As we expand our technological capabilities, our spiritual and creative beings are expanded and stretched, too. When years ago we could trace our influences to the immediate surroundings, now we are shaped and molded by bits and code sent from a great distance on the Internet. When decades ago we define our identity mainly through our racial backgrounds, now we define our identities through quirky likings and interests we pick up from various digital niches. The internet has elevated us on to a new experience where the physical bodies couldn’t possibly reach. Instead of having a physical travel, we travel in our minds, diving into the rabbit hole, to the depths of the internet that illuminates unknown corners within ourselves. And this is the intimate marriage we have with technology: a relationship of comfort, domestication, and tyranny.
We drool over the technologies that smoothen edges in our life, which becomes an easy commoditizing motive for any entrepreneurial moves. Technology that makes our life easier is a good start, but is deeply misleading. Whenever we see a chic advertisement of the latest tech product, we’re persuaded that what’s useful is fashionable, and what’s fashionable is useful. But I personally believe that there’s a great spiritual potential in technology that goes beyond the promise of ease and efficiency.
I truly believe that one day, technology and our species will become one; that our life and technology will become so interlinked and connected that there’s’ little division, only merger, of both the physical and the mental, and the organic and the inorganic.
In one of the chapters in Cosmos’s The Persistence of Memory, Carl Sagan commented on how we are the only species that store information outside our body:
When our genes could not store all the information necessary for survival, we slowly invented brains. But then the time came, perhaps ten thousand years ago, when we needed to know more than could conveniently be contained in brains. So we learned to stockpile enormous quantities of information outside our bodies. We are the only species on the planet, so far as we know, to have invented a communal memory stored neither in our genes nor in our brains. The warehouse of that memory is called the library.
For centuries, humans have practiced the art of recording. We see it in cave paintings, body drawings, then lontar and paper, then books, press and media, then the internet. None of the other species do this. This is such a profound and powerful thing that only humans do, which is enabling preservation of record beyond its time.
The digital power, with its binary language, is even more influential in maintaining human records. It’s the most physical and enduring representation of humans lives, and more specifically, our inner lives. It’s the magnifying glass to the essence of humanity; our passions, desire, questions, angst, and sorrow. Here is our playground for sharing a grand collection of literature, arts, thoughts, ideas and where we spontaneously, creatively, impulsively, continuously share our lives. This is such an intimate relationship we have with technology. So I wouldn’t be surprised if one of humans’ ambition is to invest in this relationship to push our species even further.
Kevin Kelly, in his book What Tech Wants, ruminates on how technology has penetrated into our life, often times in ways that are and have been invisible to us. He begins with a chapter on how the word ‘technology’, originating from Greek word techne, means to “outwit circumstances” and indicates things like arts, crafts, and skills. The Greeks had plenty of innovations, but none of them was described as ‘technology’ in the sense of a concept that extends humans’ capabilities. Technology was then everywhere, “except in the humans’ minds.” Eventually, each of these tools forms complex and unifying system—technology built upon past technologies—and become increasingly disembodied. And when we look at this system as a whole, we see parallels between technology and our lives: two “objects” in the universe that are vessels for ‘immaterial flows of information,’ the breath that gives us vitality and consciousness.
Scientists had come to a startling realization: However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms. And as technology was unveiled from its shroud of atoms, we could see that at its core, it, too, is about ideas and information. Both life and technology seem to be based on immaterial flows of information.
Technology doesn’t just mean a tool or system that is outside us. It is poetry, music, painting, novels, philosophy, laws, and institutions as much as a computer, chip, phones, letters, and fire. “If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as a technology (the computer code for a web page), then a thousand lines of letters in English (Hamlet) must qualify as well. They both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions.” Kelly calls this Technium, a self-perfecting and self-generating system that is the organic manifestation of the technology itself.
He goes on to say that the number of computers in the world has almost reached the number of nodes in our brain, and so is the number of connections to the number of neurons, showing us how technologies are making impressions to humanity’s organic lives. In other words, technology is a natural branch of life. In it resides the characteristics of life that shape its natural tendency for growth and survival. And like all ecosystems in the universe, it remembers and replicates the ever-present systems in the universe, growing like fractals.
Some point in its evolution, our system of tools and machines and ideas became so dense in feedback loops and complex interactions that it spawned a bit of independence. It began to exercise some autonomy.
Humans, the conscious slice of the Universe, is the driver to this. So it wouldn’t be impossible if one day we’re seeing ourselves, whether physically or mentally, somewhat merging with technology as we stretch our possibilities as a species and search for new spaces to branch out to. Perhaps soon we will need a brain-enhancer chip to accommodate the increasingly demanding tasks, or the Internet will eventually allow two humans in a great distance to share lives simultaneously, or sharing and storing memories will happen, and so on.
Though I won’t dare to imagine seeing beings without or with little physical bodies, assuming that in the far future, organic matter becomes obsolete for identities and ideas to life, our attachment and reliance to technology is irreplaceable, and at a pace that is only increasing. We wouldn’t, in fact, survive without it. From the thousand-year agricultural system to recent awakenings through the Internet, we are too fundamentally attached to technology.
Technium, a web of cultures, tools, systems, and ideas are the reason we thrive. But Technium, too, perhaps give us the reason to live, which is to give space to the ever-evolving consciousness, that springs out of us; the consciousness that is the Universe itself.