There should be little doubt that social-media is fundamentally changing the world. I think Clay Shirky said it best with the title of his book Here Comes Everybody. In the book, Shirky outlines the mass community-building influence of social-media and other collaboration tools to effect group dynamics, organization and conversation in a way which previously was only possible through institutions. Another global effect which Shirky describes is how, as a result of global communications and social-media, more of us are becoming producers of content, multimedia and knowledge, rather than consumers. Social-media is facilitating a cognitive surplus resulting from “the sudden lowering of the cost of collaboration brought by the internet [which] represents revolutionary new kinds of creativity and problem‑solving.” Social-media is also having a significant impact on government and the spread of democratic principles across the globe. You would have to have been living under a rock to not know about the huge impact social media had in coordinating the will and protests of millions of people during the Arab Spring in 2011 which led to governments being overthrown. Although these community-building, content-curation and political effects of social-media are fairly well known, I also believe these trends towards global collaboration and knowledge-sharing facilitated by social-media are going to fundamentally change educational pedagogy, influence the evolution of participatory models of transpersonal psychology and possibly even expand how we define consciousness and self.
“When we change the way we communicate, we change society”
A few years back, while still a graduate student with Sofia University in Palo Alto California, I wrote a reflection paper which summarized the first year in the program and where I believed my academic, professional and personal development would lead me over the coming year. I anticipated the completion of the Master’s program in June of 2014 followed by the need to make a decision as to whether I would pursue an on-line PhD program. Although I made the decision not to apply to the PhD program with Sofia since I planned to consider other programs, possibly even a second Master’s degree in Religious or Buddhist Studies elsewhere, I also wrote that I was not entirely certain as to which academic or professional direction I may lean in the future. What was not clear to me at the time was exactly how I might combine my broad interests in psychology, spirituality, technology, education and social-media. However, things are very different now compared to when I wrote that reflection paper all but a few years ago.
The first change is that I left the program with Sofia University with a graduate certificate in transpersonal studies instead of remaining to complete the Master’s. The short version of why I left? A year of frustration resulting from a lack of support for adequate educational technologies; an apparent fear of social-media; disappointment in the disorganised delivery of educational content; complete failure to deliver on the promise of building a community for their students; lack of student representation; lack of communication with students and even some questionable conduct by faculty.
The second and simultaneous change was to stumble across another on-line graduate program in transpersonal psychology which had none of the educational, technological, student-representation, community-building or social-media limitations of Sophia. What was quite serendipitous about this entire process of dropping one graduate program for another, was that I had actually started to plan a practicum with this other institution where I would propose and implement many of the community-building, educational-technology, information-management and social-media components that I offered to Sophia University, which were ignored.
I was grateful to be enrolled in a new graduate program which recognizes the fundamental value of adequate educational technologies, the importance of building student communities and utilizing social-media effectively. I was also fortunate to have been invited to help review and propose options to improve and expand the program with these tools and community-building practices supported by social-media. It would appear that not only is social media changing the world, but Johnny’s ducks are lining up towards a future academic and technical career where education and social-media play a prominent role.
All that was left was for me to find a way to combine these academic, psychological, technological and social-media interests or pursuits into a professional direction. At this point I am currently starting to plan for the thesis component of the graduate program which is likely to contain aspects of transpersonal psychology, participatory models, community-building and of course the role of social-media in education and spiritual-development. From the get-go I have been a fairly active user of social-media, and undeniably a strong proponent of its value not only for personal, social or business reasons but for education and knowledge-development as well. And now I am certain my future, both academically and professionally, will combine all of these areas along with my personal interest in spiritual and transpersonal psychology. So how did my thinking evolve and what circumstances or evidence might have contributed to these ideas evolving? Although this is a topic I hope to explore in much more detail in the future, what follows are a few milestones and exploratory thinking along the path which has led me to the ideas I hold today with regards to educational technology, social-media and transpersonal psychology. Although the writing may be a bit conceptually scattered since it has been pieced together from other works, I think it still laid the basic foundation for the ideas I pursued academically and now professionally and spiritually.
Social Media: Redefining Consciousness, Community and Knowledge
Back in 2000 when I left my first graduate program in statistics and psychology, I abandoned the academic life almost completely and spent the next decade or more pursuing business and technology interests primarily in the areas of open-source software and Linux. To be clear, this was not a decision based on economics, professional aspirations or convenience (I was already a statistical and technology consultant), it was a PHILOSOPHICAL decision. I can only touch on what I mean here, but the basic idea is that I sensed that the underlying knowledge-sharing, community-driven and collaborative paradigm behind the open-source software development model could become much more than an effective way to produce and distribute software – it could become a way to expand and redefine knowledge-creation, knowledge-access and possibly even how we define human consciousness and community. Possibly even an epistemological paradigm shift.
When I was initially accepted into the graduate program with Sofia University in 2012, at first I figured I would make a similar shift by dropping my interest in technology and re-focusing on a career where technology was relegated back to simply being a tool for those academic and educational pursuits. However, after researching and writing a few papers where I explored the potential spiritual role of our technology-driven and social-media connected global community, and the spreading acceptance of knowledge-sharing paradigms, I am now convinced there is a very real and fundamental role for these technologies in my own academic and spiritual future beyond just being “tools”. I believe that on a global-scale, collaborative, social and community-building technologies not only have the potential to fundamentally change and improve the delivery of educational resources through a new pedagogy, but these technologies and global definitions of “community” may also have the potential to build upon and spread spiritual knowledge as well as reinforcing our fundamental interconnectedness with each other. Although I plan to write in depth on this topic in the future, I will try to summarize some of these ideas in the following sections, which were actually written as part of the Reflection Paper after the first year in the Sophia program.
“Social media allows us to behave in ways that we are hardwired for in the first place – as humans. We can get frank recommendations from other humans instead of from faceless companies.”
Spiritual Development and Social-Media
In a previous post I defined one aspect of spiritual development as “…the life-long human journey to transcend an ego-driven and material-focused consciousness towards a more socially-conscious and globally-focused awareness…” (Stork, 2012b). Social-media and other communications technologies have allowed people from different countries, backgrounds, social, political and spiritual viewpoints to become part of our definition of “community”. By allowing us to engage, share, collaborate and build relationships with a wider range of people, we have the potential to gain a better understanding of our selves and how our world-views and spiritual beliefs fit with the rest of the world and other cultures. Social-media has significantly expanded our options for creating meaningful connections, both socially and spiritually, with people and communities from around the world. I believe this growing interconnectedness with people from around the world has the potential to make us a more socially, culturally and globally conscious people – certainly important aspects of spiritual development.
We are not only building larger social and global communities, but we are also expanding our sense of self and identity. An identity now freed from the physical, cultural and other external definitions, which can now be expressed and developed from more internal and authentic sources. These increased social connections and expanded global communities are also having an impact on our consciousness. Although “… technological advances can be viewed as the means to spark the evolution of mankind towards higher levels of collective consciousness” (Bauwens, 1996), social-media and our increased awareness of our interdependence may also be contributing to a shift towards a global form of human consciousness.
I truly believe we may be witnessing the early stages of an evolution, maybe even a paradigm shift, in the way we define “self”, “community”, “knowledge” and even human consciousness. What are social networks? They are extensions of our minds and our self. Right now, you and I are influencing each other’s consciousness and neural networks because of this virtual/written conversation, through the flow of information, ideas and even emotional energy. And when this participatory, co-created and collective consciousness is distributed on social networks, it influences the minds and consciousness everyone participating on a global scale. So unbeknownst to us, “…society is moving in the direction of a planetary mind through the social networks” (Chopra, 2012)
Through a process of interacting with virtual and social-media environments and expanded global communities where the physical, cultural, geographical and socioeconomic influences on our sense of self may be reduced if not eliminated, we may also find an opportunity to develop and present a more authentic and less artificial identity. “With social networks, there is no ethnic, racial or geographical boundary. We can bring people into humanity by transcending those boundaries” (Chopra, 2012). Once we have transcended ethnic, racial or geographic boundaries and extended our identities to a much larger and global “community”, we may begin to find it more difficult to dismiss our interconnectedness with one another and the Cosmos. One of the fundamental aims of spiritual practice has been to extend human identities, to overcome feelings of separateness with the rest of mankind, nature, and the Cosmos. This cooperation between technology and spirituality may even work the other way as well. Some of the techniques of spiritual practice could even be used to arrive at a more holistic view of technology. In that sense, the merging of man with technology could be seen as part of larger mystical task within the context of the universe (Bauwens, 1996).
The Internet has expanded not only our definition of community through global connections and social-media, but our definition of identity and larger self are redefined by the characters we create in virtual worlds and the new communities we build. When you consider how, unlike television, we now become active participants, producers and navigators through an entire universe of images, sounds, conversations and knowledge, where even our sense of self is being expanded, we are in fact using technology to “…extend our senses” (McLuhan, 1967). Since identity and self play a key role in our spiritual development, it is not hard to image a role for these technologies and expanding definitions of community and self to also have an impact on our individual spiritual development, as well as the potential co-creation of entirely new forms of global-spirituality in the future (Ferrer, 2011).
Another potential role for technology and social-media in expanding, redefining or exploring consciousness and spirituality comes from the notion of a “participatory approach” to transpersonal (spiritual) development. According to Jorge Ferrer (2011) much of the past work in the areas of transpersonal and spiritual psychology have focused on inner spiritual states (experientialism) or an underlying and common transpersonal influence (perennialism). What has been missing in transpersonal studies according to Ferrer, is the role of person-to-person relationships which create opportunities for spiritual self-disclosure as well as participation in, and co-creation of, reciprocal and plural spiritual understanding (Ferrer, 2011). In other words, a view of transpersonal development as a social, collaborative and interpersonal spiritual practice where relationships with others are seen as part of a “process” of spiritual development rather than an “experience”. The P2P Foundation (“P2P Foundation”, n.p.) offers a good overview of the various perspectives on the “participatory approach” and offers the following definition:
“Participatory spirituality involves a co-creative, enactive, transformative relation between persons and the divine, a relation which transcends and includes: the relations between multiple ways of knowing within the person, centrally the relations between persons and other persons, and the relations between persons and their worlds.”
If the field of transpersonal psychology continues to recognize and support the role of more collaborative and co-created forms of spirituality, then it would also seem that there may be a significant role for social-media to facilitate even greater collaboration and relationships, among those on a spiritual and transpersonal development path. Social-media in combination with the “…participatory approach [may provide] … helpful understandings and practical tools to facilitate a more fertile interreligious interaction, empower individuals in the cocreation of their spiritual path, and, perhaps most fundamentally, participate more fully in the mystery out of which everything arises” (Ferrer, 2011).
Spiritual and transpersonal development are inescapably tied to social and community factors. As I described earlier, there are even new models of transpersonal psychology and spirituality which are being defined through these interpersonal and social interactions. The work of Dean Radin and others has even suggested that there may be evidence of human consciousness expanding to a global scale with the possibility of influencing the material world around us. If we begin to use social-media to build larger global-communities of culturally-neutral and globally-conscious and educated citizens, and we begin to spread universal messages of peace, harmony, cooperation and compassion, maybe we can co-create a world where more people are living a rich spiritual life on a path towards self-actualization and universal harmony.
There is no doubt that the rest of my physical days on this planet will be spent in the pursuit of these technological, spiritual, social-media and transpersonal interests. I firmly believe that social-media (and its variants) in combination with the concept and practice of “open-knowledge” is not only changing how we communicate, conduct business, socialize and deliver educational resources, but it may even hold the keys to fundamentally changing who we are as a species by expanding and redefining human consciousness. Is it not also conceivable that a globally connected and socialized community participating in a form of technologically-supported global consciousness, could collaborate on and support universally valued principles such as compassion and non-violence? A sort of global and social-media-driven TED of “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Yes, I have left out a great deal of evidence to support these lofty transpersonal and psychological claims for social-media. But what would I write about in my thesis if I covered it all here?
Following My Bliss
I thought I would end by describing how I feel about these opportunities. There is no other way for me to describe my current state of mind, my life-perspective, educational pursuits, other than being one of personal, academic, professional (almost) and spiritual harmony. Although I am not yet working in a field which combines psychology, spirituality, technology and social-media, I know that I am on the path towards that end. My academic interests and passions are being pursued, the professional aspects will come eventually and my own spiritual development and interests continue to expand as I explore new ways of finding spiritual and creative expression. I can truly say that my life, particularly my spiritual life, has been “…moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature” (Joseph Campbell). I look forward to what the future brings, the new friendships and partnerships I will develop and of course, the unknown ways in which my own psychological, spiritual and even social-self will continue to unfold.
“Such is life as a human being if you believe the science of quantum physics and what the mystics, sages and spiritual leaders have been telling us for thousands of years – we are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent, we are all ONE. What we do to others we do to ourselves.” (Stork, 2013)
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