The isolation tank/flotation tank is a powerful tool, but it isn’t one that is required for any sort of psychonautical exploration. It just helps you get there with a greater sense of ease. Through this essay, I plan to show how isolating myself reduced my technology dependency and move towards a much more symbiotic relationship with all the tools I have. Feel free to explore with whatever makes you comfortable.
Technology and Infinite Sadness
Louis CK said it best: “Everything’s amazing, and nobodies happy.”
And his point isn’t wrong. Despite having everything that is amazing and makes our lives beyond anything imaginable in the past few decades, we are producing the most depressed generation. There’s a myriad of reasons why Millennials have it pretty bad. We could look at the generations that came before them and consumed at unrestrained rates that left us with very little to even work with, and then, they expect us to take jobs, they would never take. All while doing this, we are saddled with debt that they said we had to take in order to take jobs we either don’t want or have no concept of.
Despite all that, I think the issues we face as a society can be rooted in our reliance on technology. Go back 20 years ago when Internet was rudimentary. We didn’t use it much, if we even had access to it, and it was used as a tool of suspect. Now, try to do your day job without Internet. Try to go to school without it.
Bottling the Genie
This is the nature of technology, whether it was fire, the wheel, Internet, or Smart phones. These objects represent singularities in technology where, once they are known and used, they cannot be unknown. Once they are leveraged, you can’t go back on that knowledge.
I am not a nostalgic person. I think anyone who finds fondness in a lack of broad communication, digital books, and a gaggle of other things that makes our days go well are rather silly; that stuff is important to increase our standing as a society.
Where I start to become suspicious of technology is when we have gaps without it. Take a vacation where Internet isn’t available. The first day may be annoying and frustrating. Depending on the trip, be it the woods or a beach, you adapt pretty fast. By the third or fourth day, you don’t really miss it. By the time you go back to your old life, it feels… a little weird.
This is the experience I had in an isolation tank. For those who haven’t, or can’t, here’s a pretty good video that explains the tank.
After the first 20 minutes or so of unwinding, I was able to completely relax and let my thoughts take over. It was odd as I would slowly relax more and more and lose my sense of the self and my connection with the world.
Refusing to Let Go
At first, I wondered if people whom I was speaking with, had messaged me or called me. This is utterly silly; it’s only a 90-minute session! As I come out of it, insanely well rested and relaxed, I found myself disinterested in using my phone. I popped on a Psychedelic Salon podcast, particularly one on TechnoShamanism as it were, and Michael Garfield, a speaker on the topic, mentioned “we traded [the] Amazon [rainforest] for Amazon[.com].” In my relaxed and detached state, this hit me quite hard.
In that one instance, I found the path that technology allowed us to distract and detach ourselves from the immediate world. In doing this, in trying to show ourselves having experiences rather than having experiences, we are training ourselves to not address issues directly. Instead, we look at it with a detached scope, which allows us to take the position of “what is happening to make me like this,” rather than “what am I doing wrong in my thought process to approach situations with this lens?”
And, unfortunately for us, I don’t think it is totally our fault. We really had no idea what was unleashed on us.
Prometheus was punished by the gods because he gave man fire, which he stole from Mount Olympus.
His act wasn’t one of simple benevolence; he was giving humanity a tool far more powerful than anything they could fully understand. This is why the gods punished him. As gods, they understood the full scope of his deed: fire enabled humans to discover the dark and explore. It enabled us to cook and expand our diets, and it ultimately enabled us to kill.
While Prometheus may have meant well, by introducing this technology without any limitations, he has started the descent of humanity to become reliant on technology.
And maybe that’s the meaning of this parable. That we are unable, as a finite, limited species, to fully understand the ramifications of our actions.
This is where IBM, DAARPA, Apple, Ford, Edward Jenner, Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk, among many others have found themselves. They have given us power and technology that we still don’t fully understand what it does to us.
When Power is Unfettered
Technology, at its core, is awesome. It enables us to do things we couldn’t do previously. We can travel the entire world in under a day. We can experience any triumph or cataclysm, live. We can experience every book, movie, or song on a single device that fits in our hands.
This is the best time to live from that front.
However, as Huxley feared in Brave New World and Bradbury cautioned in Fahrenheit 451 we are losing traction as culture takes over our lives. No longer are we living in the moment; we are capturing the moment for others to experience later. We sacrifice our experiences so others can know we experienced something. We have lost discourse and critical thought in favor of meme culture for shareability so others can pat us on the back with our wittiness.
The Obfuscation of Experience
By allowing technology to dominate the experience instead of proliferating or enhancing the experience, we have lost the reason for experience. For example, augmented reality is a very fascinating tool. It allows you to expand content without harming the story or meaning, and providing fuller context. In a pure sense, this is using technology to expand culture and art and experience. For example, the Kindle reader allows you to define every single word as you go. Previously, you’d have to read a tougher book with a dictionary or Google. This would break the experience. With having a dictionary (and even Wikipedia) on a single touch, you can understand and appreciate more without breaking your immersion. This also enables you to engage in tougher texts without fear of missing the meanings of the content.
The alternative to this is Snapchat and Instagram. Go to any concert, and you’ll see people filming individual songs and posting it to the different platforms. However, they are concerned with framing, stability, and ensuring the audio is good. They are losing the meaning of the concert venue: to celebrate the artist who created something. They are sharing it with the world for people who may never go to a concert in real life, and they are experiencing this real life event through the small, LED screen.
The reason is they want to keep their social currency in the black, and the only way to do that is to share experiences and let people appreciate the life they pretend to lead.
In this case, technology is using them to proliferate. Just like how a virus does.
Technology as a Virus
Artificial Intelligence aside, technology is stupid. It can only do a finite amount of things, and it must be designed. Just like a virus. A virus is a simple organism that isn’t considered to be a living thing. It simply proliferates itself through other mechanisms. An infection of a virus will use the host body to reproduce and spread.
Humanity is the host body in this case, and technology, through our perceived love and desire of it, rides these rails with ferocity. Moore’s Law states states “that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.” In essence, technology is growing exponentially, and this can be observed in consumer culture.
A Look Back
A decade ago, the iPhone wasn’t out. It was officially announced in January 2007, and it hit the stores in June 2007 (Today is the 9th anniversary). During its announcement, it was met with positive reactions though a lot of hesitance(http://www.charleshudson.net/initial-reaction-to-the-iphone-mildly-skeptical-but-impressed). I recall a lot of people just saw no value, and they often joked that it couldn’t make calls.
Here we are in 2016, text messaging, usually via social networks, are more prevalent than phone calls, and our devices are more powerful that computers were a few years ago. I recall buying a laptop with blazing fast 4GB of ram, and now, there’s a phone with 6GB.
This is just in the consumer electronics space too. In the government sector, we are light years ahead of this capability.
We Reproduce for Technology
This line of thinking reminds of when Kevin Kelly stated that “Humans are the reproductive organs of technology.” This phrase is so perfectly apt that it actually makes really good visual sense.
We push the boundaries of technology to keep growing, and according to Moore’s Law, we will keep growing exponentially. What this means is eventually, just by rate of growth, technology could reach sentience, or at the very least, keep us bound to it.
Right now, I challenge everyone to smash all their electronic devices without a second’s thought.
You cannot because your life is spread out through all of them. My writings are saved on hard drives and cloud storages. My games are on a computer. I don’t actually know a single phone number, other than the ones I learned before the advent of smart devices that never changed.
In a very real sense, we need technology to survive and be productive. But do we need technology to survive?
I fear the answer may be yes.
Since the 90s, cell phones went from a thing no one really needed to something we cannot survive without.
Try navigating to a new place. In fact, try to find the address of that place. Your first bet will be to use Google to find the business, then switch over to Maps. Or to straight up ask Siri, if you are young enough.
This isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Humans are creatures of adaptation and evolution. We have have adapted to mutations throughout our existence. Technology, though synthetic, could be the next thing we adapt to our beings.
Technology as Boon
As technology increases, and our reliance on it does too, we could see a world where medical needs are filled by technology. My first novel actually addresses this really ham-fisted and directly by saying such technology would be leveraged to cure all illnesses, injury, hunger, thirst, and all other needs. The cool thing is this isn’t totally made up science fiction, but it’s something that is coming.
So, does my society have a parasitic relationship with technology or is it more symbiotic relationship where technology advances with humanity?
Technology is a Tool-a dumb, immensely useful tool
Therein lies the crux of all of this discourse: technology, whether as a construct itself or a virus replicating through humanity, isn’t good or bad; it is simply a tool. However, if we become a slave to this tool without rational thought or consideration, then we lose the point of technology itself: to enable us to be more productive.
Take the Kindle device. My Kindle has over 100 books on it. I can without question read every day for the rest of my life using just that device and the easy/free to get books, thanks to Amazon, the library, and other sites. As a tool to encourage children in poorer areas to read, the Kindle cannot be touched. As a device, it doesn’t offer a lot either; you simply read on it.
Convertible tablets function the same way. You achieve a great deal of productivity in a manner that was only dreamt up in science fiction. However, with the power of these devices, distractions are prevalent and powerful. Facebook and other social networks load in a full web view, allowing mobility to mix with maximum exposure. And that’s where I believe we’ll see a demarcation. Devices that get TOO powerful will enable us to do too much, and they will end up wiping out rival technology.
By working with the tools that enable us to do what we want in a manner that is conducive to the truest self, we are able to face ourselves without much distractions.
Conclusions and Moving Forward
I am not the first nor the last to write about the concept of cultural ensnarement. The beautiful thing about “truth” is that it is universal, and anyone can rediscover it with their own interpretation.
I encourage everyone to approach topics with new lenses. When something makes you innately comfortable, question that, and try to find a new perspective. I am a technophile and a tech advocate, but by taking a step back, I have a better understanding of how technology has hampered me from exploring my mind and surroundings in honest ways.
I don’t say all this to dissuade the use of technology. I believe this is the error of cultural creation. We can create our own podcasts, TV networks, book platforms, and other things that strongly interest us, and we should. Terence McKenna said it best, as I often quote, “We have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture.”
And while that’s important, I think consuming art and experiences is important to humanity, but the crux of it all is to actually experience it in real time. Share ideas with your friends and family that interest you. Stop allowing the architects of culture to have a free monologue with you. Make everything a dialog. Find something that’ll inspire you to create. Several of my writing projects started simply because I was so excited by something else, I had to channel it into a creative outlet.
Once you own your experience and boot out everything that tries to live rent free in your head, then you are ready to take control of what is really yours:
- Psychedelic Salon: Episode 508 – Technoshamanism – https://psychedelicsalon.com/podcast-508-techno-shamanism/
- /r/Psychonaut – http://www.reddit.com/r/psychonaut
- Branded – https://play.google.com/store/movies/details/Branded_2010?id=vGZ8F_t7XxY
- Dreamviews – http://www.dreamviews.com