Saturday, April 27, 2013

THE REAL REALITY – It's In Our Nature

The bogus tweet and the stock market's reaction

This past Tuesday, a hacker managed to get into the AP’s twitter account and tweet “breaking” news that there had been explosions in the White House, and that President Obama was injured. In a matter of seconds the stock market fell 150 points, and some $136 billion in stocks were dumped in a robotic knee-jerk of automated mass trading.

Does anyone else find this troubling? Not just for its obvious implications for the integrity of our financial system, but for its potential political and psychological impact. Besides making a few people with nothing but ill intent and good timing quite rich, it seems this mere 72-character incursion into a mostly mindless social medium seriously threatened yet another body blow to our already fragile national psyche. 

Now I’m guessing most people would be concerned about what this says about the security of our investment apparatus. I wonder what it says about something far more profound: the state of our collective consciousness.

The AP/Twitter fiasco is far from the only abuse of our increasingly virtual connections with reality. Add to this a rash of other false news reports—some by news organizations we’d like to think might still value some degree of integrity—and one sees a disturbing pattern emerging: a kind of Faustian bargain in which we exchange our hard-won intelligence and God-given sense of curiosity for the quickest possible information—regardless of its source.

At least folks who've partaken of those 
fictions knew they were fictions.

What is it about this maniacal need to be the first to know, even at the expense of truth? Is it possible any more not to buy into it?

Indeed, the line between the real and the virtual started blurring a very long time ago. Escapist novels, theatre, film and television—each, in its heyday, the favorite pastime of nearly anyone in the world who could afford them—were the early culprits. But at least folks who've partaken of those fictions knew they were fictions.

Recent decades have spawned new choices and levels of virtual experience. So-called historical fiction, the TV docudrama, on-line dating. With the blossoming of the digital age, ever smaller computers, the social media and the cell phone have assured that almost no one, wherever they might be, whatever the time of day, is beyond the reach of news and information, further clouding the difference between real-life, face-to-face communication and a poor likeness that, again, sacrifices substance for convenience and speed.

Then there's video gaming, involving ever more realistic outlets for everything from playfulness to murderous rage. Virtual communities like Second Life allow subscribers to lose themselves in fantasy worlds of their own design, even carrying on a sort of hybrid of virtual and real commerce. No doubt someone's at work on the virtual vacation.

It's bad enough that we've lost touch with real experience, but we don't even know where our information is any more. We can't touch it; hell, we can't even hide it. No wonder, I guess, that the wisp of certainty we're left with these days is that it now resides "in the cloud."

Many of you know me as the “wonder guy,” the author of this blog on how to slow down, unplug from technology and appreciate life’s many small wonders. I want to help spread the word about the tragedy—and high cost—of our increasing alienation from Nature.

What we need is for individuals, families, communities, organizations and governments to realize that allowing Nature into every aspect of our lives—the way we're wired to operate—is absolutely vital to our physical and mental health…not to mention that of our planet.

Nature is the ultimate reality check, 
the consummate teacher of truth.

So, what’s the connection with hacking and bogus news reports and virtual you-name-it? I have this crazy theory that all these travesties may be symptomatic of our profound disconnection from Nature—and that repairing that rift might go a long way toward getting a generation's (real) feet back on the (real) ground.

Nature is the ultimate reality check, the consummate teacher—of wet and dry, cold and hot, open and closed, high and low, slow and fast—in fact, of any measure of where and how we are in space and time. There is no virtual here, only what is, only the truth.

And more of that truth, it seems to me, would serve us well in how we live our lives. Nature teaches human beings awareness, curiosity, wonder and gratitude. She knows nothing of deadlines. Her time isn't parceled out to fit neatly between station breaks. Her messages aren't sucked dry of nuance and color just so they'll fit on a 3" screen in less than 140 characters. And she has no interest in making life all about winners and losers.

So how do we use Nature's example to help us reclaim our own sense of reality? Let's start with a couple of broad strokes: First, we should do what we say we do, and let technology be our tool, not our life. And we need to break out of our media-induced expectation of instant gratification, and learn be more patient and mindful.

Examine the myths of certainty and expectation  that may color your life, and ask yourself their price.

More specifically, here some simple steps anyone can take to start building a new, healthier, more honest reality:
  • Get off the screen and into the scene. That means taking regular breaks where you disconnect from demands on your time and attention by anyone or anything that's not actually there with you.
  • Get outdoors as often as possible. (Why not take scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki's 30/30 Challenge and spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in Nature every day in May?)
  • Give yourself permission to not have an agenda. Find a beautiful, quiet place and just sit, just be.
  • Don't bring a book. I know some will bristle at this, but the escape you want is to the here and now, not being transported to some other time and place.
  • Take a kid with you sometimes; they're the original experts on honesty and presence.
  • Examine the myths of certainty and expectation (including that of instant gratification) that may color your life, and ask yourself their price.
  • Celebrate the difference between real-life, firsthand experience with Nature—the kind that uses all your senses—and the sped-up, dumbed-down version parceled out to us by the 24/7 global news/entertainment industry.
       (Can you think of other steps? We'd love to hear them – leave a comment!)

Think of these measures as an investment in a safer, saner reality, one whose return might be realized not just in greater clarity about what's genuine and good, but in better physical and mental health, in the richness and reach of your spiritual life; in sheer fun and relaxation, and in so many other ways.

And it's an investment whose principle can never be touched by the failings of ego or excess…or, God forbid, 72 lousy characters of virtual reality aimed at suckers who don't know any better.


Sara said...

I can't believe people didn't check this story out. If anything Twitter and other social media, have taught to take whatever you see online with a grain of salt. I usually check the facts or try to.

I like your suggestions. I'm not sure it will easy to get people to put down their cell phones or laptops to do the things you recommend, but I do believe they'd better off if they did.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Sara - Although this stock sell-off was the result of totally automated, algorithm-based progams, it's hard to believe so many would put their trust in them.
No shortage of other examples of our growing gullibility -- like the whole Wikipedia concept. Hate to think of how many term papers, news reports -- who knows what else (I'm sure I've been guilty) -- are based on these shall we say "fluid" interpretations of fact. Oops, I'm ranting. Thanks for the comment!

Sandra Pawula said...

I didn't hear this story at all! Sounds scary though. I too find great wisdom in nature. I'm spending more time in nature because I live close to nature. But, I admit it's not entirely easy to pull oneself away from the lure of the internet or the sense of busyness. So I appreciate your suggestions and encouragement.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks Sandra - I know you recognize Nature's role in finding ourselves. I saw a fascinating pc.yesterday by a guy who took a yr. off of any kind of screen. He concluded, after much thought, that he'd been wrong about his assumption that life would be better without digital "connectedness."
I guess it's like so many things -- they are what we make of them.
Keep up your good, thoughtful work, my friend!

Term Papers Essay said...

You have some really good ideas in this article "THE REAL REALITY – It's In Our Nature ". I am glad I read this. I agree with much of what you state in this article. Your information is thought-provoking, interesting and well-written. Thank you.

Jeffrey Willius said...

TPE -- thanks for the comment. I'm glad you found my post helpful.

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