calls the "iGen"--youth born after 1995, who were older teens in 2011. This book contrasts the Igen with the "Millenials, Gen Xers, and Boomers" before them.
Here is a timeline that traces advertising's impact on our minds (drawn primarily from the ideas of Tim Wu) that helps elucidate the growth of the second arm. At first, humans direct the attention of populations by using media:
A Shift in Control of Attention through Advertising[edit | edit source]
|1833||The first unsolicited printed advertisements appear.||Benjamin Day decides to "rely on a different but historically significant business model: reselling the attention of his audience, or advertising." Day understood "that while his readers may have thought themselves his customers, they were in fact his product." Attention Merchants, page 11.|
|1860||Paris posters: images were rendered in oil on soft limestone and transferred to paper.||"Jules Cheret could print thousands of them, producing their mesmeric effects on millions of passersby. As such, his posters are the second milestone in the industrialized harvesting of attention." Attention Merchants, page 19.|
|1914||State propaganda was invented during World War II.||The British were able to increase their fighting force of 80,000 to 750,000 in two months. Later, 54 million posters helped recruit 2.7 million recruits (50% of all eligible men) in one year. Attention Merchants, pages 39-41.|
|1930||The invention of prime time.||With the six-days-a-week fifteen-minute 7 pm time slot of Amos 'n Andy, the attentional habit of turning on the radio (later, the television) at the designated hour each and almost every evening of the year began. Attention Merchants, page 94.|
Then, around 1930, with the transition from print to radio and television, dominance changed as media and machines seemed to direct the progress:
|1930s||Commercial propaganda begins.||Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, believed in the necessity of enlightened manipulation by which "the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. The wartime triumph had 'opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind.'" Attention Merchants, page 49.|
|1969||Marketing an image of people began.||"We made a decision," [Alan Pottasch] later recalled, "to stop talking about the product, and start talking about the user." He thus conceived of marketing Pepsi without reference to its inherent qualities, focusing instead on an image of the people who bought it, or who should be buying it. . . . those who "think different". . . "the Pepsi Generation." Attention Merchants, page 159.|
|1990||Face-scanning technology is invented.||"Market researchers have become increasingly fixated upon our eyes and faces for tell-tale signs of what we might buy. Underlying this has been a growing belief that consumption is driven primarily by emotions." The Happiness Industry, location 956, Kindle edition.|
|1992||The reality television format was created.||"Talent was actually being paid in attention, as opposed to cash. . . . The game had rules, the outcome was uncertain, there would be winners and losers, and meanwhile there was plenty of suspense and elbows thrown." Attention Merchants, pages and 241 and 244.|
|2015||"A USB port for the brain" is being developed.||Ed Boyden and his colleagues "will give rise to what I call colloquially 'a USB port for the brain'" using the new field of optogenetics, a method to stimulate neurons using light. Why Information Grows, page 51.|
While humans hunted and gathered, the task of the day was straightforward: find animals to kill or plants to gather. Figure out how to prepare them, eat them, and store the leftovers. As human intention shifted from food to money, however, lifestyles changed. The information of where the herd was located or how to store the grain became useful data. As the content and scope of information grew, humans used media (print) to keep track of it over many centuries. Then Benjamin Day freely printed advertisements in a penny newspaper with the hope that he would soon sell those advertisements and become wealthy. The process of readers' attention being sold to merchants began. Pictures were rapidly joined with typefaces in advertisements after thousands of Paris posters (seven feet high, with half-dressed women) were used to establish a new type of commercial art. Another half-century passed. Then state propaganda using radio and loudspeakers was used to focus entire countries on making war. As media became entrenched in daily life, prime time was established and people began to set aside times of the day or week for special media products. This habit has lasted for a century and now includes annual games or shows that can gather together over one hundred million viewers.
Exactly where machine interests began to predominate and human interests to fade is hard to pinpoint. Through the evolutionary process of natural selection over millions of years, homo sapiens came to be. Machines invented by human culture came into being as well (generating the destruction caused by two world wars). In the last century, commercial (not state) propaganda began to be broadcast on radio with the intent of informing populations about products they would need to buy. Along with Edward Bernays' idea of "regimenting the public mind" (proposed between the world wars) began the current onslaught of ads that may well be called the turning point, where mechation's forces superseded those of evolution's. Inorganic objects have now taken on a new importance and dominate over the impact of organic cells. While Darinimbiak might have just picked up an object in the jungle, used it, and thrown it away, Silverman has been informed that there are consumer products she needs to buy and store for specific uses. Some may still be in her garage.
The first audio and visual media performances were "brought to you by" just the name of a company. Later, a company's product and performance were proclaimed and compared to those of a competitor. In the final stage, the description of the qualities of the product gave way to just the image of a human that you would want to resemble (the "Pepsi generation"). The final stages of harvesting attention focus on forcing the information on the audience by any means possible: pay for your (fake) website to pop up first in a search and draw clicks; state a wrong fact, wait to have others clarify it, and gain fame in the process; act without a script or get into a live fight right in front of a smartphone and become famous with the viral hits.
From this machine-human interface point of view, a new kind of progress is just beginning. In the UK, a large supermarket is already using face-scanning technology to sell products: "Tesco's In-Store Ads Watch You--and It Looks Like You Need a Coffee"(1). Currently, helmets on people are collecting information that will allow the reading of another person's thoughts. Glasses can be worn to photograph or video one's life every ten minutes. The "USB port to the brain" is imagination that many people have thought of over the last decades and has yet to be crystallized and sold on the shelves or in the carts (or on the operating table), but it is coming. A "wireless neural prosthetic system made up of thousands of implantable microdevices"(2) is in the works. Will it be long? A few years, a couple of decades or centuries--then of course it will happen. This is what we intend to happen. Is it good for us? The CEO of Google now admits that there is a problem with "deep attention," but he just shrugs and says that "in the end, technology will lead us in the right direction."(3) Most humans would echo his sentiment. The former vice-president of user growth at Facebook disagrees. He notes that Silicon Valley's entire system of venture capital funding pumps money into "useless, idiotic companies" rather than addressing real problems like climate change and disease.(4) But he has now left the mainstream. Does Darinimbiak or his progeny care about all this? Of course not. Paper is for stabbing. It took generations of attending to media in order for these new intentions to arise. And in the accelerating lifestyles of today's millenials it just takes half a decade for big shifts in intention to appear country- or worldwide.
(1) Business Week, November 4, 2013.
(2) A $19 million grant recently awarded to Arto Nurmikko.
(3) Turkle, p. 221.
(4) Vincent, James. "Former Facebook exec says social media is ripping apart society, The Verge, December 11, 2017.
The New Norm of Disinformation[edit | edit source]
Broadcast television in the last half of the twentieth century was provided by three companies in the United States which generated programming to satisfy the needs of a society with more leisure time and access to television. After the advertising intrusion on the programming was felt, a fourth public channel began to provide programming that was less influenced by commercial interests.
Anchoring peoples' need to know the news, evening newscasters were chosen to present news which was viewed by the public as a general reflection of the truth of what actually happened that day in the world. It was a consensus among broadcasters that the facts were true, and this generated a general trust among the viewers. As new technology gave rise to the development of "reality tv," where any citizen could hold the camera and broadcast without being constrained by the common consensus of what was true, broadcast television changed. "Infomercials", "advertorials", and any kind of opinion was no longer monitored by the traditions of the four big nationwide channels.
Even science (whose methods by definition gave true facts) became subject to this new force of "disinformation".* When it appeared that the climate emergency was real, fossil fuel companies knowingly generated disinformation in the science realm with the stated goal of confusing the public so that curtailed energy use would not take place. It worked, and for two decades the population was confused about global heating. Then, of course, a celebrity from reality tv became the president. Techniques involving disinformation helped this happen. Slowly, "reality politics" has been born, and the reality tv formula of "impact, tenacity, and cultural resonance" has been applied to traditional politics. As 2020 looms upon us, many question whether the essence of politics has been broken. A Senate debates impeachment, but half of the Senate has been following alternate news. Two vastly different belief systems face each other in the seats which control the thought of the country.
- Primary students in Finland are now taught that there are "three distinct categories: misinformation, or 'mistakes'; disinformation, or 'lies' and 'hoaxes', which are false and spread deliberately to deceive; and malinformation, or 'gossip', which may perhaps be correct but is intended to harm. See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/28/fact-from-fiction-finlands-new-lessons-in-combating-fake-news
In France, the idea of "collapsology" has become established. In 2015, the graphs of global development generated in 1972 by MIT and the Club of Rome were re-examined. All of the curves depicting changes in resources, population, food, industrial growth, and pollution had stayed almost exactly on the predicted tracks for 42 years. The curves all begin to fall by 2030 (except pollution, which doesn't begin to fall until 2040). It has led key French thinkers in ecology to give up on struggling to re-establish the natural balances of the last century and instead focus on establishing human mental health in the midst of political, economical, financial, and societal collapses that they see as certain to develop. *
- See Comment tout peut s'effondrer. Petit manuel de collapsologie à l'usage des générations présentes by Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens, et al., Apr 9, 2015, for an analysis of the 1972 graph patterns. See ‘Collapsologie’: Constructing an Idea of How Things Fall Apart, by Harrison Stetler, in the New York Review of Books 1/21/20, for the history of how collapsology developed in France. See Another end of the world is possible. Live the collapse (not just survive it), by Gauthier Chapelle, Pablo Servigne, and Raphaël Stevens, October 2018, for a description of mental techniques which throw the thermo-industrial collapse into a positive light.
In this post-truth world, it is easy to see how disinformation has established itself as a way to disrupt the modes of thought in whole civilizations. Evolution and mechation never reverse themselves: there will be no way to return to the established social patterns of the past. We can only make the best of what is.
Watching a Smartphone[edit | edit source]
Darinimbiak was born in the early 1930's and Silverman was born in the 1940's. A man named Trevor was born in the 1980's. (Evolutionarily speaking, hardly any time had passed.) He was a college senior in 2009. Writing a book about conversation a few years later, Sherry Turkle asked him about it: "Conversation? It died in 2009," he replied.*
- Reclaiming Conversation, p. 137.
"That's the year we shared things on Facebook instead of talking to each other. We put our energy into our profiles. We talked about what we had put online. The focus of friendship became what you found online and how you would share that with your friends. These days. . . people are less into their profiles. But the idea is the same. Don't talk it. Post it. Share it."
Social media changed his "face-to-face world." Describing a farewell party for the graduating seniors of 2009:
"People barely spoke. They ordered drinks and food. Sat with their dates. Looked at their phones. They didn't even try. Everyone knew that when they got home they would see the pictures of the party. They could save the comments until then. We weren't really saying good-bye. It was just good-bye until we got to our rooms and logged onto Facebook."
He reports that even the style of talking in class was different:
"You would try to say something brilliant. . . something prepared in advance. . . and then you'd sit back and wait for your responses. You didn't have to really engage. The idea of saying something as it occurred to you and getting a conversation going, that was gone. . . ."
After just a few generations, attention has shifted intentions dramatically. Darinimbiak's initiation into manhood in the tribe was nothing like this. Neither was Silverman's transition from student to professor. Something is very different and it happens very quickly. This is not about the differences in the usual consumer products or ads: it relates to smartphones and how habits can quickly change.
Tim Wu frames the process by describing four screens that we have been watching: first at the movies, then on television, later on a computer, and finally on the smartphone in our hand. There has been a progression of both distance and information density. You had to travel to the theater. The TV in the living room had just a few channels. Computers needed a room with a plug but had much more information. Smartphones have everything and are right here. Sherry Turkle's careful analysis starts where machines are modifying our emotional world and the distances between humans.
Mechation's fourth arm seems to be slipping invisible fingers into human communication and making it harder for us to feel socially connected. The obvious example is when you are with a person and suddenly their eye contact and then their attention vanishes into another world as their device beckons. When over-ear headphones were first invented in the 1970's, it was an odd experience to pass someone on the street and see that their ears were blocked. What do you do? Meet their eye and nod? Instantly look away? It had been customary (depending on how urban or rural your environment) to keep an open glance in the event that the other person might want to say something to you. Soon a cartoon appeared which depicted a whole street full of headphone wearers and a single person without. "What kind of world is coming?" some thought. A street scene full of palm watchers and earbud listeners has become common just a few decades later. At Trevor's party, there was little or no conversation and minimal eye contact. He was planning to fix up the communication later that night when he logged in and posted.
Turkle argues that this isn't communication: it is connection. Without eye contact, body language, emotional intuitions, voice tones, and face-to-face experience the normal bonds between humans get ruptured (or "ripped apart" in former Facebook VP Palihapitiya's words). Do you make this happen? Does your smartphone make this happen? Both are involved. When Schneebaum began his second attempt to sketch the women, "someone sat on my shoulder, someone pushed my arm, someone took the pen and pushed it through the paper" and then they all laughed. Contemporary face-to-face experience does not include the body-to-body aspect, but it still measures as communication that can be remembered later--sometimes for many decades ("the look in my mother's eye when she said it"). Remembering connection requires archives. What you are retrieving are only signs or symbols that were once shared, not experiences (face-to-face or body-to-body). Pictures are not real but are just symbols of reality. As you make them too real and meaningful, you lose touch with people around you in the moment. The deep links that slowly evolved in homo sapiens and their social interchanges are no longer there in the online world with online friends. A fragmentation of our basic human bonding has occurred. Not for everyone, but there are now over two billion people logging into Facebook and two billion smartphones to gaze into. "Unfriend" was the word of the year in 2009, but how could a chat partner that you have never met face-to-face have been a "friend" in the first place? By redefining "friend" to mean chat acquaintances, social media took a major step in fragmenting social relations using one of the most meaningful human words.
Not Just Two-legged Robots[edit | edit source]
In the human collective imagination, there seems to be a machine that resembles a human but is made of mechanical parts rather than tissues and cells. This image is as old as audiovisual media, but it represents only a minor aspect of mechation. Imagine a human being equipped with all of the latest technology that will be available in a couple of decades facing up against an anthropomorphic robot that resembles the human, but is made of metal, wires, and electrodes. They are about to compete in both a sport decathlon and an academic decathlon. So what? There are many more significant aspects of mechation that will impact human culture in much more dramatic ways. A huge pipeline to deliver shale oil from Canada to boats and fuel millions of vehicles, or a third runway in London's airport allowing another 200,000 flights a year will have much more impact on the planet. A "USB port to the brain" allowing optogenetics to run google searches through brain cells or even the invention of a palm-held smartphone that spread to 2 billion palms in five years--these are much more significant than who/what wins the decathlons. This "mechacentric" approach makes much more sense than the anthropocentric way of looking at big changes.
The Scattering of Thoughts and Feelings[edit | edit source]
The reader already knows how computers scatter thoughts (their own and those of their friends), but here is a description of 13-year-old Katherine, from McLean, Virginia, and how a smartphone scatters her thoughts:
"The [Washington Post] story described what she did on her iPhone during the twelve-minute drive home from school: "Her thumb [is] on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There's a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then '28 Things You'll Understand If You're Both British and American." She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend's mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They're home."*
- Jean M. Twenge, IGen, New York: Atria Books, 2017, p. 55.
This is a new kind of scattering. It contrasts markedly with anything that Darinimbiak experienced in his lifetime, and even anything that Silverman witnessed as she grew up. With no electronics, Darinimbiak's tribe sat around the fire after dinner exchanging stories. Schneebaum listened to Michii:
"He told the story of our meeting in such complex detail that it must have been two hours, even more, until I had even removed my clothing and stood before them naked. He described me completely, perhaps even my every thought, as I sat there next to him listening, and hands touched and stroked me to confirm his impressions. It could not have been a straight narrative, because it seemed to weave back and forth in time, and within it all he told of every bird he had seen, moving his arms slowly in great sweeps of flight, and he told how the leaves fell from trees with quivering movements of fingers, how a river turned its bend, how deep it was, its color, and the color of the sky at each moment of the day, the direction of the wind and how it moved light branches and leaves, and somewhere then I fell asleep. . . ."*
- Tobias Schneebaum. Keep the River on Your Right. New York: Grove Press, 1969, p.78.
In some ways, this account is as scattered as Katherine's. However the tribe is listening, witnessing, and parts of the story are becoming a part of the tribal culture. It is face-to-face and body-to-body. After Schneebaum left, the story was probably re-told right up until the tribe left the jungle and started watching television. Katherine's online scattering is lost in an archive that no one will click on. Katherine's new way of looking at things (typical for her generation) will soon change the structures of power as this new worldview slowly replaces that of the older generations, just as their worldview replaced that of the jungle dwellers.
Half a century ago, a family watched television together during prime time. One person (often the father) chose one of three or four channels, basing the selection on what the whole family would enjoy. As the remotes came into play, selecting a channel became very easy and multiple channels were kept track of. Often, the family had a group experience of what they had all witnessed during prime time.
Two people sitting next to each other today while using their computers get a completely different experience. Each clicks separately.* A few movies may be watched together. Most of the electronic experience is not shared. If there are children around, they are in different locations and often on different devices. There is no group experience of what they all witnessed during prime time (which has now usually extends from after dinner to lights out). This is a massive fragmentation of collective consciousness and creates minds that are not connected in the same way as that of a group of people in the jungle talking around the fire.
- Upon thinking this thought, I went and sat next to my wife at her computer. She mentioned that we should order something for our son. Instead of just deciding who should do it, I sat next to her. I gave her the name of the store where I had an account. She began to click. My mind wanted my own fingers to click and go faster, since I knew the website. Instead, I patiently waited. Soon, it became too cumbersome to shop together, and I migrated to another room with my computer to help complete the task. New tools and new times have changed me.
It is easy to understand the fragmentation of Katherine's thoughts in the back seat of a car on the way home from school. However, it is harder to understand the fragmentation of a man's feelings as he goes through the agonizing study of tens of thousands of archived texts from a three-year relationship that recently broke down around him. Romance between Adam and Tessa was texted from the palms. Concrete experiences of romance gave way to abstracted archives of beautiful (or cruel) texts. "Adam thinks the idea of a record was part of his relationship with Tessa from the very beginning:"
"Even when we were doing this, we knew we had a record. A record of our conversations. It think it is powerful. I reread the conversations all the time. . . . There's a permanence to it. We loved to talk on the phone, but sometimes. . . I wonder if one of the reasons that at some times we gravitated to this medium of conversation was. . . to be able to remember. . . . I treasure that permanence. . . . When she writes. . . 'you are great,' she is saying 'I have a need and you met it.' How central that is to have that written evidence, for the rest of my life in my Gmail. . . or to print it out if I want, whenever."*
"Adam wonders if he is a prisoner of his archive and is moved to ask, 'How do you know someone in a true way?'" Turkle notes that texting is not conversation, but connection.
- Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, p. 207.
Of course letter-writing has always been part of most romance for centuries. Words in a letter touch places of feeling in a heart and leave a memorable trace which endures through the romance and beyond. Yet previously this happened with dozens or maybe scores of letters. "Thirty to fifty texts a day" for the three years of Adam's relationship comes to about forty thousand texts--some short, some long. Darinimbiak's romantic memories (based on spoken words, body language, and deep feelings) were very concrete when compared to Adam's. This abstraction of a love relationship through archived texts is new to human experience. Thinking back on a romance and remembering a specific experience contrasts markedly from searching an archive for a particularly meaningful sentence or paragraph. But now, both can be called "romantic". However there is a fundamental difference:
|concrete: dozens of meaningful love letters in an old box||abstract: occasionally taking them out and reading a special one, looking at the handwriting while remembering the feelings and the experiences|
|concrete: an archive of forty thousand texts saved on two devices||abstract: The author re-reads favorite date-stamped texts and re-lives some textual moments as he catches up (years later) by transcribing them from his old cellphone onto his computer. He wonders "How do you know someone in a true way?"|
Thus goes romance, the most intimate human bond. In the more mundane break up of human bonds in class or at school, Turkle documents the fragmentation of a classroom full of texting students* and a law office full of new employees characterized by over-ear headphones and constant surveillance of their one or more screens. Rapidly, this has become common experience that everyone witnesses. As with the thousands of examples of progression in past evolution, there will be no returning. This is it.
- Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, p. 35.
Lock-In[edit | edit source]
As techniques and technology slowly infiltrate human consciousness and connections, a phenomenum called "lock-in" follows. This "technological paradigm"(1) functions throughout all the realms of mechation. For example, in industrial agriculture a lock-in occurs when pesticides use spreads throughout the industry. (Currently, RoundUp has been found in 75% of the world's raindrops.(2)) Once this situation occurs, it is difficult to exit from the practices that cause it. The more the dominant system is reinforced, the more it possesses the means of conserving its domination, creating a lock-in by self-reinforcement. This prevents other (smaller) systems from emerging. It creates an atmosphere of discouragement. People with innovative smaller ideas (say, "agroecology") cannot break into the big system. The structure of lock-in flows from the original entrenched idea, to the machines (usually) that supply the practices, to the people distributing/using the product, and to the investors eyeing growth and increased investment.
Over time, societies generate collective myths that determine personal codes by which people live. These myths usually remain unchallenged, unless socioeconomic or political changes lead to the realization that the myths no longer make sense. Burning fossill fuels and the myth of progress are recently being challenged by the climate emergency. Industrial agriculture is being challenged by new European laws regarding glycophosphates. Facebook's initial "friendship myth" has been challenged over 16 years by research determining that it creates lonely people (and even broken elections). Humans are currently being locked into their devices and Zooming during the coronavirus collapse. Will this permanently shift patterns of social relationship? Patterns of electronic media use have a different infrastructure than, say, the interstate highway system. Yet both are reinforced by collective myths. If the mall parking lots stay empty for a decade, myths and practices will have to change.
1. To Nourish Europe in Times of Crisis, Pablo Servigne. Babel, 2014. p. 133. 2. Ecowatch. https://www.ecowatch.com/monsantos-roundup-found-in-75-of-air-and-rain-samples-1881869607.html
Epilog[edit | edit source]
Why Change Anything?[edit | edit source]
[Given that money interests have taken over social thinking and that money has become concentrated into a small percentage of the population, is there any impetus to change the direction of world development? The creator of the "like" symbol, a second level manager at Facebook, has programmed his smartphone to not accept applications and prompted rise of "refuseniks" who have no faith in the current direction of social media. Yet his managers follow the prompts from successful advertising that generates more and more wealth for them. Democratic societies may be able to vote in new leaders, yet voting has become controlled by lobbyists or maybe even foreign oligarchic powers.]
[--comparison: Darinimbiak, Kaja, Kathryn as youths --accommodating to lifestyle mores of your time --personal story: I was born in 1947 and have been a politically oriented person. War resister who went to prison, refusenik working only labor until forty, behavior-disorder/special ed/science teacher for three decades, transracial adoption parent of two biracial African-American European-American children. --struggling to analyze and write about mechation for five decades --three A's: awareness, acceptance, and action. Realization that the speed and depth of mechation's change agents cannot be significantly altered. --opting for dropping political awareness and complete engagement with Buddhist worldview.]
Humans have lost the fabric of their towns as malls moved the action to the periphery and car sales districts sprang up. Humans have lost some of their focus as ads jostle their attention instead of natural circumstances. And humans have lost much of their empathic communication skills as devices have infiltrated their social lives and changed the ways in which they relate to each other. Machines collect the mall action at the periphery, harvest the attention, and abstract the way that humans are attached to each other. Mom is on her phone in the park while a lonely baby plays in the sand. How long has this transition taken? A century or so. Where is it headed? Can the direction be turned?
Generally, evolution never turns around. Dogs did excel at land life and then adapt to oceans successfully as their progeny, the whales, joined fish in a primitive habitat. However, most life changes don't reverse. Given that the planet will permanently heat up, that AI will permanently replace our cognitive skills, and that humans will violently struggle with each other as their resources disappear, what can be done? Maybe the answer lies in spirituality--traditional forms and new forms. Maybe in suicide vans. No one can truly say. "From wonder into wonder, existence opens." When an asteroid that was six miles in diameter took the sun from the dinosaurs, look at what the mammals were able to do!
THREE ESSAYS ON MECHATION:[edit | edit source]
"Mechation" (2020)[edit | edit source]
Another Way to Look at Change[edit | edit source]
Here is an eclectic list of disparate facts that don't seem to belong together at all, yet are fundamental to the makeup of the worldview of each person in the developed world:
o global populations have recently experienced a collapse of their economic, social, and political systems
o communication patterns have changed and there has been a disinformative shift in how media broadcast the realities we experience
o viral events have used the techniques of reality television to create a new way for global populations to engage with the news; viral news has had major effects on peoples' worldviews
o the reliance on debt-financed recovery (which made sense and seemed to work after the 2008 recession) no longer seems to make sense as trillions of dollars are loaned out with the expectation that the world will return to the financial patterns of 2019 and that the interest (at least) on the money will be repaid; meanwhile, a depression has struck
o over the next decade, the availability of easily extracted fossil fuels will be drastically reduced; the source of 60% of the barrels of oil removed from the ground today will have to be replaced by some new oil source that will be very difficult to extract
o social interaction patterns throughout the world have been altered by the pandemic
- no one knows how children and young adults who have gotten used to no school, limited masked interactions with peers, and greatly increased screen time will behave when the old social conditions and norms return (if they do return)
o personal interactions worldwide have been greatly modified because of smartphone usage over the last decade and the use of masks and distancing this year
- the body language involving facial muscles has greatly reduced non-verbal communication because only the muscles around the eyes are available to signal feelings (not the rest of the 42 muscles that enable normally clear communication); the masks even reduce the volumes and tones of voices in many cases; sometimes a friend can't even be recognized
- social hugs have mostly disappeared and for many people this change is emotionally problematic
- reduced travel has reduced family visits, and this has hurt traditional (even ancient) familial social bonds
- most team sports that involve strenuous activity now require masks; full court unmasked basketball is impossible without players running into wet droplets left in the air a second earlier by another player moving in that same space
- people who were used to many hours of broadcasted sports entertainment watch audience-free games by themselves
- the prohibitions of large gatherings, restaurant groupings, and organizational events have changed social understandings in widespread settings
- while most people have switched to the patterns of using Zoom, this kind of communication is problematic because of the lack of broadcasted-eye contact, no "intuitive presence" factor, and none of the natural but subtle emotional exchange of a live group; the broadcasted emotional exchange relies on the "impact--tenacity--cultural resonance" formula of reality tv (see below)
o the world's political systems are under stress as the pandemic has forced changes in political relationships
- standards of democracy may erode because of the pandemic: the simple process of registering to vote, casting or mailing a vote, and electing the verifiably favored candidate may no longer work and may lead to a collapse of normal democratic politics
- after the pandemic, the Red Cross predicts enormous migrations will take place; in the next decade, the climate crisis is scheduled to create even larger migrations as the world's food runs low and hunger creates stress on political systems
- instead of being drawn to balanced, logistical, and accurate news reporting, viral audiences tune into media that present emotional information (rather than traditional logistical information that has been carefully edited but contains many "dry facts")
- the staid "dry facts" of progressive climate degradation and its consequences were published decades ago but were supplanted by persuasive arguments sponsored by the fossil fuel industry which appeared in leading newspapers in place of the facts; this led to insignificant climate actions and the recent burnings of Australia and California
- federal agents recently tear-gassed a city mayor in a contest about who controls that city (the city or the nation)
- a US president said 20,000 lies and misleading statements over four years while another US president was impeached for just one lie two decades ago
- each year the planet gets hotter and hotter and sets new records, but politicians sweat and look on without taking action; seven million school-striking children couldn't significantly influence their daily activities
- after China's long lockdown, its economy jumped right back into gear and again began to accelerate global heating patterns
- the lockdown became an excuse for China to implement facial recognition techniques as well as a political shift toward greater authoritarian control
- while "essential workers" have continued to provide basic needs, non-essential workers are anticipating a resumption of their production of non-essential products (whose purchase will be stoked by subtle surveillance capitalism) that will pop up on billions of smartphones in the hopes of a return to 2019 GDP growth
- the amount of plastic trash is expected to triple in the next 20 years
- pandemic results worldwide have upset societies, politics, and economies
o a worldview formed by the patterns of engaged community interactions of long ago has been altered; another worldview based on smartphone usage, social media, mainstream media saturation, and disinformative media saturation has altered the collective human consciousness
o all of these changes can be understood by stepping back and looking at how natural evolution has been supplanted in the last two centuries by another natural process
Is this the same planet that I was born on?
Hundreds of years ago, Charles Darwin drew pictures of dozens of finches. He analyzed their feeding and breeding habits and then came up with a new idea that replaced the Biblical idea of "creation". Over time, his analysis has spread throughout the literate world and most now people believe that what he called "evolution" exists. This shift in thought took place because it allowed the populations to make sense of the changes happening around them. It became easier to understand why dinosaur bones are not found next to human bones beneath the dirt. It became easier to understand how Covid 19 jumped to humans and how a vaccine could be developed. Many things about natural change became easier to understand and modify. All that was needed was the initial look at the finches, some careful analysis, and the publication of the ideas.
The basic analysis was simple: organisms overproduce, they inherit variations (big beaks to crack nuts, small beaks for seeds), they struggle to survive (big-beaked finches die out on islands stocked only with seeds while small-beaked finches flourish), and then the successfully adapted finches survive and reproduce again. The cycle repeats. It was a very simple idea and it explained why each tropical island (with a different kind of food) had a group of finches with similar beaks (different from those of the next island).
Human evolution has carried us on for millions of years and brought about subtle changes leading to modern humans. Their lives became quite complicated, however, with the discovery of signs and symbols which led to mental structures which allowed the humans to slowly change their lifestyles. These "codes" (programmed instructions) led the humans to do things like invent steel and create a modern hammer and nail. A modern house could be built instead of a thatched hut. Thousands of similar processes occurred. While the ideas of evolution involved things that were "organic" (containing carbon molecules), the new changes brought on by the codes were often among "inorganic" (no carbon) things. Buildings, highways, pipes, engines, plastic, computers, smartphones, and on and on. The dominant domain governing how things change shifted slowly over a few centuries. By the last century, new infrastructures and procedures were in place throughout the developed world. They were concrete, visible, and for the most part lasting structures. During this present century, techniques and procedures have entered our brains and patterns of living through computers, supply chain networks, smartphones, viral videos, and thousands of other processes. Through capitalism and marketing, they have become the established "mental" setting throughout the developed world. Our thought patterns during this century have shifted dramatically.
While appreciating the concept of evolution and how it helped our thinking to adapt to new situations, label a second process "mechation" (sounds like "vacation" but it isn't). Mechation describes the changes among inorganic things on the planet, while evolution describes the changes among things that are organic. (Of course mechation is now in the process of creating human embryos, but that isn't common yet.)
Once the foundations of mechation are understood, then all of the shifts in economics, sociology, political thought, critical media studies, ecological economics, environmental policy, etc. that are taking place become completely understandable. Broadcast television of the 1970s has given way to reality television. Reality television has morphed into reality politics. Politicians are stumped about how to prevent the planet from becoming unliveable. Their agendas are controlled by economic interests (through lobbyists) that are at odds with the old goals. Mechation is a new process that is controlling life's changes. If a person can learn this and begin to see things happening through this lens, the new changes are easier to accomodate (as evolution made it much easier to understand dinosaur bones).
How could this new process penetrate the social, political, and economic processes of the entire planet?
During the twentieth century, it is easy to visualize how mechation shifted the patterns of whole civilizations dramatically. The physical infrastructures of all of the developed countries visibly changed as roads, urban areas, wires, and engines spread everywhere. The changes of social, political, and economic structures that are described in the history textbooks of this era can be easily understood. The struggles between socialism and capitalism, the development of multinationals, and the growth of world trade can be easily explained.
During the twenty-first century, however, the process of mechation has entered the core of our being. It is inside each person, inside billions of people. Careful analysis in different fields has uncovered many of these mechanisms: surveillance capitalism(1), reality television(2), and social media(3), to name a few. All of these techniques have slowly been incorporated as parts of our personal identity and guide how we see and progress through the world. This glorious abundance of digital penetration fragments our consciousness.
A simple example is the brand on your shirt. During the last century, the company's name was inside the collar of the shirt. In modern times, it is often on the outside, sometimes huge and in the front. You like the shirt, the way it is made and the way it feels. Your identity includes that you are proud of it. You present the brand to other people, who walk around noticing the name on your shirt, shoes or car. This is simple mechation: "I like this and you will too if you buy it and try it." An economic intention moves along with you in your daily life. A century ago, such intentions only appeared on billboards. Before that, they were only tiny ads in newspapers. Originally, the shirts were just handmade.
Media, mechation's tool.
How were the very obvious physical processes of mechation in the 20th century transformed into the hidden and subtle mental processes of today? By the media, of course. Simple signs and symbols guided the changes over millenia, from hieroglyphics to the Mesopotamian zero to printed typefaces. It was slow and gradual change that spread from culture to culture. With the invention of mass printing, the pattern grew faster. People bought books to pay for their production. Newspapers flourished. The "intention" of mechation accelerated as advertising entered the print, making it cheaper to buy the texts but also nudging the reader towards the advertised product. Readers didn't pay much attention to the process, but they did notice some ads and did buy those products.
Everything sped up again as broadcasting began to beam through the air: first radio, and then television. The signs and symbols became much more complex and penetrating. Instead of remembering the letters of the brand, the pictures and the jingles floated around our neuronal networks and made it easier to connect with the product on the shelves. At first, audio and visual media absorption were shared in a family or social group setting. People talked about the perceived media together. Someone seemed to be in charge of changing the channel when the group wasn't engaging. By the end of the century, however, this function disappeared as headphones and personal devices individualized media absorption. Sis sat at dinner and texted, while her parents talked or watched TV. A basic fragmentation occurred. Individuals began to be cut off from relationships with the person next to them. People who controlled the broadcasting carefully documented what was happening and created newer techniques for intentional ads to prevail. Soon personal clicks were being collected and turned into targeted ads which popped up on smartphones and moved customers to stores. Soon France will be sending targeted ads (or "addressable ads") to television sets as the idea that worked on smartphones spreads. Economics will never be the same.
In the political realm during the 21st century, a quandary developed as media producers faced the fact that emotionally-laden information gained more attention from audiences than dry factual information. They weren't dealing with "yellow journalism;" this was much stronger. A man used this new technique and alienated a political party in 2015. Soon, however, the political party lined up behind him when they saw the power that he had gathered, and they stood right behind this new president for four years to make sure that no opposing forces destabilized his momentum. (When a mayor lined up with the protesters in Portland, Oregon, he was tear-gassed by the president's forces.) The mainstream media seemed to understand what was happening, but they needed to sell their information and they used this emotionally-laden material to create sales. Otherwise, audiences who had been conditioned to the new style just didn't pay attention and switched their channels. "It's the ratings--not the polls--that matter," as the new president put it.
These newly conditioned audiences had been created by the shift in broadcasting techniques that occurred at the beginning of the 21st century. "Reality television" was a new form in which media production was decentralized and control was taken away from the few dominant television channels of the 20th century. The formula for reality television, carefully analysed by critical media professors, can be expressed as "impact, tenacity, and cultural resonance."(4) Some natural or orchestrated event that has high impact engages attention. If it is tenacious, it challenges the public norm in some way. With massive audiences watching, a resonance occurs within the culture and the whole culture can shift. A simple example is the Honduran caravan headed for the U.S. border in 2018. The president responded. "I'll send 15,000 troops to guard the border; if anyone throws a stone at the troops, the soldiers will shoot." Cultural resonance quietly came about as millions of people watching the events made slight shifts in their political views. These social processes are not the same as those that preceded them for many centuries.
The social realm has also been altered in another way that has been carefully documented by sociologists. When two billion smartphones quickly moved into the palms of humans in a decade, our communication patterns changed in a momentous way. No longer does a spontaneous group gather and discuss ideas (unless a rule states that phones be turned off). At a bus stop, people are more often interested in their phones than the person standing next to them. A schoolyard bench might be filled with half a dozen students all "on their phones" (unless the school prohibits them). This fragmentation of communication changes thought patterns and interaction patterns and people are often "alone together." Of course at the other end is the viral information that they are sharing with their "friends" with whom they may never have spoken. This new social paradigm has had a massive effect on human bonding. Mechation has moved from the urban cloverleafs of the 1960's all the way to Tinder clicks.
Why aren't people talking about this, naming the process, and beginning to study it?
The hidden and subtle mechanics of mechation are still a mystery. A parallel can be seen by looking at awareness of climate change. Although millions are now suffering the bad effects of global heating, very little is being done to reduce continued heating in the political, economic, and social realms. Intelligent people (before the Covid scare) regularly jumped on jets to spew CO2 to get to their destinations. They knew that fossils fuels were a problem but decided not to act on this knowledge.
It was Erasmus Darwin who first described evolution. Half a century later, his grandson made it into a theory. Mendel's discovery of genetics took several decades to become established. Today, no time lag is possible. By 2050, the "stability of human civilization will be seriously imperilled"(5) as a three-degree Celsius rise in temperature is expected to occur. In a 2.5 degree Celcius-warmer world, "over a billion people worldwide would be exposed to temperatures that exceed the 'workability threshold,' where it becomes impossible to safely work outside artifically cooled environments, even in the shade." Poor farmers will have to farm at night and hide from the sun during the day. Nonetheless, except for a couple of tiny dips in the curve, global temperatures continue their constant rise. It is a post-truth era, and a new idea that seems true generates confusion as misinformative sources try to obscure it.
It is possible that the idea of mechation could spread, just like evolution did, and change the way that people think about their daily activities. It is also possible that after the collapse caused by Covid, the ideas about climate change could spread and change peoples' carbon habits as well. It is all a great mystery, probably the greatest mystery that the world has ever known.
(1) See Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, 2018 for a complete analysis.
(2) See Deery, June, Consuming Reality: The Commercialization of Factual Entertainment. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012, and Reality TV: Key Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, MA: Polity Press, 2016 for critical media studies investigations.
(3) See Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, for an examination of change wrought by smartphones and devices.
(4) Deery, Reality TV, p. 2.
(5) See Mark Lynas, Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, London: Harper Collins, 2020, p. 134. This book offers a projected description of human life in 2050.
"Mechation" (2019)[edit | edit source]
As we tip past a point when humans are no longer in charge of planetary changes, we need a new term. Let mechation refer to a force which parallels the force of evolution and (as Shoshana Zuboff so eloquently puts it) is "the product of technological forces that operate beyond human agency and the choices of communities, an implacable movement that originates outside history and exerts a momentum that in some vague way drives toward the perfection of the species and the planet."(1)
(1) (Shoshana Zukoff, Age of Surveillance Capitalism, 2018, p.255)
How do we know that we have tipped? Two (of many) examples from recent news suggest that control has shifted. Greta Thunberg recently addressed the French National Assembly with a forthright speech about the climate emergency. At the end she declared, "You have not understood what we are doing. Instead of saying thank you, do something!"(2) Then the camera panned to an audience of French politicians who were listening intently. I had the feeling that they either did not know what to do or did not believe that they could do anything. Right after that speech, on that same day, a news article noted that the U.S. was revoking the Obama-era rules on automotive exhaust emissions in favor of new rules allowing cheaper cars that don't get nearly as many miles per gallon (and hence produce much more daily exhaust). On the next day, I got out a book that I had read in 2008 called Six Degrees about the planetary consequences of single-degree increments in Celsius, so that I could review the new world order we are facing. As I opened to the chapter "Three Degrees," I re-read my decade-old highlights about the expected deforestation of the Amazon, which would result in exposure of soils to the atmosphere (since the soils were no longer shaded by the canopy of rainforest) and this would initiate a massive outpouring of a new source of CO2 due to the increased activity of soil microorganisms exposed to sunlight.(3) Then, on that same night, I noted a headline about the 13% increase of Amazonian deforestation that occurred over the last year due to the ambitions of the Brazilian president to open up the jungle to loggers and ranchers.(4) Currently in the Amazon, three football fields of forest are disappearing every minute. An area the size of Greater London is now being cleared every month. Surely some planetary power mechanism has tipped, and there is no way to change it.
(3) (Six Degrees, Mark Lynas, 2008, p.139)
A neutral way of describing these changes would be to say that shadow money, machine engagement, and the media audience have taken over the Earth. Presented in a negative slant: the hidden dark money, the machine slaves, and the beast audience have paralyzed human intentions. Is there a positive way to frame this?
Yes, but only by stepping out of the anthropocentric viewpoint and seeing the situation as the natural development on the planet. Maybe this can also be referred to as "absolute truth." Billions of years led to organic life composed of flora and fauna in the oceans and on land. Humans flourished in this natural paradise as they developed conceptual ways of looking at things. Their concepts then became solidified into computer programs and patterns of machine development. Zuboff's description of the "perfection of the species and the planet" falls short, however, because these new developments range beyond the capacities of our human species. This is Earth's destiny, but the future perfection is coming from the "inorganic life" that AI is adding to human experience: your smartphone, computer, calendar, smart home, car, itinerary, deadlines, prediction products, personalization, thermostat, commodified experience, personal assistant, nudges, . . .
So, in a somewhat positive vein: As mechation overtakes evolution and meaningful monetary exchange flows through public relations (the relations between commerce and the public, which includes lobbying and advertising), we avidly engage with devices that meet our needs while the media stay focused on impact, tenacity, and cultural resonance that always capture our attention.(5) This attention is converted into further consumption which then makes the whole process continue smoothly in a cyclical pattern. This phrasing may not seem positive to a human, but this is truly "the product of technological forces that operate beyond human agency and the choices of communities, an implacable movement that originates outside history and exerts a momentum that in some vague way drives toward the perfection of the species and the planet." This is the absolute viewpoint: that which is, right here, just now.
It can be accepted, just like the wildfire smoke (Air Quality Index of 113) outside my window. Is this smoke from the unprecedented 100 Arctic wildfires? The sixth mass extinction proceeds and I am alive to witness it!
(5) Impact: "We will send 15,000 troops to the border to meet the immigrant caravan." Tenacity: "If anyone throws a stone, we will shoot them." Cultural resonance: Millions of additional votes accrue in the election that shortly follows. Hidden question: Were the caravans paid for through PR? See Reality TV (Key Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies), by June Deery, 2016, p. 2.
Mechation: Evolution, Media, and a Changing Planet (2019)[edit | edit source]
Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is. Do you. And it is happening fast.
As anyone looks around today and compares their experiences with those of an earlier generation, it is quite different. Just looking at land, streets, and skies or watching people behave and go about their business, the patterns don’t resemble those of the last few decades.
Starting with the climate realm, just about everyone realizes that a tipping point is nearby. Some say there are twelve years left before the planet begins to irreversibly change in ways that will cause humanity to suffer. Others suggest total economic transformation of the economy starting today: if we begin now to stop manufacturing new cars, trucks, or buses (just using up what we have), we may save humanity as we know it. A 16-year-old girl addressed the world’s top business and political leaders at a world conference.(1)
(1) The Guardian reported from Davos. See: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/25/our-house-is-on-fire-greta-thunberg16-urges-leaders-to-act-on-climate
She said “Our house is on fire.” She doesn’t want us to hope things get better. She wants us to panic and then act in some way so that her children and grandchildren can enjoy human life. A month earlier, she had given a similar speech to a United Nations climate conference. France had just announced a new fuel tax: the tax on everyone’s fuel would begin to help solve the climate problem. In response, weekly tax protests began. These quickly led to the withdrawal of the fuel tax. The 16-year-olds watch all this. They see that business just continues as usual.
In the political realm, confusion has recently begun to reign as a “post-truth” era has begun. Uncertainties or bothersome news are labeled “fake”, and each person finds it easy to declare that something is fake. It wasn’t like this previously, because truth was expected and someone checked to make sure that ongoing truths continued, a process that created respect and trust. After a couple of decades in which millions of people have watched factual entertainment (reality television), we have gotten used to a new set of parameters for making judgments. Factual content has become secondary to “emotional impact, tenacity, and cultural resonance”.(2)
(2) Deery, June. Reality TV (Key Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies). MA: Polity Press, 2015, p. 1.
In current politics it is easy for a leader to state a fact and then reverse it the next day, apparently without any qualms about not telling the truth and without any loss of followers. The media seem to relish reporting such news. They certainly profit from it. Many viewers have gotten used to this post-truth phenomena, its intense media coverage, and its effect on political norms. They seem to approve. Certainly tens of millions of tweet-followers of a “reality” president enjoy what they see and experience. The political picture has gotten very confusing.
Economically, we are faced with another lopsided picture: a couple of dozen people own half of the planet while 3.8 billion others share the rest. This severe inequality is unprecedented in human history and (strangely) increases daily. I bought a new online book three days ago, knowing that as I clicked “buy now” I was increasing the wealth of one of the two dozen people (and not the local bookstore owner a few miles away). Am I going to change my pattern? Do you go to the bookstore or order them online? Do you know people who listen to online purchases? Are we going to be able to revert to old habits and patterns of consuming books and music? Will there be more inequality in ten years? Will five people own half of the wealth?
Other economic confusions are seen in the plethora of new goods for purchase: from the Woolworth/Sears catalogs of a century ago, commerce has progressed to the malls of a few decades ago and to the half-billion products currently available online right now. These are all ready to ship by the largest U.S. retailer, and thirty million will go out today. In China, there is another retailer with an even larger gross merchandise volume. We have watched this fast change and the effects it has brought with it. Even automotive sales have almost kept up with this pace by now creating nearly a tenth of a billion new vehicles every year to help move a billion driving humans to where they want to go for the day. Fossil fuels may be an abstract problem, but they are certainly finding their way into practical new engines.
Beyond this traditional economics that we know well, a surveillance economics has embedded itself in our daily world. The hidden plan is that peer pressure and “behavioral futures markets”(3)
(3) Zuboff, p. 87.
sold to advertisers will propel us to accelerate our consumption patterns so that one of those thirty million daily purchases will soon be our own. Do I need that purchase? I’m not sure. Surveillance is working toward reaching 100% certainty of our purchases, based on facts taken from our privacy and then redistributed to commercial interests. It doesn’t matter whether we are sure we need it or not.
Another way to observe our world is in the social realm: it is unrecognizable as well. Three billion handheld devices appeared in a decade. These shifted people’s attention from the person near them to their own palm. What are they looking at? Mostly representations of people not near them, organized by another of the two dozen owners. How can the identity of the heavy smartphone users be described and what matters to them most: their place in social media or their place sitting next to a live person? A new generation that became teenagers with the help of a smartphone have developed different approaches. How will they fit in?
We have come so far so fast, from a cursive handwritten letter to a reply-to-all email, just while I have been watching things. What would my grandfather have thought?
How to Think[edit | edit source]
There are useful conceptual tools to make sense of all this confusion. Although we can generate concepts that are either those of the generalist or those of the specialist, our cultures and our civilization have slowly turned toward the specialist orientation: each of the knowledge domains is dominated by abstract concepts involving complicated vocabulary that attempts to analyze and make sense of experience. For the generalist, simple terms suited to the masses of people are more useful. As we learned in the 1960s, large numbers of people on the same track can change things.
In the specialist realm, climate science offers complicated computer models with technical terms. These are published in expensive journals and are then interpreted by journalists for use by the public. It is a reliable steady stream of interpreted information, although it too gets corrupted by post-truth phenomena. Some researchers are influenced by funds from organizations that want them to alter the truth before they publish it. Climate deniers maintained and spread their beliefs for decades because of this process. In critical media studies, economics, political studies, and many university science departments there is a similar attempt to discover solutions to problems that will get translated to the average reader.
What is missing from highly abstracted language is the generalist viewpoint. In high schools throughout the world, teachers have historically enabled students to gain this traditional vantage point: take all the required courses, graduate, and have an understanding that is adequate for dealing with the confusions of the times as new generations step out to try and solve the problems. With today’s intense educational competition however, a college degree and specialized knowledge are required to make use of the abstract vocabulary (“hybrid advertainment,” “surveillance exceptionalism,” “North Atlantic oscillation variability”, and so on). How can our 16-year-olds get it? Critical media studies are usually offered in college (or graduate school), but not often in high school. A new and relevant textbook on “surveillance economics” has appeared, but it has a reading level that is above the 16th grade level.(4)
(4) Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2019. and http://www.readabilityformulas.com/fry-graph-readability-formula.php.
The vocabulary that the scholars devise serves an important function. When we lack a term for something, it is very difficult to engage with it. The term is a vehicle for engaging with what the term refers to. Using Latin and Greek roots, science has completely described living and non-living structures and functions. In biology, “endoplasm” is the inside fluid part of a cell. In anthropological science and technology studies, “ontological security” is a mental stable state derived from the continuity of life events. Critical media studies created structural and functional terms using roots from consumer culture. An “infomercial” or an “advertorial”(5)
(5) Deery, June. Consuming Reality: The Commercialization of Factual Entertainment. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012, p. 52
is information presented with a commercial push for buying the product. In social theory, “accumulation by dispossession” is the movement of wealth and power from public and private interests into the hands of a few. (Spanish explorers showed illiterate natives a “map” of their land and then declared that the land was “owned” by the invaders; today, stored and private computer information is secretly redistributed to commercial interests to use for the purpose of targeted sales.) In economics, “the extraction imperative” (“raw-material supplies must be procured at an ever-expanding scale” for behavioral futures markets) is a very useful term, but it needs to be translated to the generalist and will not be understood by the 16-year-olds.
How to Think Simply[edit | edit source]
Instead of trying to focus on the confusions using the fragmented (but effective for some) abstractions at the cutting edge of scholarly thinking, look at the biggest picture and allow that three principles of expansion, fragmentation, and intention have always guided a changing planet. Here is an outline of the progress made over the last few billion years using these generalist categories:
|EXPANSION -->||FRAGMENTATION -->||INTENTION|
|o billions of years of slow evolution as life moves from oceans to land to skies||o living forms separate and evolve into different populations with different DNA||o each species seeks out food, a habitat, and then reproduces
o populations develop social networks that can cooperate or conflict
|o humans develop signs and communication||o separation of groups results in different languages and unique codes||o signs allow greater cooperation between larger populations, and signs can shift human intentions in multiple directions|
|o humans create machines that are transported throughout the planet, while wires and cables bring codes and information to most of the world’s population||o machine models and software programs become more numerous and more specific with faster/better versions and/or constant updates/upgrades||o the focus of planetary activities changes as human life engages with machines and their programs; the planet starts to look different from space|
|o as the economies of humans and machines are generated, promotion for various products develops||o initially, each product or service receives short bursts of promotion while the techniques of public relations penetrate widely and deeply into all areas of the machine/human interface; later, surveillance economics spreads as behavioral futures markets collect clicks to lead us to ever-more-certain consumption of a myriad of products (using peer pressure and analytical certainty)||o the “impact, tenacity, and cultural resonance” of promoted ideas displayed through the media create changes in the planetary balances of power and control between human intentions and “machine intentions”; there is a redirection and restructuring of human concepts such as progress, justice, and truth which lead to major changes in human social behavior as institutions change|
Using this simple template, other important aspects of change can be sensibly described. How do media fit into the picture? Our brain has been thought to include three parts. The first is the reptilian brain which keeps our heart beating and our lungs breathing. The second part helps us survive, find food, and emote, while the third part labels our experience with concepts and helps analyze them. Now a fourth “part”, a screen, sits in our palm collecting our own thoughts as well as circulating those thoughts with others. We are mediated. If someone is taking a video of us, we are even broadcast. Slowly, “machine intentions” have blended with our human intentions and now direct many of our actions. This a new way of looking at the evolutionary picture, and a new term can be used as a vehicle for engaging with this concept. Let “mechation” be a term describing a process that is like evolution, but involves mechanical development rather than organic biological development.(6)
(6) See “Mechation: Seminal Essay” at https://en.wikiversity.org for a complete description.
As we hold the smartphone, we “mechate” into the machine world. Suddenly ads pop up. We have to react. We are no longer in our own head (thinking about a dinner conversation). Our thinking is no longer quite our own, but this is the way the world is now. Our mediated human identity has been seamlessly connected to what our technology connects us with. Can we return to our human world? Sure: sign up for one of many retreats from the digital world. Can we permanently withdraw from this new reality? No. It is omnipresent, even in the high plains of Tibet. It has changed us.
A man and a woman texted each other about 40,000 times in three years as they developed a relationship, then moved in to live with each other, and then separated. The man continued to read the old texts years later and wondered if the romance was formed by their mutual texting or by their mutual experience together. He isn’t sure.(7)
(7) Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, p. 207.
It’s a mediated experience. In a reality television makeover show about plastic surgery, the audience shared with the participant to make assessments of aberrant features on her displayed body. This mediated identity then decided (with the doctor and audience in on the decision) on what to operate.(8)
(8) Deery, Consuming Reality, p. 160
These are two examples of mediated identities among many.
While these changes of mediated individuals show on a small scale how mechation alters our world, it can also be seen on a much larger scale. Over twenty years, factual entertainment has joined the viewing habits of about a third of the residents in the U.S. When a celebrity star ran for president, he had already pre-generated tens of millions of approving voters because of the decade that he spent in reality television. Now, “reality politics” has become entrenched in our culture. It has even penetrated the law, as a struggling nominee for the Supreme Court was encouraged to use impact and tenacity (bold rage in front of the television cameras--a Supreme Court nominee?) to effect cultural resonance (approval as a court member despite a history, like the president, of sexual harassment). The president had been judged “not fit to be president.” The nominee had been judged “not fit to be on the Supreme Court” (by 1200 law professors). These facts did not gain cultural resonance. Media drama did. The nominee was appointed. This new normal has to be taken into account if we are going to be able to make sense of problems. The stakes are large: after social media “bent democracy” to determine one election, the next election may suffer worse degradations.
Applying Knowledge[edit | edit source]
When it comes to applying the simplest generalist concepts to the largest worldview, more confusions arise. Most of it comes from lifestyle. Whether it is the two dozen “half-the-world owners” or the baby boomer generation with all its wealth and power, personal habits and preferences get in the way of making changes to carbon footprints, political orientations, and comfortable economic patterns. When I asked a 70-year-old friend who was leaving California for a long hike in Spain about the pollution problems of airplanes, she honestly said that climate change was bad, but that she would be gone before all the worst things happened. I was shocked that this woman (who had dedicated her whole life to active work in public health and advocacy for child health and nutrition) could just excuse herself from the problem. Another two friends (60-somethings) with progressive ideals on justice and diversity were comparing their one- or two-million frequent flier records. When I mentioned problems with airplane footprints, neither replied. Both kept on flying.(9)
(9) Fifteen percent of adults take seventy percent of all flights. See https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/jan/26/why-i-only-take-one-holiday-flight-a-year-climate-change
Flying for progressive justice and increased diversity.
The youth can make change happen. We have already seen this in the 1960s when millions of youth rebelled against the ideologies of the post-war years. In twelve years, those ideologies noticeably changed. Greta Thunberg’s goals for the next twelve years are a big reach, but if millions of youth get involved, then ideologies can shift and transform politics, economics, and society. She has begun a schools’ climate strike this year, and the publicity aroused through her speeches at the United Nations conference and the Davos conference have spread this idea dramatically throughout the world. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren are now getting involved in a project that she initiated by herself and maintained for half a year. Having studied climate for eight years, she is well aware of the facts. But what is she getting in science classes at her school? Does her textbook cover this? Do they discuss critical media in her social studies class? Do any of her clicking peers understand surveillance capitalism? How can other high school students gain knowledge which will support their new motivations to act?
As a middle-school science teacher (in 2007) attending a district science staff meeting, I was shocked to learn that my favorite 7th-grade science text was to be replaced with a 2007 edition which had dropped and modified my two favorite chapters. Chapter 15, a long engaging chapter on pollution and recycling was completely cut out. Chapter 7, on evolution had lost its last half. Those last sections (on human evolution) had been an extremely interesting thirty pages that always fascinated my students with their pictures and cultural/anatomical descriptions. The 2007 edition had neither of these important subjects. The word “pollution” was found in the text only on page 11, where it was used five times. That was it for the entire textbook that millions of California seventh graders were faced with in 2008. I couldn’t believe it. This was during a key moment in climate studies history when global warming was being debated. I was stunned.
That summer, I was talking with my next-door neighbor, who was also a science teacher. When I talked about the problem, she immediately understood. She told me that the Sacramento framework committee meeting between educators and businessmen had occurred and that the removal of climate change and evolution had been agreed upon. Not covering evolution in the text(10)
(10) The text was Holt Science and Technology, Life Science. I successfully used the 2001 1st edition. The 2007 edition changed the domain of middle-school knowledge: one page on human evolution was left, but all of the pictures and descriptions of Neanderthalis, Cro-Magnon humans and other species were completely discarded.
would enable the book’s use in districts where evolution theory was causing negative reactions, and not having pollution covered would keep students positive about economic growth and business success, while not alienating business leaders. The textbook manufacturing companies were competing to get their text adopted by the whole state (half a million books at $56 each). And for the average Californian in 2008, the world outside did not appear to be too much affected by unusual heat, cold, or flooding.
The processes by which school texts are changed to reflect new awareness is slow, measured in decades rather than years. Eventually, superfund sites of the 1960s (Love Canal), Vietnam War realities, lead fuel, chloroflourocarbons (CFCs), fossil fuel combustion, and other problems resulted in the transformation of textbooks for newer generations. This helped citizens solve some problems and establish new norms of behavior for both individuals and corporations. Thunberg doesn’t have time for that. Fortunately, viral hits and targeted news happen rapidly (although they come without framework committees and traditional evaluation processes). Maybe this new digital speed and interconnectedness will make solutions possible.
In addition to the difficulty of changing school texts, the established pattern of viewing factual entertainment with its imbedded neoliberal world view(11)
(11) Deery, Consuming Reality, p. 37.
constitutes the wall of a new status quo that will be hard to budge. Included with all the devices come the new joys of individuality offered to digital participants. Beyond the reach of any new educational pedagogy, older generations have become established in their lifestyles and thinking, and they help form the base of this new wall. As huge cities begin to flood and parks begin to burn down, they may be challenged to change.(12)
(12) Or “grief groups” and “suicide vans” could appear.
The youth will have to carry the torch. Create terms, use them as vehicles to engage with new problems, and then act to solve them, maybe with viral speed.
Underlying everything, however, is the cold and relentless mechanism of mechation. Commercial interests seep into framework committees, social media pages, and human ways of thinking. Intentions shift.(13)
(13) This was dramatically presented in a short video of a “lightning round game” about a “fundamentally broken” economic/political system (viewed by about forty million people). See https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/14/campaign-finance-but-make-it-viral-alexandria-ocasio-cortezs-unlikely-video-hit
Fossil fuel advocacy helps generate mechation’s force. Interests and intentions become enmeshed with human social contact forms. In the fifth mass extinction, when an asteroid strike turned days into night for months, the dinosaurs couldn’t adapt. Rat-like life did. In the sixth, it may be different. Or maybe not, with only the devices surviving. Much of the solution may come from naming the problem, describing it fully, virally spreading the generalist ideas to humanity, and discovering right actions that can solve these unprecedented problems.
BACKGROUND WRITINGS (2008-2017):[edit | edit source]
The Brain-Machine Synapse Illustration[edit | edit source]
(How the Brain Mechates)
(Bonds of reciprocity and empathy with other humans)
(What Zoom does to group truth)
Hiding Intention[edit | edit source]
[As the force of mechation surpasses evolution as the top influence on the planet, progress excels when humanity remains unaware of the changes. When the IPCC announced that there were 12 years left (in 2018) before the climate crisis would reach an irreversible point where humanity'e Earth could no longer be prevented from losing its historic abundance of resources (like the Himalayan glaciers quenching the thirst of a billion people), only 22 of the top 50 newspapers in the U.S. covered the material. Greta Thunberg was dismayed when the news didn't display that France had declared a climate emergency: the big news that day was that there was no news.]
[The new algorithm that turns a few words into paragraphs or pages proving things like "you can cook an egg without a frying pan". 7 5 19]
Decadent Intent[edit | edit source]
[As mechational intent permeates civilizations, screen engagement is often established with human audiences by the establishment of norms that were previously regarded as decadent. (The word decadence, which at first meant simply "decline" in an abstract sense, is now most often used to refer to a perceived decay in standards, morals, dignity, religious faith, honor, discipline, or skill at governing among the members of the elite of a very large social structure, such as an empire or nation state.) (characterized by or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline)]
[Post-truth society: lying politicians, abundant pornography, first-person media focusing on mental afflictions (anger, jealousy, disrespect, gossip, threatening, and so on).]
[RT: negative emotions, the viewer's desire to judge and figure out what might be true]
Factual Entertainment and Public Relations Ideals[edit | edit source]
[The ubiquitous "Hi, how is your day going?" which is forced from the employee's lips: A simple human communication has been commercialized into meaninglessness. The cashier really doesn't care about your day very much at all.]
Controlling the Power[edit | edit source]
Over two centuries, human inventions have given rise to a new structure implanted in societies and systems of operation. Industrial mutation was coined by Joseph Schumpeter at the end of the 19th century and described a perennial state of unrest whereby the economic structure was revolutionized from within. He stated that true competition was not price warfare, but new commodities or technologies that put old forms out of use: typewriters don't make sense once word processors predominate. In the 20th century, an invention often led to a monopoly controlled by a person or a board of directors. In the 21st century, power over the mechanics of the social media (the biggest business) currently rests in the hands of just a few people. The history of industrial mutations, however, suggests that the control of that power will change.
To try and make sense of the overall process, it is useful to re-examine the model for change of the big picture:
|concrete: Darinimbiak stabs a pen through Schneebaum's drawing, not understanding that it is a drawing of a woman. Schneebaum writes the description in a book.||Crystalized Imagination||abstract: Silverman submits her PhD thesis, which is later published as a book.|
|AT&T creates a grid of wires throughout the US in the early 20th century.|
o 5 Nikola Tesla, one of the fathers of commercial electricity, in 1904, "the entire earth will be converted into a huge brain, as it were, capable of response in every one of its parts."
o 6 the brave new technologies of the twentieth century eventually evolved into privately controlled industrial behemoths, the "old media" giants of the twenty-first, through which the flow and nature of content would be strictly controlled for reasons of commerce.
o 6 a typical progression of information technologies: from somebody's hobby to somebody's industry; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel--from open to closed system.
o 12 Ford's belief that his systems might be useful not just for manufacturing cars, but for all forms of social ordering. . . . "The ideas . . . form something in the nature of a universal code. I am quite certain that it is the natural code."
o 13 how and what you think depends on what information you are exposed to.
o 13 Holmes called the "marketplace of ideas," a space where every member of a society is, by right, free to peddle his creed. Yet the shape or even existence of any such marketplace depends far less on our abstract values than on the structure of the communications and culture industries.
o 18 What we call invention . . . is simply what happens once a technology's development reaches the point where the next step becomes available to many people. MECHATION: INVENTION--TECHNOLOGY AVAILABLE TO MANY PEOPLE--COMMERCIAL CONTROL
o 18 founders of disruptive industries that shake the technological status quo
o 19 two types of innovation: sustaining and disruptive __________________________________________
Intention and Fragmentation[edit | edit source]
The Progression of Abstraction
--Darambiak lives without abstractions (except the names of his people, foods, flora and fauna, and simple processes of life
--Kaja lives primarily in abstractions (lectures, computer shopping, thoughts about ideas)
--Ryan lives in a deeper level of abstraction with text archives and his smartphones cues
--A future human growing up with virtual goggles will penetrate even deeper into the possibilities of abstracted experience (spending a morning climbing Mt. Everest in 360 degrees)
Important abstractions to use:
--When Schneebaum went back, Darambiak was sitting in the community center watching television and maybe drinking soda. The knowledge of how to use a scale to weigh himself may have been useful to transition to modern living.
The major force behind the shift from evolution to mechation is the shift of intention, whereby human endeavors are shifted from traditional non-machine related activities towards interactions with machines. Farmers using simple tools originally intended to simply store some food and survive. Under feudal kings, serfs had the intention of respecting the king and serving his interests. No money was involved in the early feudal times. Slowly, money was introduced into feudal societies and intentions shifted. The new bourgeois that slowly developed under industrial capitalism put their faith in money and thought that serfs working for respect for (and protection from) royal society were fools. This was a major shift between human and machine intentions in Europe. Industrial capitalism spread through the world in two centuries--the first arm of mechation.
Currently in developed economies, food doesn't take much of your money and there is disposable income which advertisers compete for and a new economy grows from. A bigger shift has now occurred as the second arm of mechation takes hold.
Today, the average human intention on the planet has shifted much further. A primary force at work here is advertising which shapes the intentions of billions of people by the hour. There is also a “what’s new” element: humans now read news about current events. In oral cultures, this function was provided by couriers and storytellers; today it is provided by media and ideas quickly spread through many cultures. In just several hours a viral video can attract millions. Additionally, a "what's true" consideration has appeared: false information has been found to change elections. While people idealize the traditional cultural norms from the past, it is easy to see that human life could never again re-orient around swords, quests, and traditional community life. Popular movies depict scenes from the Middle Ages, but towns in the world do not revert to such simple lifestyles. Even religious groups refusing the technologies of zippers and automobiles use cell phones.
A second factor is at play which does not lead the direction of intent; it merely cuts off or fractures the attachments to tradition. This is fragmentation. In biology, a mutant signals possible changes in an organism. Technology readily invents new techniques which lead to cultural change. Socrates lamented the introduction of writing and its effects on the exchanges in oral culture. The invention of the computer has progressed to classrooms full of students with laptops in front of them or cellphones on their laps. This has had a huge effect on education, friendship, and even romantic relationships.
Today, of course, a fragmentation has occurred as the two people in the room are now reading on two devices. A look at their reading histories shows widely divergent choices. Not too much gets spoken about aloud, but lots of sharing goes on as clicks swell social media accumulations. Long texts get discussed, but less often than they were a century ago. Younger generations forego much of the reading and just watch audiovisual content or short texts, tweets, and popular viral links. Dinner now is often a person eating and looking at a screen, maybe wearing headphones. As far as reading goes, mass publishing in the twentieth century changed the numbers dramatically: more and more people began to read millions of books. This century has seen the act of writing swell as well. Millions of people have now self-published their books for free on their computer. Trillions of online words beg to be read.
Radio has also had a fragmenting effect on the human condition. Before this technology, people flocked around a human speaker—probably rooted in their community to some extent—listening and reflecting together.*
[In 1976, I walked on many evenings to Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy, to find five hundred or more people talking in small groups in the huge plaza—60,000 square feet. Some groups consisted of just five or six people, but others had a dozen or more people sharing conversation about ideas or something in their experience. One of my most vivid lifetime memories is holding hands in a human circle that went completely around the plaza—a line 1000 feet long—as we participated in a political protest.]
As AM and FM radio progressed, everyone soon had their own favorite radio station and the focal points of communication changed. The advance of mechation seems to require the retreat from the “tribal” situation. Compare a live conversation to the common situation of sitting and listening to another person’s telephone conversation. You hear one half of the participation (the speakerphone is off). If you know and care about the third person involved, your consciousness gets jumbled around. If it is serious stuff, the call could last half an hour and somehow you participate as a truncated participant (unless you find a space where you cannot hear the person on the phone at all). We seem to be connected by our cell phones, but we are simultaneously disconnected from the live people around us. College students often use the “groups of three rule” when socializing—at least three people have to be not texting to allow a group conversation to start up. Recently a cell phone anxiety disorder has been discovered in young people who were deprived of their phones for a short period while their heart rates were being monitored. Even the wrong phone in their hands relieved the symptoms.
Audiovisual images gain a strong hold on our consciousness when someone turns on a television. In the last century, there were just a few channels and there was some shared interest in choosing the channel together and absorbing the same information. By now, however, our minds float independently amidst millions of various audiovisual stimuli. One single link had two billion hits. We can share a link—a few people might click on it. We can talk about the cultural phenomena—a few people will know something about it. But our collective consciousness has been fragmented in the interests of our intentions and mechation.
To establish how evolution has changed into mechation and transformed the Earth, it is useful to compare both processes:
|1. Overproduction: Organisms produce more offspring than can survive. Some will die, but some will live on.||1. Signs and Symbols: Mechanical inorganic systems have been created by humans through the use of symbols and codes. This vast array of codes resembles the DNA of organic life. With manuals to assemble, service, and drive a car, we have information for a mechanical system.|
|2. Inherited Variation: Each individual has its own combination of traits which are similar, but not identical to its parents.||2. Information Bank: All codes are constantly being collected in huge databanks. Trillions of bits of information are constantly captured and stored. Creativity results in a constant barrage of new code: even “perfected” software changes in a year to a newer version. All machine processes are completely described and stored. Many obsolete machines could be recreated from collected information.|
|3. Struggle to Survive: Some organisms may be caught by predators, may starve, or may get a disease. Others will survive to adulthood.||3. Infrastructure: Mechanical systems require established infrastructures to spread and reproduce. Roads, conduits, and internet connections allow machines and codes to be exchanged. Fiber optics provides high speed interaction.|
|4. Successful Reproduction: The organisms that are best adapted to their environment are likely to have many offspring that survive.||4. Production Centers: Factories and assembly/service locations insure that machines and codes will be produced and maintained. Many machines function for decades, get repaired, and some never "die" but still work in a museum.|
|5. Market Advertising: Exchange areas and intentional messages allow machines to increase production and spread. Intention of the planet is controlled by this new machine intention. Humans are still writing the ads (for salaries) but almost all of the messages encourage the production and distribution of more machines. *|
|6. Finance: The use of money and stock exchanges allow mechanical codes and products to be exchanged on a global scale.|
- One might argue that humans are propagating a “green movement” and turning back rapid planetary changes such as global warming. However the intention for machine progress is clearly unalterable: try to imagine a worldwide ban on oil/shale exploration. Try to stop the newly discovered trillion gallons of Arctic oil from burning into the sky. Worldwide automobile “population” is doubling every couple of decades. The 20,000 world airplanes will also double in a few decades. We have half a billion cars now, but the Chinese and Indians have not even produced and purchased most of their cars yet. Machine intentions have even taken over the electoral process as purchased advertising has become a critical factor in U.S. elections. Reality television has slowly changed the thinking patterns of millions of people who are demonstrating political awareness that has never been seen in the history of the United States. Even the time-honored "truth" has changed as "post-truth" politics allows a "fact" to be published with nothing to substantiate it. A reality politician can state a belief in a policy and quickly state the opposite without losing popularity in an audience. Intense machine penetration by previous audiovisual content seems to have permanently changed the audience.
Mechation: How Evolution Changed (2010)[edit | edit source]
Consider this: Organic evolution has peaked as we enter the sixth mass extinction on Earth. Revolutionary changes are still going on, but they are in another realm. From above, the earth looks like it is rapidly being covered by roads, machines, factories, and mechanisms. From below, our lives are rapidly being consumed by our use of computers, cell phones, audiovisual images, and mechanisms which make our lives easier or more fun. Darwin’s theory of evolution applies to changes in the organic molecules of life. He established that living things have cells, respond to change, reproduce, have DNA, use energy, and grow or develop. Additionally, it seems apparent that machines have infrastructures, respond to change, reproduce, have symbolic codes, use energy, and grow or develop. Rather than being built with organic molecules, they are built with inorganic materials, codes, and systematization. Let’s say that mechanisms live too. As this epoch or era comes to an end, mechanisms are dominating life on earth.
Let mechation be a new term used to denote a form of evolution related to machine growth, development, and stabilization. While "evolution" has historically been linked to organic life forms based on carbon molecules, the dominant growth and development on our planet over the last century has been that of machines. Machines, mechanisms, and tools all derive from human symbolic activity. They are neither human nor organic, however. They do not exhibit the same functions as living organisms, but they change in their own way. While humans do not give "birth" to machines, they generate codes which enable machines to reproduce and multiply. At this moment, we are in a symbiotic relationship.
Although humans claim responsibility for successes and problems caused by machines, it is only because they are caught up in the transitional nature of organic evolution transforming into mechanical evolution: signs and symbols. Humans, the most advanced mammals, create thought and code. The code develops a "life" of its own and has become the "DNA" of mechanisms. Any mechanical device can be constructed or reconstructed by using codes and materials.
The idea of evolution formed as a human noticed a wide variety of bird beaks in finches on a group of Pacific islands. Each beak seemed particularly suited to procuring the food found on a particular island. Charles Darwin collected information and proposed that all living organisms evolve. He proposed that environments always present new challenges and that living things always adapt to the next set of conditions. At first, this meant moving from under the water to land. Later, it meant moving from land into the air. Each set of slow changes throughout the history of life could be documented by a changing continuum of modified organisms. Life in the water, on land, and in the air was gradually specified.
Over time, the evolving continuation of all these forms has become well understood. Looking around today, a second process of natural change has become apparent. Darwin himself, after describing natural selection and evolution, noted that other theories of natural change were also possible. It is easy to document the constant modifications on this new continuum, but the totality of the concept is hidden: literate humans cannot easily see it. As an idea forms in a brain and is input into a language or code, the brain cannot separate from the input. Human self concepts include this input: human identity is being forged from the codes. These codes can be thought of as the DNA of machines. This link between humans and machines has created such an intimate bond that it is almost impossible to draw or see a line. However, there are really two identities: an organic human being with oral language skills (precursors to symbolic code) and an inorganic machine with stored symbolic codes.
Is this evolution? Are humans evolving into super-intelligent, super-strong future forms? Are human beings becoming obese forgetful degradations of earlier ancestors?
Mechation describes the modern changes we see around us. Unlike organic evolution (based on life forms containing carbon), this is an “inorganic evolution.” It parallels evolution because it’s processes are rapidly modifying the planet, but these processes are slightly different. The planetary changes have been dubbed “anthropogenic”, but “mechanogenic” or “mechogenic” would be a better term. Using "mechocene" instead of "anthropocene" would be a more accurate way to describe our current time period.
We have been accustomed to viewing rocks as dead and carbon-based organisms as alive: a piece of igneous rock may go through the rock cycle in a billion years while a house fly cycles in weeks. But mechanical creations—inorganic forms like a cell phone—have quick cycles of regeneration. An anonymous viewer watching any temperate continent from a couple of miles above it could register huge evidence of change over the last century or even decade. On the ground, if the observer moves to any road and then a connected highway, it would lead to a place where the vehicles stop and humans exchange things. Often, these things are mechanical. These mechanical markets may contain tens of thousands of items. Furthermore, if the viewer looked into some virtual machines, it would be easy to see codes manifesting themselves in myriad forms of “personal representation” that provide a second identity to many of the seven billion humans; for some, this second identity is more important than the first. Billions of pictures have been abstracted from reality to help form billions of self-concepts. Often these self-concepts are referenced more to the pictures that are chosen than to concrete actions taken in life.
Why set up a new branch of science? Can’t the departments of “evolution”, “ecology”, and "engineering" just carry us on? Humans are obviously not progressing like the chimpanzees slowly did. Fish slowly created reptiles, and the DNA of both is similar. Humans slowly created machines, but the new codes (bits and bytes of information) do not look like DNA. The major similarities of humans and machines are seen in their replication processes (both replicate themselves prodigiously in different ways) and in their significant impacts on the Earth (each has drastically altered the planet over time). Some humans hope to transition to a “higher level” and proceed with “human evolution.” However, these “higher levels” aren’t human: some future being with an internet brain implant and a banded stomach eating medications may have human DNA but cannot really transition out of Homo sapiens. Machine/human interfaces (telephone use, driving) create easily visible symbiotic relationships, but much of the machine world is entirely independent of the average human. Automation has begun in some factories and soon will sweep through the world introducing mechanical devices and software structures. Hunter-gatherers and agrarian farmers will fade into history as automated farms and driverless trucks feed the people.
Exploring Mechation[edit | edit source]
The big picture, the view of the Earth from a satellite camera, shows a changing planet. Comprehending this change is not easy, however. Science struggles with computer models, laboratory tests, and field studies to grasp the processes of change but sometimes to no avail. The North Pole was an "insane 36 degrees Fahrenheit warmer" in 2016 (Washington Post, 11/17/16), and it could have been the shifting jet streams or a polar vortex which caused this, but science can't say. What we can clearly define and see, however, are changes brought about by machines that are acting in a person's life right now. Look around. The process is like evolution, but it is different. Call it mechation. The human body (which has been studied for centuries) is a good model to use for comparison and to help illuminate how mechation works.
Mechation[edit | edit source]
Let mechation be a new term used to denote a form of evolution related to machine growth, development, and stabilization. While "evolution" has historically been linked to organic life forms based on carbon molecules, the dominant growth and development on our planet over the last century has been that of machines.
Machines, mechanisms, and tools all derive from human symbolic activity. They are neither human nor organic, however. They do not exhibit the same functions as living organisms, but they change in their own way. While humans do not give "birth" to machines, they generate codes which enable machines to reproduce and multiply. At this moment, we are in a symbiotic relationship. The world automobile population doubles every other decade. This is made possible by engineering manuals, factories, finance, and distribution techniques. Slowly, with the rapid development of computer capacities, these functions are accomplished with less and less human support. In the near future, automobile design and reproduction will be entirely machine-controlled.
Although humans claim responsibility for successes and problems caused by machines, it is only because they are caught up in the transitional nature of organic evolution transforming into mechanical evolution: signs and symbols. Humans, the most advanced mammals, create thought and code. The code develops a "life" of its own and has become the "DNA" of mechanisms. Any mechanical device can be constructed or reconstructed by using codes and materials.
What force guides the transition of evolution towards mechation? Throughout evolutionary time, there has always been intention of change, adaptation, and reproduction. As organic life approaches the current mass extinction, this intention carries us on. Humans have rapidly been creating more and more machines. Even when the economy stops functioning in a recession, systems rapidly work to restore progress. There is no possibility of return: most land animals never returned to the oceans. While reduced machine dependence and usage often creates comfortable lifestyles for adventurous participants, the collective intention of the human species wills that mechation take place. Human museums may help preserve the ways of our ancestors and the beauties of their culture, but these settings will not be able to compete with the rapid innovations of lifestyle derived from machine use applied on a mass scale. Modern life choices change the nature of being human.
Why do humans seem blind to their relinquishment of planetary dominance? Most humans would not agree to give up their human ways for replacement by a mechanical device, but a subtle set of transitional stages exist which hide mechation from popular view. Over millenia, humans created tools and signs. Slowly, leadership became attached to the mastery of language. From Aristotle (reputed to have read every book of his day) to a modern Doctor of Philosophy or Master of Business Administration, there has been a progression of abstraction by use of signs that has been carried out by leaders in many societies. Highly abstracted leaders are rooted in the ideas, publications, and peer groups which constitute their identities. They may enjoy wilderness living as well, but their self esteem and self promotion are rooted in their abstracted codifications. There is often excitement as a newly published author becomes popular by rebelling from the technological society or some aspect of the status quo. With success, however, comes enmeshment into the technological society. The author is drawn into it and undergoes a shift in personal identity. This shift aligns his or her intentions with the intentions of mechation. As the current natural process of mechation overtakes evolution in importance, human leaders are trapped in their codes, royalties, status, and peer reviews; they are unable to take actions to restore human-centered lifestyles--ways of living characterized by oral cultures over many millenniums.
Below the level of leadership, the worldwide process of gaining literacy helps change intentions in populations. While highly literate humans do not sense separation from their codes, their machines, and their progress, the average world citizens differ in their worldview. They currently see the Earth being rapidly altered by the leading countries. The intentions of these citizens have been altered as well with the influx of first world media. Global economic forces mechate the economies of these countries and the populations receive immediate economic benefits that make the process seem attractive. However, as larger scales of development ensue, the consequences of urbanization, mechanization, pollution, and climate change alter the social patterns of the country. In these ways, both leaders and followers bring about the rapid mechation of Earth.
The Origins of Mechation[edit | edit source]
Signs and Symbols[edit | edit source]
Mammals have evolved into humans, and with this progression has come the use of signs and symbols. While a chimpanzee may have drawn a circle in the dirt with a stick and then crossed a line through it, it took millions of years for this figure to hold meaning. Now humans living in most urban areas recognize that the picture of any object with a circle around it and a single line crossing through it indicates that the object or its use is prohibited. While alphabets and the abstractions that they made possible (words like "museums" or "polls", for example) slowly codified the real world humans inhabited, the deeper functions of mechation involve identity changes in which a human's personal meaning system is manipulated by signs. The science of semiotics carefully describes these processes. Advertising can take a simply curved line (a "swoosh") and weave a person's self esteem and self image into it. The swoosh then carries a new meaning: invented by the advertiser it was invested with human intention. Now, it acts like a command embedded inside a product which prompts the use of the product. If a human understands this manipulative process, there is no "hook" and the created meanings are false and unattached. Most humans have no clear idea about the process and simply promote these meanings. Use of the product spreads, new factories open up, and suddenly the shoe with the swoosh isn't worn just to protect the feet until the shoe wears out. The shoe establishes identity for the human. Alphabets, graphic images, and logos all share in similar movements of meaning.
Technique[edit | edit source]
Half a century ago, Jacques Ellul described a concept that he called technique as a process encompassing “rationality, self-augmentation, monism, universalism, and autonomy.” He correctly saw technique as a force which "elicits and conditions social, political, and economic change." In trying to describe it, he sensed its overwhelming importance. However his writings appeared before the processes of computing and mechation radically changed all aspects of global interaction. The term he chose, technique, already had a meaning and did not serve to define and describe the later changes in mechanical culture that occurred after his books were written. Also, Ellul was a law professor unversed in evolutionary science. His primary focus was on changes brought about in social systems. Though a pioneer in thinking about these phenomena, he was unable to see the complete picture that was to unfold after he wrote his many books.
Recently, Cesar Hidalgo has more carefully delineated technique at work in the modern age. He calls it "information" (also a term with many meanings) and carefully describes its progressive force from atoms to trees. A computer person, he enhances the original idea of technique by adding a computational component: "a tree is a computer operated by the sun." The word "mechation"--like the word "evolution"--specifies an important new meaning more successfully than either "technique" or "information" was able to do.
The Domains of Mechation[edit | edit source]
Media[edit | edit source]
While primitives may have scratched signs in the sand, moderns have given permanence to their signs and symbols. Oral cultures passed on their symbols by word of mouth: what Buddha said was repeated over and over again for centuries. When the words were written down, they lasted millenia. Jesus Christ probably wrote very little, but his words were remembered and printed; they are now found throughout the world. The transmission of data, thought, and meaning has slowly formed into media and marketing (intentional data). Ellul was sensitive to this domain as well. Having seen how intentions were shaped by propaganda during World War II, he carefully analyzed media and its effects. Since he was primarily concerned with the intentions that Hitler created before and during the war, the word "propaganda" carries mostly political meanings in his writings.
"It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment. Mass media provides the essential link between the individual and the demands of the technological society. . . . [I]ntelligent people can be made to swallow professed intentions by well-executed propaganda." (Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. New York: Knopf, 1965, p.58).
Since Ellul's writings appeared, cable television and the internet have been invented. The media now affect the consciousness of billions of humans. Instead of a poster with a provocative picture and a few carefully chosen words, we have studiously crafted audiovisual messages that rapidly change and generate intentions among huge populations.
During the election of the 45th president of the United States, the process of mechation forcefully entered the political arena. It had entered the work arena fifty years earlier, but now computers and the internet are forging a new kind of political identity. These new media forces can radically shift the election process: (1) a new law allowing unlimited political spending and fundraising has resulted in billions of dollars being spent on political advertising: people now watch lots of politics; (2) reality television has accustomed viewers with entertaining and spontaneous drama based on feelings rather than logic28 million viewers watched a 2004 reality show familiarizing the audience with the 2016 presidential candidate; (3) in 2016, rather than paying for advertising, the candidate has just relied on his entertaining messages to get media coverage leading to familiarization throughout the country and daily headlines in most newspapers; (4) "post-truth" news has developed allowing people familiar with media to post news stories (often on social media) that are not true but are also not easily disprovable; (5) poll results were apparently circumvented by instructing a set of voters to offer no opinion about their vote until they actually votedsimilar to bidding on an ebay article ten seconds before the auction closes and winning it; (6) after the election, a major newspaper published the entire 70-minute interview with the president-elect to clearly show the public that no solid plans are generally being offered and any solid plans offered are often quickly being "u-turned" even during the interview; and (7) during the campaign, the president had admonished the media to keep the news on substantive questions and policies but the media instead shifted their focus to sensationalism that boosts readership/viewers.
Infrastructure[edit | edit source]
Evolving organisms are dependent on light, water, oxygen, and organic foods, but mechating machines are not. Instead, machines need infrastructures such as roads, electric wires, libraries, optic cables, airports, or satellites and dishes. While scientists have generated adequate descriptions of processes and structures of organic life, they have not yet coherently analyzed mechation. In the realm of cultural anthropology, scientists have described the relative permanence of artifacts, codes, and physical structures that make cultural evolution possible. When a primate or hominid dies next to a stone tool, the tool lives on and serves another creature that may find it and put it to use. Ancient cities are dug up and life patterns are reconstructed from insights that scientists develop in teams supported by extensive research funding. It is likely that this same investigative energy will soon be applied to infrastructures and machine life. At this time, however, most scientists do not understand the importance and significance of planetary dominance by mechanisms. Their symbiotic relationship with mechanisms seems to hide the big picture. Like fish becoming frogs, they don't see the drastic difference between aquatic and terrestrial life. Paradoxically, scientists and the media have recently concluded that humans are causing climate change and the current mass extinction. This is incorrect: machines are causing the acceleration of global warming. Collective human intention has created highways and vehicles, coal-fired plants and electricity, and deforested farms in the interest of moving around, staying warm/cool, and eating excess protein. For millions of years, human patterns of moving, staying warm, and eating were radically different, but satisfied perceived needs. These new intentions have been generated by media, advertising, politics, economics and the technological society. The technological system has supplanted lifestyles that individual humans personally chose for themselves during the last few million years.
Global Computing[edit | edit source]
At a conference composed of scientists studying computers and the internet, a conclusion was reached that the internet itself had a “consciousness of its own.” [Markoff, John. "Scientists Worry that Machines May Outsmart Man." New York Times, July 25, 2009.] What does this mean? My own “consciousness” includes all of the codes and abstractions that I carry in my brain, the memories that can be summoned, and my perceptions or judgments of the experience around me. How does Google compare? Mechation has always been dependent on human-generated codes in libraries and places where books were preserved. The construction and service manuals for the Model T Ford were carefully created and distributed to guarantee the economic success of this early automobile. Times have changed. Such information is now stored as electronic data and its pattern of use or availability is completely different. Until recently, human thought was in complete control of data access. Since the last century this has changed.
At the end of the 20th century, humans thrilled in the fact that chess masters could always beat a computer. Then “Deep Blue” beat the world chess master and there was a shift in perceptions. [Johnson, Kirk. "Endgame: It's All Work Now for Deep Blue, Chess Champ." New York Times, September 24, 1997.] Currently, no person can grasp what some mechanisms “know”. How does this relate to “human consciousness?” Highly functional computers have been with us for a few decades. How will human consciousness compare to "machine consciousness" in a few more decades?
Finance and Economics[edit | edit source]
With globalization and the strong interdependence of world trade markets, business and venture capital create a background for planetary mechation. Data and business structures that controlled the establishment and spread of automobile production were once localized in a few countries; now these structures have moved around the world. When banks collapse in New York and London, worldwide economic practices change. Without stable financial and economic systems, machines are limited in their growth and ability to spread throughout the world. Paradoxically, as the world markets have recently collapsed and created a deep recession there has been a parallel development of “green” political movements whose primary agenda is the control of mechation.
Forecasts of global warming (which most scientists denied for decades) were recently determined to be much too slow when compared with actual data collected since 2000. Many humans from all over the planet have united in an effort to control production of mechanisms which are currently bringing about this sixth mass extinction. It would seem obvious that this "Great Recession" is a perfect time to stop changing Earth's conditions. Every Thursday could be a “walk, bike, or stay day.” The first week of the month could be a “natural climate day” with drastically reduced heating or air conditioning. Could humans gradually establish control over the financial and economic processes that have driven the last century? Many humans were able to turn off their night lights together for five minutes a few years ago and an hour last year. Is this significant? Why can’t this reversal of lifestyle be accomplished? As mentioned earlier, intention in evolution and mechation is a force which guides development. There can be no intention of retreating to 14th century lifestyles in the modern era. Only a few species of marine mammals gave up a viable habitat on land to return to the sea. Now that machines have established patterns of servicing all human needs, mass markets cannot grind to a halt. No person or country can enforce a “walk, bike, or stay” Thursday. No person or security force can stand guard over the oil wells and force the discontinuation of their use. No humans can even stop the process of prospecting for new oil sources. As the Arctic ice disappears, many new oil wells will replace it to take advantage of the 25% of Earth’s oil deposits thought to be found there. There are just over a trillion barrels of oil still expected to be found; all of these will be consumed. What force could stop this process?
Personal Mechation[edit | edit source]
How did symbolic development transition from primates to robots? Humans played the pivotal role by incorporating symbols into their being and establishing the mechating world. Oral cultures did not have imprints of the spoken words. Without a storage facility (other than human memory), the symbolic infrastructures of mechation could not be established. With printed letters and ideographic script, however, symbolic ideas gained a life of their own in established cultural patterns. For thousands of years the progression was slow. Still photography, audio, and audiovisual imprints followed. Those humans with the most social power planted their identity into these cultural imprints to become famous. Finally, however, the human mechated identity of formated representation became possible. While "publishing" was once restricted to a privileged few, this technique now serves to spread ideas from any of a billion "publishers". Currently, half a billion humans have stored information that is print/audio/visual in formated segments that can be revealed to others in varying degrees. Embedded in the intention of creating these formats are core elements of human self esteem and values. As deep meaning is embedded into pictures and captions, personal identity shifts. People have committed suicide because of mechated identity abuse. This was uncommon when someone read another's diary in the past. As these personal representations gain wider power over the human mind, humans will no longer be centering their self esteem and identity concepts around the non-virtual experiences of their daily lives. Previously, old journals became yellow and disintegrated, but now new emails and pages of personal representation have different storage and different control. While a diary from decades past may not have survived, we are entering "the end of forgetting" when transparent personal data is becoming fixed in time and space. The new time permanence of mechation and the new identity that we are projecting to virtual "friends" will change the way we look at ourselves and the world. Our accountability will shift from focus on our way of being to our "posts" of our way of being. Mutual experience will disintegrate into collages on the lonely screen in front of us: single, lonely, but a thousand "friends" to "chat" with.
Living with Mechation[edit | edit source]
Finally, there must be a spiritual or religious approach established by humans to adapt to a planet controlled by machines. Buddhists are able to withdraw from many aspects of physical experience: this provides them with a ready adaptation to a changing planet. Moslems struggle to re-establish lifestyle norms laid down many centuries ago: this will be problematic. Christians, the primary supporters of worldwide mechation, are recently noticing that humans must struggle to maintain “stewardship of the Earth.” A book in the Bible describes apocalyptic circumstances in which the air turns to smoke, floods prevail, and mass extinction occurs. As it is written, many are willing to believe. A person may drive a huge tundra-melting truck but may also believe that one day a heaven will open up to allow immortal happiness. This approach helps millions of people to be happy in today's world. Lao Tzu's worldview establishes that existence in the natural universe is open-ended; humans must adjust their manner of looking at things in order to find "the way" to survive and still find spiritual fulfillment. "From wonder into wonder, existence opens." [Bynner, Witter. The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu. Penguin Putnam Inc. NY. 1986 (p. 31)] What he seems to have done is remove the basic judgments humans develop about the way things should be. Unlike Buddha's complete abstinence, Lao Tzu's solution involves making adjustments to change. Lao Tzu apparently wrote nothing until the end of his life, a condition that kept him rooted in oral experience. Spirituality that is closely aligned with modern mechation can be found in the Shinto religion dominant in Japan. Shinto priests bless new cars at temples. Inanimate objects have their own spiritual identity. Japanese people have led the world in adapting to mechation. Traditional human values of happiness and sexuality may have suffered, however, and suicide is a major human problem in Japan.
To look upon a liberated world, set free from all the judgments we have made requires us to retreat from the anthropocentric viewpoint which has dominated the last several thousand years and return to a "tribal" viewpoint. This is a sweeping proposal which is quite hard to grasp and steps outside the boundaries of modern thought. To understand it, a theist might visualize this: the God of the dinosaurs is the same as the God of the humans and the God of the machines. It is a jarring thought, but puts existence in perspective. Humans and dinosaurs had to give up their prominent places and make way for change in the universe. Recent news that "80% of the world's population is exposed to high levels of threat to water security" [Vorosmarty, C.J. et al. "Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity." Nature, Vol. 467. September 30, 2010] forces our worldview to shift. We have been idealizing the "end of hunger" in the world as rich countries send a proportion of their gross domestic product to poor countries. Economic downturn ended this ideal. Devastated populations in locales struck by earthquakes, tsunamis, or floods still wait for promised aid. Pictures of malnourished infants no longer cause media sensations and no longer circulate. A billion humans are expected to suffer extreme or fatal hardship in the current mass extinction. Will populations of rich humans continue to expand? Neanderthals mysteriously died out as Cro Magnons began to flourish. Did the Cro Magnons kill them or just witness their inability to adapt. Were the Cro Magnons empathic? There was no internet back then. Jacques Ellul's ideal that we must "act locally and think globally" has become problematic. Possibly we should act locally and think tribally (tribes being family and friends). Personal mechation on the internet would reinforce this as we "unfriend" problematic associations.
Looking at the world from an individualistic point of view, there is another paradox which allows mechation to slowly spread through human culture: primitives or humans steeped in oral culture do not develop the abstractions required to view the massive evolutionary changes taking place on the planet. They notice the demise of life's quality, but cannot explain it. They accept a television in their village and wear sneakers but do not understand the big picture and cannot fathom what the dominating populations are thinking. Advanced literates, however, have wedded themselves to abstract thinking. Their long training has made common sense blurry: "Cars are melting the glaciers. I have to use my car to get to work. I have to accelerate and use some extra gas because I am late today." Decades ago, Ludwig Wittgenstein was able to leave this thinking, donate his fortune, and withdraw to a garden. Nonetheless, he later returned to abstract thinking and resumed his professorship***. Once this canopy of thought is developed, a human rarely strays from its cover.
What is a satisfactory personal approach that can provide happiness in a human’s work and play? Each person must come up with a personal formula, of course. To avoid regret or guilt humans must find ways of making money (if it is used) that does not contribute to destruction. Leisure, recreation, and lifestyle must be carefully chosen as well. If someone is accustomed to a semi-annual cross-continental flight to visit mother, for example, the person’s spiritual awareness will be influenced by a negative emotion since the jet fuel is so toxic to Earth. Fighting mass intention and a mass extinction, of course, seems hopeless. But small personal successes can still bring small satisfactions.
Practically, humans can still find comfortable human lifestyles offering rewarding lives. Primitives in the Amazon, of course, are not burdened with abstractions and codes. They still live in close interaction with natural environments. Television often makes entry into their psycho-social patterns, however, and changes their consciousness. Economics intrudes as well when forests are removed to provide land for grazing cattle or grow soybeans for beef or protein bars.
For humans in urban areas who are literate or post-literate, possibilities did recently exist to regain primitive awareness. Until this century, it was quite easy to step out of the technological system to see it clearly--as the first lizards which stopped entering the water must have done. Over the last few years, however, this has become extremely difficult. Previously, by merely avoiding any reading or television/monitor use for half a year, a person could leave her or his abstracted world and enter into an alternative way of seeing things. The life in signs fades away and the life in experience brightens. Any non-virtual experience (walking, sport, sewing, weeding, etc.) becomes reality and the symbols seem to intrude on it. Many dedicated spiritual people still embark on three-month retreats. Nonetheless, with the recent advent of formatted representations of your identity, your email monitoring, and your increased audiovisual device monitoring over the last decade, this discipline has become much more difficult. How can you go without looking at the screen of a cellphone or some monitor for half a year? In 1970, yes; in 2010, it is hard.
If a retreat from the technology is accomplished, another world opens up. Once the electronic and print information is bypassed, a human can further delete the creeping intentions of the mechating world by learning to avoid looking at any billboard or advertisement. This last step is hard, but takes you completely out of the grip of mass intention. Once a period of abstinence is established over months or years, reentry into the virtual world is different. Careful, meticulous use of electronic devices or print can be accomplished in ways that help preserve aspects of natural human consciousness. A cell phone, email address, or wristwatch had been considered “essential” for functioning in today’s world. After a deep reflection period, a person can decide to use each machine carefully in a way that allows a human-centered natural order to unfold. This conscientization creates an altered worldview. Is it necessary to know what time it is on Saturday? Could you spend the day without using a coin or credit card? Some of the schools in the coming century will offer new ways to examine and approach the challenges of modern lifestyle choices. Strong, intimate, human relationships that are not infiltrated by machine use (or at least excessive machine use) will continue to create satisfying lives for many people.
Personal Example[edit | edit source]
By inputting these words (thoughts I have had for four decades but have never written down), my identity changes and I become invested in exchanging codes. Responses to these words now have meaning for me. Others might share my thoughts. I am preparing to spend large numbers of hours typing into a computer, adding words to the trillions of electronic words being produced. I am creating abstractions upon which my sense of identity and self esteem will depend. This experience of data exchange could largely replace the extremely experiential life I currently enjoy!
The Stages of Mechation[edit | edit source]
Time is a variable --/ Time is a constant
STAGES OF EVOLUTION; TIME VARIABILITY OF ORGANISMS
STAGES OF MECHATION; TIME CONSTANCY OF MECHANISMS
INFRASTRUCTURE OF ORGANISMS:
LAND, WATER, AIR
INFRASTRUCTURE OF MECHANISMS:
ROADS, INFORMATION CONDUITS, POWER CONDUITS, FINANCIAL CONDUITS, MALLS, COLLEGES
SCROLLS, PAPERS, BOOKS, AND DIRECTORIES; LIBRARIES; COMPUTERS; DATA BANKS
FARMS; FACTORIES; LABORATORIES
PEDDLERS, TINKERS, BAZAARS, SHOPS, STORES, DEPARTMENT STORES
SCRIPTORIUM, COUNCIL, AGENCY, PERSONALLY FORMATED REPRESENTATION