Note: The following post is from a recent newsletter by David Spangler, a writer and spiritual teacher whose work we have followed from the beginning of our relationship. This piece is relevant to how communication and connection with one another is dramatically changing in the 21st century.
by David Spangler – (c) 2010
My youngest daughter, Maryn, has been having a companionable summer palling about with her “posse” of girl friends. They spend most days together, and when they are apart, they are texting each other. One afternoon as she was sitting reading in our living room, her phone kept buzzing as one friend or another sent her a text message. Her own thumbs were in constant motion replying, giving new meaning to the phrase “she was all thumbs.”
I asked her, “Why don’t you and your friends just phone each other and talk. Wouldn’t that be faster and easier?”
Maryn sweetly answered what must have seemed an antediluvian question from her out-of-fashion Dad who doesn’t even own a cell phone, much less use one for texting. “If we called each other,” she said, “we’d have to have something to talk about.”
“But aren’t you talking to each other when you’re texting?”
“Oh, no,” she replied. “We not talking. We’re connecting.”
Growing up overseas in North Africa, we didn’t always have a phone, and when we did, using it was not something we took lightly. This was especially true for long distance calls. If we did call someone outside our local calling area, it was always a special occasion, and my Dad would hover with a watch making sure we didn’t talk longer than three minutes, after which the rates would go up dramatically. Phones were not social media in my family; they were instruments for conveying information quickly and succinctly. If you simply wanted to “connect,” you wrote a letter.
The kind of trivial, stream of consciousness chatter I can find on Facebook or Twitter would have been unimaginable for me as a child. Indiscriminately broadcasting your slightest activity, thought or feeling to the world anytime you felt like it was not only technically impossible when I was growing up, but it was also way beyond some cultural and psychological threshold for reasonable behavior. I still feel some of that; when I was introduced to Twitter, I found it difficult to imagine its value or why someone would want to spend their time sending and receiving tweets. But then, I have a hard time coming up with sound bites for interviews, too. I am not noted amongst my friends for succinctness.
But without overly romanticizing the phenomenon or making more of it than it may warrant, I do feel that the emerging and evolving arena of social media such as Facebook marks something significant going on in human consciousness. It has to do with the difference between communication for the purpose of conveying information and communication intended to create communion and to build connection. When I used a phone as a kid, it was for the former purpose; as my daughter informed me, when she uses her phone in texting mode, it’s for the latter.
Television, smart phones, and the Internet all bring instant news and data into my life. I can feel overwhelmed. But I also notice an interesting phenomenon: having information about something isn’t at all the same as knowing about it or feeling connected to it. Pure information—words, images, voices funneled into my awareness through electronic media—can be strangely distancing. It renders its subject abstract. I know about something but I don’t really know it. When I see on the nightly news villages in Pakistan ravaged by the monsoon floods, I have information about something that is happening in my world, but do I feel connected to it? Having the information can make me feel that I am participating in my world, but am I? I can feel like I’m part of my world when in fact I’m as separate from it as ever.
If we are awash in information, we are not necessarily equally deepened in our sense of connectedness. If I receive a tweet from someone that says he is having lunch or she is out shopping, do I feel I am really participating in that person’s life? Do I feel any more whole with him or with her? It can just be a modern version of voyeurism, knowledge without participation; it gives me information without connection.
What I realize when talking with my daughter is that she gets this distinction. She’s very clear that her texting, for example, is basically not about information but about connection. It’s more like reaching out in a dark, foggy night to touch a friend whom you cannot see and being reassured that they are there. And talking with others who are involved in social media, I find this is not an uncommon experience.
We human beings suffer from disconnectedness: we are disconnected from each other, we are disconnected from the natural world. The result is violence, a lack of wholeness, a piecemeal approach to life which at its most basic leads me to look out for number one and heaven help everyone or everything else. In Martin Buber’s wonderful imagery, lack of real connectedness leads us to transform a “thou,” a being to be treasured and communed with, into an “it,” something to be used and manipulated, then discarded when I’m finished.
I don’t pretend at all that phenomena like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or any other social media will solve this problem; in some ways, they aggravate the problem, substituting real connection with a kind of faux friendship and with information that conveys a false intimacy. They are like junk food for the soul, exciting but providing no lasting or real nourishment.
But, on the other hand, they also are providing a platform on which deeper connectedness can be built. They are seeds around which energetic fields can develop, linking and uniting people in ways that allow for a flow of subtle energy as well as of information. They are a training ground in making and exploring connections, allowing a growing interaction between people on a global level that nothing else in our culture is providing in the same way.
I have recently been reading an excellent book called The Living Classroom: Teaching and Collective Consciousness by Dr. Christopher M. Bache. In it he chronicles and explores his discovery of how fields of consciousness come into being amongst his students and himself. These fields represent a level of participation and shared awareness above and beyond the normal channels of everyday communication. I am aware of these fields myself in my own classes, and they play an important part of my teaching strategy. Unlike Dr. Bache who works in a university, I teach online most of the time. What has always been amazing and wonderful for me is that even though the participants in a class are separated, sometimes by thousands of miles, a field of collective consciousness still develops between us. We become connected in subtle, energetic ways as well as informationally.
These fields develop faster and more clearly when there is intent behind them, but this is not essential. They can emerge out of persistent and sustained acts of connection, such as happens between my daughter and her friends as they text together. And these fields can become means of transmission for any number of subtle energies and phenomena, such as love, blessing, even healing.
By many accounts, we are heading into a future dominated by climate change, environmental challenges, and social and economic vulnerability. It is a future that can be met and transformed drawing not only on our outer skills and efforts but on the power inherent in fields of subtle energy that can be created when human beings are in true connection with each other and with their world. Learning to create and use these fields as a form of subtle activism is, I feel, a vital skill to understand and develop.
And it begins with learning how to connect.
I believe there is an intuitive realization within our species that this is so, and this realization is giving birth to the many forms of social media emerging in our world which allow us to explore ways and forms of connection that have not been possible on such a scale or with such intimacy before. They are giving us tools which can in time enable us to form the energetic, participatory, shared fields of consciousness and subtle activism that can truly make a difference. If so, then one day, MySpace may become MyFields and Facebook will become…well, FaceFields, anyone?
Since 1964 David Spangler has been an author and teacher of spirituality. He began his career at nineteen as the keynote speaker at a national conference in Phoenix, Arizona, on “Youth and the New Age.”
In 1970 he visited the Findhorn Foundation community in Northern Scotland where he was invited to become its co-director and to be a teacher-in-residence. He lived and worked in the community until 1973, becoming the founder of its educational program.
His books include Emergence; The Call; Everyday Miracles; Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent; Blessing: The Art and the Practice; The Story Tree; Manifestation: Creating the Life You Love; and The Incarnation Card Deck.
You may learn more about David and his work at www.lorian.org