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As our communications structures move from interconnected networks to entire environments of distributed (cloud) intelligence, the challenge is no longer “How do I relate to the other beings in this world?” but the transpersonal question of “What are we cocreating in every moment of that connection?”
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Articles in This Issue
Archetypes of the Cloud: Adventures in Cyberspace
by Steven Vedro
The coupling of electricity with our nervous system over a century and a half ago started the process of what the prescient media sage Marshal McLuhan called “the outering of our nervous system.” From the one-to-one communications technologies of the telegraph and telephone, to the interpersonal one-to-many forms of broadcast radio and television, to today’s all-to-all global grids of the Internet and the emerging distributed intelligence of peer-to-peer and social networks, we continue to grow more connected, more accessible, more stimulated. Each technological stretching of our communications matrix also has an impact on our emotional and spiritual life, our language, and the myths we live by.
Our technologies are the products of our evolving consciousness, and they also change our consciousness. Yet it is from the deeper well of consciousness—from myth and metaphor—that we will draw the wisdom to guide us through this transformative shift. As our communications structures move from interconnected networks to entire environments of distributed (cloud) intelligence, the challenge is no longer “How do I relate to the other beings in this world?” but the transpersonal question of “What are we cocreating in every moment of that connection?”
From the Web to the Cloud
In the Internet world, we are all connected. Boundaries mean little when all knowledge, both public and private, is available to anyone. On the Internet, nothing is protected from our eyes and ears—from leaked reports of government and corporate malfeasance to all levels of violence and pornography. Once-hidden religious doctrines, mystical texts, and even the secret practices of Scientology are now available for all to see. Every person with a cell-phone camera is a threat to the old order of secrecy and control. Even online bookies are finding that their clients now know more about the odds than they do.
Our Internet-connected computers have opened every closet and short-circuited old modes of denial—there is nowhere to hide for wayward spouses or even presidents and presidential candidates. We have become data naked—every credit card purchase, every trip through the grocery store, and every phone call (and its originating location) is now on record. Even once-expunged court records (the clean slate granted by a judge for minor convictions) held only in paper and archived are now finding their way to the Web, as records are routinely digitized.
In this hyperconnected environment, boundary control becomes a full-time job. We are all conscious of our vulnerability and the weakness of our carefully maintained public self: Who am I, and who do I pretend to be? Where do I end and you begin? How can I trust that you are who you say you are? Who do I let into my space? Our networks are interconnected across the old boundaries of public and private, nation to nation, time and space; no one processor stands alone. With this new vulnerability come fears of information infection and contagion. Is it any wonder that in both our physical and virtual worlds we use the same metaphors? We fear viruses and foreign terrorist infiltrators. We worry about the modification of our core operating systems, our data, our food, and our very DNA.
In recent years, we’ve seen the image of the Internet morph from a two-dimensional grid to a pervasive, three-dimensional cloud. What Steven Johnson, Wired contributing editor, has called long-zoom consciousness—our digital capacity to zoom out from the level of our DNA to deep-space landscapes of the enormity of the cosmos through Google Earth photos and satellite images of the earth and beyond—is emerging as contemporary culture’s defining way of seeing. According to Johnson, this has created a new view of information space—interconnected and multilayered—that’s as disruptive to our old ways of thinking as the earlier revolutions of Newton and Einstein.
Today, computers are no longer discreet systems sitting on the desktop but hum all around us in handheld smart devices that combine mobile phones, music, game players, GPS locators, and dozens of other applications. Networked processors are everywhere—in our appliances, on the street, at the market, and soon in our clothing and eyeglasses. Our technologies are even empowering physical locations to tell their stories: one New York artist has recruited his neighbors to record stories about the love life in their building, while another thread tells the stories of a grove of trees in an urban park.
But beyond personal awareness of place, the web has metaphorically given a voice to Gaia herself. We are building grids of network sensors that will crisscross our world. From interactive underwater observatories connected to each other and to land-based research laboratories, atmospheric carbon and ozone monitoring stations on the tops of mountains and deep in the forest, stress sensors embedded deep in the earth and in roads and bridges, and meters of the smart electrical grid, data from our everyday environment is pouring in from all directions. Each sensor will have its own IP (Internet protocol) address. Each will be aware of its location, react to new data, monitor its internal processes, and receive and share updates and information with its peers. Each will add its own signal to our collective nervous system.
Distributed processing technology allows for data storage, software, and computing technology to reside on the network cloud and be called forth only when needed. Grid computing distributes these resources in small pieces across all the computers sharing the same network. Using these networks and remote data centers, large-scale computing projects can be shared across millions of independent, loosely coupled, smaller processors worldwide, each “donating” its spare computing cycles to the functioning of the whole. Cloud-based, grid-computing networks are already tackling the modeling of new cancer-fighting drugs, tracking the smallest quantum interactions, and even mapping the universe. At the same time, computer criminals have captured thousands of computers by infecting them with botnet viruses and malware and turning them into giant spamming engines—all without the knowledge of the computer’s owners!
On the net, our social challenge has been to negotiate with others, protect our boundaries, and accept that, like it or not, we are now all connected; in the cloud, we are still connected and are also challenged to create value for the whole community as we share our resources, intelligence, and creative work with others—whether by offering spare computing cycles in a grid project, uploading environmental observations to a shared database, forwarding cellphone videos and tweets of street protesters fighting repressive regimes, contributing dollars to an online social cause, or engaging in other acts of digital generosity. New forms of collaboration are emerging as people engage in multiuser gaming, music and visual arts creation, and creating new mashups from these aggregated offerings.
On the net, our content is locally stored (on our personal hard drives); in the cloud, we store our files and programs across the network (in remote data centers), with only snippets of code (apps) residing on the local machines. We draw from these external repositories as needed, downloading content to our lighter, streamlined tablets and smart devices. Indeed, the cloud is now the place where we store more and more of our cumulative human intelligence. In addition to shared processing cycles and web applications, eventually every book written, every recording, every webpage, every film and television program—the entire works of humankind—will find its way to the cloud. We’ll rely on ever more powerful search engines, data-mining algorithms, and crowdsourcing to make sense of this unleashed, overflowing abundance—an outpouring of the new, as well as new forms of the old—the mashups, meshes, mixes, and remixes of our evolving culture that populate the long-tail graph of network destinations.
This scenario has, of course, a frightening side. In service to our lower selves, these technologies can lead us into a beehive-like world devoid of quiet personal space, where physical nature and even human love are replaced by computer simulations. Global corporations will extend their control to the most remote corners of the planet, where the smallest personal action is tracked in giant marketing databases. But when seen through the lens of metaphor, the very structure of the cloud offers us a path to a very different outcome. Cloud technologies show how people can be not only individual transmitters and receivers—the infinite but separate reflecting jewels on Indra’s web—but also part of a joyously, noisily communicating system. And with that awareness comes the chance to see in the cloud reflections of a paradigm shift in human consciousness: the modeling of a world where we connect not only with every other being but also through that interconnection simultaneously with something greater then ourselves.
Archetypes in the Cloud
Learning how to navigate a world where everyone and everything is connected, where every object has a voice (if not an IP address), where all things can be found and all that was hidden is seen, where realities comes into being based on what decoding scheme we choose, is truly a mythic challenge. Without proper tools and spiritual preparation, hyperconnectivity can be an endless hall of mirrors, trapping us in the morass of our electronically magnified addictions and fears.
Perhaps it is from the inner world of myth and archetype that we will find the wisdom to live and thrive in this new environment. Each archetype has its gold—its power and its gift to connect us with the deepest aspirations for our soul, and each one has its shadow—its immature manifestation that tricks us with false promises (of safety, of power, of love, of spiritual connection) and leads us further into isolation.
Traversing this new world, we can draw upon the deep wisdom of the protector archetypes: the Magician, who is able to discern shadow from light and to recognize the larger patterns; the Lover, who can establish clean connections with the other; the Warrior, whose work it is to set and to protect boundaries from a deeply grounded place; and the Sovereign, who through generosity and the act of blessing can not only see but also change the codes of reality, thus healing the web of creation. We can see the light and shadow side of these archetypes at play within each of the current strategies we have embraced to guide us through the world of the cloud.
Out in cyberspace, where every digital bit affects all others and where each bit brings forth a slightly different reality, having a guide that can see through the smog and recognize the underlying patterns—the metainformation—is critical. This is the domain of the Magician, the one who is comfortable in the shadow places, who is a systems seer, capable of finding the way in a sea of conflicting signals. The Magician is comfortable walking in the world of the manifest as well as the world of potential form. The Magician sees beyond habitual concepts to the underlying patterns that modulate all reality. And because the Magician can see past the illusion, he is not seduced by every immediate stimulus. “Spend time pondering not what you see but why you see it,” Merlin tells the young Arthur in Deepak Chopra’s The Way of the Wizard. ”Look at the carpets rising and the straw blowing about; branches, leaves, and trees dancing; the pond wearing rippled armor,” Rumi invites us. All these things look different, but “in root and reality, they’re one: the wind.”
At its best, the Magician archetype can help us distinguish all the potential tricksters and false signs that we meet on the journey. At its worst, in its shadow manifestation, the Magician is the great manipulator, the promoter of false insights and dreams that pass for reality—the land of the Matrix movies. The Magician can get carried away with her mental abilities, become detached from the earth, and lose touch with her heart. Google’s reliance on its data-mining processes has much Magician energy about it, but sometimes it provides results that are completely disconnected from life as we live it. Men and women following the Magician in cyberspace must be alert for the intoxication of data-gathering, for the delusion that only the right algorithm can find the truth, for the temptation to play just one more level or to download just one more app.
At its best, the Magician reminds us to venture past our fear of the unknown, to widen our reception channels, to take in more frequencies, until we can see with what Sri Aurobindo called “the eye of complete union,” finding, as poet William Blake did, “a world in a grain of sand.”
The Lover seeks connection, sparks our creativity, and holds all beings in its heart center. Relationship and reciprocity are the core communications focus of this archetype; its greatest desire is to reveal our dreams and joys, our innermost desires, to a trusting circle of friends. When in shadow mode, the Lover can lead us into obsessive concern about not being connected and to engage in compensatory over-communications, to the point of drowning out the truly important signals all around us. It often mistakes codependency for compassionate listening, getting hooked into others’ stories as if they were real.
This guide is an important friend, as it pulls us back from the Magician’s conjured dreamspace and abstractions into the domain of feelings, safety, and trust. The Lover is a strong advocate of crowdsourcing and open systems, freeware and shared content. The Lover must stay alert, however, to the seduction of self-promotion, groupthink, and mutual ego inflation, which flow like a dark current through much of today’s social media networks. When disconnected from the intelligence of the Magician and vulnerable without the protection of the Warrior, the Shadow Lover may spill its secrets to everyone with the click of a mouse, regardless of the impact (some see this shadow and such “naive openness” in WikiLeaks).
A wounded lover can respond by becoming thick-skinned and cynical in self-defense, eagerly awaiting the next scandal or embarrassing video thrown up on the web for all to see. The Shadow Lover can also be afflicted by hypersensitivity and the victim syndrome, compulsively finding more reasons for loneliness in every friend’s Facebook status update or Twitter post.
The Lover understands that a trusted friend is a much greater security check than layers of complex passwords and firewalls and that a referral from within one’s circle of intimates is going to carry much more weight than a data-driven recommendation protocol. The explosive growth of Facebook and social search, the flood of heart-tugging animal videos on YouTube, and the success of viral campaigns for human rights remind us that the Lover has never been banished by the geek Magicians of cyberspace. For this we can be thankful, for it will be the Lover responding to calls for environmental sanity that will keep us from destroying our spaceship Earth.
If we use the Magician to help us see the underlying data patterns within the cloud, the Warrior archetype gives us the power to move through this hall of mirrors toward our true goals. It shields us from the constant bombardment of data distractions in our hyperconnected world. The Warrior is protective of boundaries, defending our personal information from expropriation by those who may want to harm us or use our data for inappropriate purposes.
The Warrior is not tricked by appearances (the Lover’s weakness) or seduced by the complexity of near-infinite choice (the Magician’s weakness). Warrior energy fuels the use of the Internet and social media for justice and civil rights and for calls to live a life of mission and service. Influenced by the cries of the Lover, the Warrior archetype uses technology for the care of the earth, pushing the Magician to simplify and clarify complex data patterns about global warming, population growth, pandemic outbreaks, and more, so that individuals and groups can take specific action.
We are all too familiar with the Warrior’s shadow: violence and aggression against projected demons and external enemies; rigidity and attachment to rules and procedures; distrust and distance from the messiness of life. All are signs of the wounded or immature Warrior archetype. We see these behaviors throughout the web. On the aggressive side, there are flaming wars, scattershot spam, hate speech, and trolls set out to destroy the infrastructure of the network itself. More passively, there are hierarchical systems of control that stifle others’ creativity and sharing.
In many ways, Steve Jobs and Apple personified these positive and negative Warrior traits, from elegant, simplified design strategies and top-to-bottom responsibility for its products to the rigidity of locked battery cases and noninterchangeable cables, exclusive smart phone apps, and cell-phone contracts that trap customers in a follow-the-leader relationship. In its quest for just-in-time streamlined manufacturing processes, Apple has been accused of forgetting the Lover’s core values where worker health and safety are concerned.
Tapping the power of the Warrior allows us to navigate the cloud from a place of personal safety, where we can access our power of creativity, whether it’s making new programs and applications, playing with our online identities, or finding our personal expressive voice.
The Sovereign, or Wise Elder or Crone, operates from a place of blessing and generosity. Closer to death than any of the other archetypes, she is no longer caught up in her own ego defense. She has no fear of transpersonal realms. Her stance is not to understand (as a Magician) or to change (as a Warrior) the Infosphere but to observe it with love and compassion, watching from a place of nonattachment the flow of information as it traverses the cloud. This distancing from the hooks of attachment and the constant claims on one’s attention allows the Elder to offer unconditional love for the entire human experience. The shadow danger is inflation and narcissism, mistaking one’s big-picture understanding for that of the Divine mind.
Healthy Sovereign energy fuels our efforts to heal the web of life. It is the underlying ethos of the Internet itself—openness, trust, the free flow of data packets across multiple paths, all finding their way through the “goodwill” of devices and programs that read the packet’s “intention” and generously forward it on. The Sovereign understands that each packet has its own destiny and path. The Sovereign’s job is to keep the network itself and all of its potential paths and routers as strong as possible.
When we tap this archetype, we are empowered to commit acts of kindness without attribution. Performing the ancient Jewish moral commandment of tikkun olam, the Sovereign calls upon the other archetypal energies to help guide its stewardship of our collective electronic nervous system. It means staying fully conscious of our operating systems, supporting the self-healing mesh networks we are building, and downloading new applications that are in greater alignment with our inner work. That work is to enter the cloud not as dependent children or dangerously independent adolescents but as interdependent adults, helping bring forth a transformation in human consciousness.