A pattern is emerging, one in which many in Western society are looking for a new religion, with various technologies as a means of escaping our current versions of Plato’s Cave.
In this current era of The Fourth (or Fifth depending on your perspective) Industrial Revolution, the word technology has become synonymous with digital technology. However, if we examine the etymology of the word;
‘technology’ … originates from “a discourse or treatise on an art or the arts,” from Greek tekhnologia “systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique,”
… then we can expand our perception of what constitutes a technology.
Some are choosing quantum and digital technologies (computing), plant technologies (psychedelics, plant medicine), metaphysical technologies (sound vibrations, energy fields), theological technologies (religion, faith and belief systems) to explore and understand our own identities, our relationships with our environments and how we relate to and connect with others.
If we choose to accept the above as a truism, then technology is a medium, art, craft or technique that helps us to explore and expand our curiosity, to play, to innovate, to solve problems and to create new stories and realities.
What we are also seeing is that there is a greater merging of the exploration and use of these technologies and their traditionally associated characteristics. For example, emotion, empathy, intuition and consciousness introduced in the quest to see where quantum and digital technologies can (or should) take us. We already have many examples of this merging to tell impactful and stories from different perspectives.
Awavena is a VR experience which attempts to take the viewer through an immersive journey of an Ayahuasca retreat. Travelling through the Amazon, experiencing the ritual associated with the plant technology. Drinking the sacred tea, and feeling the energy of the rainforest, all without actually having to take the psychedelic.
Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg started as a lone voice in the real world, protesting outside the Swedish parliament has quickly become the voice of schoolchildren (and many adults) around the world. Greta now uses her Instagram account as rallying cry to tell a story of why we should be taking climate change seriously, from her perspective, as one of the ‘othered’, who in the past would never had had access to a platform to share and amplify her perspective of the world, that of an autistic child who is deeply concerned about our individual and collective impact on the environment.
English musician, record producer, and visual artist Brian Eno has collaborated with Electronic DJ Jon Hopkins to create Wavepaths.
“… combine[s] immersive media with advances in intelligent technologies and neuroscience to improve global wellbeing..”
The app and website (quantum/ digital technology) merge music (metaphysical technology) and psychedelics (pseudo plant technology) to create ‘therapeutic trips’ for the user.
Each of the examples I give above, are also examples of areas of concern for many in the Western world.
Things that are bigger than themselves.
A metaphysical connection with ourselves and our environment. Collective anxiety about the weirding of our planetary ecosystems and the irresponsibility and lack of leadership. And, an obsession with using data and our wellbeing.
Humans are storytellers and have an innate drive to use stories to help create meaning and solve problems.
Stories to understand (or predict) our existence.
Stories to be used as guidance to move us from where we are, to somewhere else (better?), even if we can’t always articulate where it is, what it looks like, or even sometimes how we will know when we’ve arrived.
There seems to be a shift in much of society in that traditional religion isn’t serving its usual purpose but we are still looking for something bigger than ourselves. With rules and rituals that help us to feel a part of something bigger, part of a tribe, a community, a family that connects us to a bigger collective purpose and tell new more impactful and inclusive stories.
The way that we tell stories is also changing.
No longer do we solely rely on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, predicting the adventure to come and the role of a mentor (the God figure?), but are shifting to a version of Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey in which there is a battle between the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ (energies not genders), the breaking of traditional societal roles, an initiation, a healing and reframing of the old ways, values and beliefs in order to heal and integrate this new overstanding into our lives’ journeys and stories.
As I have shown earlier, the creators and narrators of our stories are also changing.
No longer are we solely dependent on the voices of the few, those brave (experimental, weird…) enough to challenge the status quo, the curious who wanted to help us envision potential new futures.
With more access to new and emerging technologies, we are all becoming the storytellers. Telling stories of the fluidity of our humanity. Gaining and adopting different perspectives on the concept of identity, culture, economics and ecosystems, of freedom, through the adoption of individual and collective rituals.
Once upon a time (for this thought-piece is also a story, for me, the start of one, but a story nonetheless), we had Individuals, rebels, activists, anarchists who saw and used technologies as a means to disrupt the status quo, to innovate, to envision a different future for society. But mostly they were a scattering of individuals small tribes of people in specific locations (or at least those most documented in the media of the time).
They were known as the CyberPunks.
Echo chambers, for which we, especially mostly in the developed world, are grateful, even if we didn’t always know their names.
Grateful for the technologies they used and developed which enabled the commodification of access to information, a global awareness of human rights, of differing perspectives, giving us platforms to be able to share stories through an understanding of the concept of choice, and of freedom.
In the developing world, there is still a way to go, but many are now looking at how a humanity-centred approach to using different technologies can be used to address the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 17 goals established as benchmarks to help us transform our world, with a deadline of the year 2030.
If we start to take a holistic view of our world and the potential impact of the stories we receive and share, then where are the voices, contributions and stories of those from different cultures and those who have traditionally been ‘othered’?
By othered, I mean those whose perspectives and voices were, and continue to be ignored, debased. Often branded weird or even dangerous, the commoditisation of various technologies is rapidly shifting that. These voices are now (in many cases) empathetically subverting the status quo. Individually at first, and then collectively as communities and tribes, forms rituals and values in the search for new religions.
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.”
Hunter S. Thompson.
What would have, is, and could be, the impact of the inclusion of these othered voices to the next steps we take to create the world we want, need and desire and the stories we tell?
Not only are we becoming more aware of the different types of technologies for possible ‘enlightenment’ but we are also creating our own secular rituals in using them. Checking social media statuses, going on several plant medicine retreats to do “inner work”, daily meditation binges through digital platforms, weekly ecstatic dance classes
The point is, that through the commoditisation and the often ritualistic use of the various technologies many are experiencing a sense of ‘enlightenment’. There is more of an awareness of the imbalance and inequality (including of perspective) than ever before and of our individual roles, responsibilities and levels of power.
We are also aware of the beauty and magnificence of the planet, its inhabitants (animal and mineral) and of the galaxies and our short, medium and long term impact on our ecology.
This latter realisation has become a more urgent and collective driving force for transformation, but one that has also changed our existing rituals to new and more eco-friendly ones.
Established religions used to be the primary provider of frameworks to navigate our worlds. But, there is a groundswell happening with more and more people turning to new and emerging technologies with curiosity and experimentation, immersing themselves in new rituals looking for transcendence and answers to some their own, and the world’s problems.
And so, this is where my curiosity is piqued.
At first, I thought that this was a linear thought process, that these technologies and their enthusiasts were either ends of a linear spectrum.
Some going down the quantum/ digital technology route. Technology will save us, Artificial Intelligence will gain consciousness, Virtual Reality, the technological singularity, transhumanism, biohacking and CRISPR.
The stuff of Black Mirror (which I love).
At the other end of the proposed spectrum sat enthusiasts using various forms of plant technologies to become enlightened, to do “inner work”.
Somewhere in the middle, I suggested were things such as meditation, ecstatic dance and formal religions.
However, as someone recently pointed out, what I am describing more represents a modern and universal take on Dante’s Circles of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Which describes the soul’s journey towards God, and includes characters representing human reason and divine knowledge. The journey is not linear but circular, ever ascending.
I’m curious as to why there seem to be a rise in mainstream media, of the reporting of people exploring and immersing themselves in these worlds (religions), outside of the Silicon Valley tech-bro culture?
I’m curious about the patterns and connections between their individual and collective journeys.
Maybe we are reaching (or have reached) our kairotic moment in time. An era when circumstances mixed with greater access to (the commodification of?) these technologies have created new opportunities for exploration and meaning, during the search of something bigger than ourselves.
What could this mean for the future of humanity if we really start to work together as human blockchains, decentralised systems of trust and transparency?
Will we finally see a shift to a more conscious Anthropocene?
And if so, can we combine our ‘divine’ collective intelligence to be proactive in designing for the world that we want, need and desire as the new breed of CyberPunks, the Cyborg Shaman?
I deliberately use the provocative (and quite divisive) words of Cyborg and Shaman to describe the essence, characteristics and drive of those whose emergent patterns I describe in this article.
In using (and stripping down) the word Cyborg, I take my lead from Cyborg Anthropologist, Amber Case’s book: A Cyborg Anthropology.
“A cyborg is simply someone who interacts with technology. The technology can be a physical or a mental extension, and doesn’t need to be implanted in the person”.
The word Shaman, in some ways, is more complex because people, regardless of their religious or non-religious belief have some emotional attachment to the word. However, the common thread is that most of us recognise a Shaman as someone who is dedicated to serving others, something bigger than themselves, and so it is in that spirit that I use it here.
I am painfully aware that most of the references I have made in this article are those from a Western (mostly white middle-class) perspective but, as I mention at the start of this thought-piece, I see this as the start of a story of curiosity, of exploration, immersion and storytelling.
I will take this as an opportunity to explore, deepen my knowledge and share my insights of diverse histories and perspectives of the intersection between technology, religion, rituals and spirituality from Africa, Middle-Eastern, Asia, Latin South America and everywhere in-between as we curiously circumnavigate this planet.
To explore whether this is a global phenomenon or merely one is places where technology has rapidly become commodified?
What’s next after what I initially intended to be a 400-word article?
I’d love to create a series of reportage documentaries to explore some of the themes I’ve touched on here in greater detail. To not be so presumptuous as to present answers but to provide a mechanism for the reader and viewer to ask themselves questions.
Questions about our own understanding and use of various technologies.
To help people recognise the patterns of humanity and the stories around them. The patterns in satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the status quo, the yearning for something bigger than themselves, the desire to tell new, immersive inclusive stories that are reflective of the perspectives and lives of the people. To query it and ask more questions rather than just look for new religions and rituals, to escape.
To become multi-sensory, trans-disciplinary, trans-technological storytellers, to acknowledge and celebrate old wisdom and merge them with new technologies.
To take responsibility for creating and nurturing ‘Long Now’ thinking not for the next 2–3 generations, but for future generations.
As humans we are always searching for meaning, answers to existential questions but we also have free choice and that we need to tread carefully in delegating responsibility for our lives to things external to us.
Let us not forget that many wars have been caused by religious differences.
And so, I hope that I have started to help the readers of this article to ask themselves more questions about the shadows on the walls.
But for now, my question for you is, how are you trying to escape Plato’s Cave?