Last modified October 11, 2006 by Nik

Tech-Gnosis (part I of 7)

Some Thoughts on the Relationship between Technology and Spirituality

by Michel Bauwens

Something utterly important is happening in our world right now: the exponential growth of the internet and the Web, as a new global communications tool linking our human brains together in real time. The net effect of computer networks is that it changes our relationship with time and space in a fundamental way, and hence it is not exaggerating to say that we are going through an important civilisational shift.

Let’s consider simply the effect of such networks on the speed of knowledge transfer, and hence on the speed of cultural and technological evolution. Before the invention of the written word, it was not possible to codify knowledge, and hence to save it through time. ‘When an old man dies’, says an African saying, ‘a library goes up in flames.’ Indeed, in pre-literate times every progress depended on the capacities of our brains to remember, and so evolution was very slow. With writing, and especially with the mass produced book, knowledge became independent of its bearer, and knowledge became independent of Time. Not of Space though, as the transmission of knowledge still depended on the availability of the physical object, the book. Now, with computer networks, and especially as we are moving to wireless communication, knowledge is also being liberated of the constraints of Space. What actually happens when you install a network in an organisation – and this is exactly what will now happen on an universal scale through the internet – is that every innovation, every creative thought, any solution to a problem, becomes instantly available throughout that organisation. Hence cultural and scientific evolution will speed up to an unprecedented degree. The time span needed to double our knowledge, which once took hundred of thousands of years, now takes approximately three years, and this “doubling” time is shortening ever more, leading to speculation that there will be a hypothetical point in future history (in the not too distant future) called the Singularity, where knowledge will double in a single moment, leaving mankind utterly unable to even understand what is happening. Clearly we have created a Technological Juggernaut which is now clearly ‘Out of Control’ (cfr. Kevin Kelly’ book of the same title). Indeed, if we combine the Digital Revolution just mentioned, with the ability to manipulate our genes, and with developments in the field of nanotechnology, we realise time has come for thinking through our relationship with technology, which, once our servant, has now perhaps become our master. As we progress with this essay, we will first look at some of the social and cultural changes associated with the notion of the Digital Revolution, and we will look at some basic spiritual attitudes, and how various debates within and between different schools of thought, help us look at technology in interesting ways. In this context, we will both look at technology with ‘negative’ glasses, seeing technology as a degenerate practice, and then through ‘positive’ glasses, seeing technology as a means of bringing mankind towards a higher plane of consciousness, or let’s simply say, towards a higher level of civilisation. We will also look at emergent spiritual practices on the internet itself.

But first, some comments on the notion of the Digital Revolution.

pt II: The Digital Revolution, Virtualisation and the Emergence of Cyberspace