Article Cyberspace

We Are All Wet

When Marshall McLuhan said, “I don’t know who invented water, but I know it wasn’t a fish,” he was pointing out the difficulty inherent in recognizing our immersion in something so ubiquitous that it’s invisible. The first fish to suggest to his friends that life might endure beyond the pond perhaps refrained from doing so for fear of being labeled a conspiracy theorist. This fish would have to go his way alone for a time if he was serious. He’d have to commit to his own inquiry and release the idea that his schoolmates would one day validate his tales of life on dry land, even if one day they did. He’d have to be tolerant of that within them, which was blind to what he couldn’t stop seeing. He’d have to empathize with their wetness. He’d do this best by remembering what it was like to be unaware. In doing this he’d neutralize that within him which possibly made his convictions sound smug. Or condescending. Or crazy.

MC Escher, Fish

We are all wet at the moment, soaked in aggressive narrative and degraded by its insistence upon our irrelevance and the message it sends that we are too fragile to stand up, too scattered and traumatized to heal. The Internet, which at root is a neutral network of interconnection, has flooded all our spaces with information. The compounding growth of computing power was predicted by Moore’s Law, but no one could have predicted what this ever more vivid representation of reality would feel like, no one could have known that endlessly replicable digital media would so distract us from the analog passage of time, or that we’d find ourselves in the strange position of believing that the very medium that has contributed to so much of our present distress is the only medium by which we can communicate with one another about our present distress. Of course there were those who prophesied, but their warnings may have been capitalized upon. The wheel spins ever more quickly, it seems, as we approach the center.

We can read all about Maya as pervasive illusion on the internet without considering that we’ve possibly squandered the strength that comes from deliberate study and dialogue and slow contemplation, from remaining open. There are endless layers to illusion, it seems. And there are consequences for trading true inquiry for consumption of its products. We were told that the information superhighway would make the world smaller. We now go too far, too quickly without the friction of the actual, which would slow us down to consider our impact. The world is the same size, our tolerance for those we deem intolerant is what has shrunk so radically.

The Internet, if it could be personified, is like a person who knows all and understands nothing, a person incapable of wisdom, because wisdom arises solely from lived experience. If we’re lucky we become more merciful as we age because we find that we endure and love deeply even as our quotient of days dwindles, we remain open to change even as the familiar continually falls away. We return full circle to the reflexive kindness and curiosity of childhood to the degree that we’re able to feel and acknowledge the pain of our negative impact upon others, or through the recognition that delighting in another person’s happiness is the most durable form of joy. We grieve our losses in direct proportion to our willingness to love. We must recognize that all humans are born with this capacity, though it’s systematically discouraged in the name of progress and competition.

The Internet seeks to remake us in its image and we seem not to mind. It measures our preferences and we’ve become enamored of that which is measured, buying that this is actually something of value.

But self-importance is the same thing as suffering, and we have all been complicit in its inflation, frighteningly so if one of our preferences is to think of ourselves as “good”. Unfortunately the only way to improve upon being good is to be better. But every better demands a worse and those of us who have embraced the project of self-improvement, those of us with the leisure for self-actualization have to be brave enough to stare into the abyss where we may have thrown those with whom we don’t agree. Because if our actualization rests upon another’s lack of it, then it’s a lie.

A basis of binary code, an environment built on ones and zeroes, is blind to the timeless truth of dynamic polarities, forces that only exist relative to one another. It understands nothing of our shared human endowment: our capacity to recognize and bond over shared meaning. Meaning irrespective of definition, quality irrespective of quantity. There is possibly nothing less efficient than a human life. As the Buddhists say, “all birth ends in death”. If efficiency were the point then we wouldn’t be here.

About Jonathan Smith

Jon has been a practicing psychotherapist in Los Angeles since 2009. Prior to this he worked in film and television as a writer, director and film editor. He left New York for Hollywood in the summer of 2001, just before a certain event that indeed changed everything. Trained initially in post-Jungian depth psychology, the Buddhist Abhidarma is the basis of his approach. Jon took refuge in the Shambhala Lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 2002. This ruined his life before saving it. He’s presently a committed Dzogchen practitioner with retreat experience in Theravadin, Zen and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions as well as the secularized mindfulness practices of Jon Kabat-Zinn and others. Jon is a member of the Global Association for Interpersonal Neurobiology Studies and has been a professional participant in Mind and Life’s European Summer Research Institute. He offers attachment-focused EMDR and trained as a yoga teacher before becoming a therapist. He’s an avid amateur musician and beloved by most dogs and many kids.

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