Thursday, November 11, 2010

CAN YOU REALLY CONNECT ON FACEBOOK?

His face popped up on the right side of my Facebook page, and he was suggested as a friend.
“You have 51 friends in common,” Facebook told me.
Which meant that we knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, who knew each of us.
He looked familiar, and had a nice face, round, honest, and welcoming. As I so often do, I clicked the button, and off went my request to be his ‘friend’ on Facebook. And, as I so often do, I completely forgot about it. Facebook requests and suggestions come and go every day. 
“So-and-so wants to be your friend.”
“Bob Brown suggests that you become friends with so-and-so.”
“Your friend request has been accepted. You are now friends with so-and-so.”
And on it goes.
Another day, another batch of friend requests, and suggested friends thrown out by the Facebook algorithm letting me know how many ‘friends’ I have in common with people I may or may not actually know or have met.
My Facebook family tree was growing. My ‘friends’ numbered in the hundreds.
Another face popped up as a suggested friend, but I wasn’t sure if I had sent him a friend request or not. He looked okay.
“You have 62 friends in common”, Facebook told me.
So, I sent out another a friend request, and was on my way.
Click. Click. Comment. Scroll. Read. Post. And life goes on.
A few days later his face popped up again. This time I was sure I had seen it before and that I had sent him a friend request and that he had not responded.
“Humph. What’s up with that? Well, okay, then. I’ll try one more time. Now we have 72 friends in common. If he doesn’t want to be my ‘friend’ after this, well, that’s okay with me.”
             I clicked and off went another friend request. And once again, I forgot about it.

Just this morning he showed up once again on my Facebook page as a suggestion for someone I should become friends with.
I know who he is now.
One of my best friends in the real world told me a classmate of his had died. Then I received a group email from my alma mater. I saw his picture, the same picture that had been popping up every other day on my Facebook page.
He had committed suicide.
I didn’t know him well enough to know why. I wasn’t that kind of friend. I wasn’t even a Facebook friend.
Though we never spoke, I remember seeing him at school.  
“Hey Joe, I want to be your friend. Please be my friend. Come back. I really mean it. Not just online. I’ll drive down to L.A. We can get a cup of coffee, or some fresh-squeezed juice, or a shot of tequila. Whatever you like. Just come back.”
I know there are some real sad people out there, Joe’s real family and friends, people who knew and loved him. There’s going to be a memorial service. Joe had just finished a spiritually based program along with one of my best friends who said the program had changed his life.
But I guess for Joe the change wasn’t big enough or fast enough or of the right kind. For him, his time was up. He could go no further, at least that’s what he must have thought or felt.
I wonder how long his face will remain on Facebook? Will I continue to get suggestions to ask him to be my friend? Will someone inform Facebook?
“Dear Facebook, please stop suggesting Joe as a friend, as much as I would like for him to be my friend, the time for that has passed.”
Or do we just allow things to go on a usual with Joe’s face appearing now and then on our screens as someone we should become friends with, his face and name thrown out there by a computer algorithm that reminds us that we know people who know people who knew Joe? Or does someone take over Joe’s page, a friend or a family member, and handle it in Joe’s memory, making friends with people Joe might have made friends with had he lived?
I don’t know. I just wish I could have been Joe’s friend. I wish somebody could have been his friend in a way that would have tilted the scales for Joe so that he could have happily remained amongst the living. I know this is what must really be paining the people who knew and loved Joe.
“Could we have done anything to have kept this from ending this way?”
It's a very painful question after the fact, so I hope all those who knew and loved Joe can let him and themselves go in peace.
There will always be suffering. There will always be pain. There will always come a day when, one way or another, each of us will die. But there will always be life. For as long as conditions allow, there will be life. That’s true too. And though this stretch of the journey is over for Joe, we hope and pray that wherever he is, his suffering is lessened, and that he is continuing on his way.
In his honor, if we want to really be his friend, we must do what we can to lessen the pain and the suffering of the living.
Joe was gay. I’m not saying that’s part of the pain he suffered. I’m not saying that’s part of why he is no longer here. I did not know him. But I do know that as a people, a country, and a planet, we have caused our gay brothers and sisters a great deal of unnecessary suffering.
So, as we take a moment to reflect on the passing of a fellow human being, one we might or might not have known, we ask that we do the work that is needed so that all human beings, whoever they are and wherever they might be, are not caused to suffer unnecessarily by our own thoughtlessness, fear, greed, or prejudice.
Though we did not connect while he was alive, I feel connected to Joe now. In spite of all its faults and weaknesses, Facebook made that possible. Meaning and connection are waiting for us wherever we look, even on our homepage. We just have to take the time and make the effort to see it.  
Namaste.
I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com 805/680-5572.


Monday, November 8, 2010

WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS FROM YOU


It’s pretty interesting what’s happening out there in the reality--or is it the Matrix--we humans and our technology are co-creating along with the rest of the planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, and whatever else is out there. (Or is it in there?)
For some time it was mostly religious types, mystics, Buddhists, mushy-headed Californians and new-age types who might have subscribed to a universe that was more than a huge wind-up toy of disenchanted particles and fields that were up to nothing in particular except randomly interacting through infinitudes of space and time. Now, interestingly, it’s technology that is calling to some of our heavier thinkers to look upon the world with wonder and a sense of enchantment. Why, Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired magazine and author of What Technology Wants sees the technium, his term for all the things learned and invented by human beings, the sum total of technology including language, as the biggest window on the capital “M” mystery of existence.
             We have Kelly offering, of all things, technology as a window on the divine, a window at least as big if not bigger than the Grand Canyon or a great cathedral. The technium, in particular the integrated global network of computers, is starting to noticeably take on a life of its own.
What we’re seeing are non-random flows of information where randomness previously prevailed.
The thing is organizing itself.
There are even flows of information that computer scientists cannot account for, information flows that seem to be arising from the system itself.
Whoa right there, buddy!
But we shouldn’t really be surprised. Of course, the universe is self-organizing, or else you and I, rather large and nifty self-sustaining organizations of sub-atomic particles wouldn’t be here right now with our mouths dropping open about the trippiness going on within this global integrated electronic brain we’ve co-created.
I use co-created rather than made, because Kelly’s point is that we, the human, are as much a product of the technium, as the technium is a product of us. The technium is our environment, the world in which we live, the niches to which we have adapted, the world in which we are co-evolving.
We’re all in this together. We are all one big on-going dance of creation, the human and the technological. That’s why Kelly sees the technium as a window on the divine: it’s just the universe continuing on its 13 billion year evolutionary journey to who knows where.
It’s not about you and me. It’s bigger than that. And that’s shocking for some, heresy to others. Just as Copernicus and Galileo displaced man from the center of the universe, today’s technological developments are displacing man as the end of  evolution. Just as what came before us gave rise to us, we are now giving rise to what is coming next.
We and the world will never be the same again, but this is not new. This has been the on-going journey of man for the last 50,000 years. We radically transformed the world more than any other species on earth, and in the process we were transformed. And the transformation continues.
But not to fear. There’s something larger than any of us at work here, larger than any man-made machine or integrated network of machines. Whatever it is that is at work, it has been as work since the beginning of time, possibly before.
            The Buddhists teach that consciousness is the basic building block of all that is. Consciousness is prior to matter. There have been books written about the universe itself being conscious. The philosopher Henri Bergson spoke of the √©lan vital, a vital energy that permeated the universe and drove evolution forwards.
Of course not everyone agrees with any of this. “Oh, hogwash,” they might say. “There’s nothing out there, just mindless particles and large enough expanses of time and space for all we see to have randomly evolved. So go to bed.”
But that’s not what Kelly sees out there. He sees reasons for hope, and even faith. At times he sounds downright spiritual about the whole thing. This is not the first time we’ve encountered this. For every atheist scientist, there is an intelligent believer in the Mystery, that’s capital “M” mystery, of the universe, a mystery that is only deepened by the scientists’ profound interactions with the universe.
It seems a bit of the same thing has happened to Mr Kelly. He got so close to technology, started looking into its global heart a bit too closely, and wonder of wonders, he saw Mystery staring back at him from the flows of information in the integrated network of computers that now spans the globe.
To Mr. Kelly, the technium is a calling forth to greatness, creativity, possibility, exploration, and ever-deepening freedom and humanity. Technology is not about displacing the human, but amplifying the energy that moves through and beyond the human. His vision is positive and hopeful.
He says, “As a practical matter I’ve learned to seek the minimum amount of technology for myself that will create the maximum amount of choices for myself and others.” This sounds moderate, but Kelly sees no end to the journey ahead.

“But by far humanity’s greatest, most immense journey is not the long trek from star dust to wakefulness but the immense journey we have in front of us. The arc of complexity and open-ended creation in the last four billion years is nothing compared to what lies ahead.”

This line is startling to me in its audacity, and though it’s hard for me to swallow, I think it’s true. The journey has just begun.
I can just see a bunch of us reaching for our bibles and prayer beads.
I’m reminded of the poem, “O God, your ocean is so immense, and my boat is so small.”
What the technium, the sum total of what technology and all of what we’ve made and been shaped by, wants is for you to go along for the journey, a journey that began long before us, and will continue long after we are as antiquated as a Model A automobile.
Now, take a deep breath. Get centered. And go live your life. 

            I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com  805/680-5572.