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Dethrone the Golden Calf

Google has a Disneyland,‭ ‬albeit an intellectual’s Disneyland quality about it–smart and appealing,‭ ‬but hollow inside.‭ ‬Despite or because of this,‭ ‬the virtual juggernaut aims to take over the world for the betterment of humanity.

google XNot content with that modest aim,‭ ‬Google X’s‭ (‬the research arm of Google‭) ‬Astro Teller says they want to‭ “‬make the world a radically better place in as many ways as they can as fast as they can.‭” ‬Hold on there Bro.

Floating a network of balloons into the stratosphere to connect places on earth where people can’t experience the immense benefits that Google provides will not make the world a radically better place.‭ ‬That idea is aptly named‭ “‬Project Loon,‭” ‬which is intended a self-deferential double entendre,‭ ‬but actually describes the feeling one sometimes gets about Google.

Astro Teller is the grandson of the physicist Edward Teller,‭ ‬the father of the hydrogen bomb,‭ ‬or‭ “‬Super‭” ‬as he called it.‭ ‬He pushed for its development even before the Soviets had detonated an atomic device.‭ ‬He also blocked all attempts to limit nuclear bombs to fission rather than fusion‭ (‬which is thousands of times more destructive‭)‬,‭ ‬by technology or treaty.

Astro Teller was interviewed recently by Charlie Rose,‭ ‬who began,‭ ‬after bringing up and then glossing over Astro’s grandfather,‭ ‬by saying,‭ “‬What excites me about what you do is the notion that you have to think big,‭ ‬that in fact if you’re going to make any real change you have to think big.‭”

Thinking big doesn’t pertain to technological innovation.‭ ‬That has its place,‭ ‬just not first place like techno-zealots believe.‭ ‬Thinking big pertains to radically changing human consciousness,‭ ‬beginning within one’s own mind and heart.

Thinking big also has to do with asking the spiritual,‭ ‬philosophical and political questions confronting people everywhere.‭ ‬That means tackling assumptions about human nature,‭ ‬about culture,‭ ‬and about consciousness,‭ ‬which neither Charlie Rose nor Astro Teller showed any interest in doing.

Disturbingly,‭ ‬Teller talked repeatedly about‭ “‬making the world a radically better place,‭” ‬while holding astro tellerassumptions and beliefs about the place of science and technology that hinder radical change.‭ “‬There has to be some scientific reason to believe that we at least have a chance‭” ‬to bring about radical change,‭ ‬Teller said.‭ ‬But radical change isn’t a function of science and technology at all.

For example,‭ ‬Google Glass is‭ “‬a head-worn display that allows you to see a lot of digital information very briefly and very seamlessly in your life.‭” ‬As such,‭ ‬it is a solution to a problem that is beyond the limits,‭ ‬indeed beyond the writ of technology to resolve.

Yet Google X persists in trying to resolve it through technology.‭ “‬The problem,‭” ‬Teller declares,‭ “‬is that we mediate so much of our lives through the digital world now,‭ ‬our professional lives,‭ ‬our personal lives,‭ ‬and our digital interactions are in desperate need of an update.‭”

With the majority of people’s faces plastered to their stupid phones,‭ ‬whether at home or in public,‭ ‬you would think that wearable technology at voice command would be the answer to eyes-down-thumb-typing through life.

But digital interactions have taken the place of human interactions in much of the West,‭ ‬and when‭ “‬humanity gets a serious update in how we interact with the digital world,‭” ‬as Teller puts it,‭ ‬that will only make the problem much worse.

In short,‭ ‬the technology of digital mediation is greatly exacerbating the difficulty of human relationship.‭ “‬Seamless interaction with the digital world‭” ‬will,‭ ‬without deeper insight and a different relationship to technology,‭ ‬destroy human relationship. ‭ ‬Thus the enormity of the challenge eludes Google geeks—as it must,‭ ‬since they’re in the high technology business.

The basic truth is simple:‭ ‬Technology cannot and will not ever produce radical change.‭ ‬Why‭? ‬Because radical change,‭ ‬which literally means change at the root,‭ ‬is a matter of the transmutation of the individual and human consciousness.‭ ‬And that can only come about in self-knowing individuals willing to stand alone,‭ ‬and inquire with others.

So it’s simply childish to believe that the gadgets and gizmos of Google,‭ ‬or any other tech company,‭ ‬can change consciousness and the world.

google x 2Teller asks the right question in the wrong way:‭ “‬How can we get technology out of the way‭?” ‬But it cannot be gotten out of the way if there is no place or time we can be without the mediation of the digital world.‭ ‬Can Google design technology that not just allows but encourages us to step out of the net and stand on the ground‭?

Of course that would imply a different relationship to nature and to human beings.‭ ‬Therefore the real question pertains not just to digital mediation,‭ ‬but mediation by the things of thought per se,‭ ‬whether mental or technological.

Let’s put the question the other way:‭ ‬Is there experiencing as long as there is mediation‭? ‬Most philosophers say there is no such thing as unmediated experience,‭ ‬and that’s true if you define experience as the movement of the past as knowledge,‭ ‬memory and symbol.

But there is such a thing as unmediated experiencing,‭ ‬which entails holding knowledge in abeyance and letting go of previous experience.‭ ‬That’s the ground of insight,‭ ‬relationship and being.‭ ‬And therefore it is the true ground of the undivided,‭ ‬unconditioning human being.‭ ‬That,‭ ‬I maintain,‭ ‬is what technology should serve.

To change the culture and consciousness we have to change our own basic thinking,‭ ‬and that is much more difficult than any‭ “‬moon-shot.‭”‬ Rose asked the right questions in the wrong context:‭ “‬Are you doing something so difficult that it will take everything you have,‭ ‬plus,‭ ‬to achieve it‭? ‬Is this possible‭? ‬Not how do we continue what we’re doing,‭ ‬how do we make incremental changes.‭”

As much superficial,‭ ‬technological change as there is,‭ ‬and as much as people like Teller talk about radical change,‭ ‬they really don’t want things to radically change.‭ ‬I’m not even sure I do,‭ ‬and radical shifts in consciousness happen within one nearly every day.

As Astro Teller said,‭ “‬If you’re committed to the mountain you’re already on,‭ ‬the best you can do is get to the top of that mountain.‭” ‬But the mountain of technology is turning out to be a Tower of Babel.‭ ‬We have to climb down every day and leave it behind to ascend the true mountain.

Martin LeFevre

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