Connectedness – My takeaway from Avatar


“….and unless we touch others, we’re out of touch with life.”
– Oliver Wendall Holmes, American physician & poet. 19th Century

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Most of us remember the James Cameron directed 2009 epic Avatar as a technically brilliant Sci Fi extravaganza. But what fascinated me about the story was the vast neural connectivity between every living organism on that beautiful world of Pandora. A network which allowed the humanoid species called Na’vi to not only connect to every other flora and fauna on the planet but to an evolved and higher planetary consciousness called Eywa. Eywa apparently is all about deep connection , bonding and balance, termed in Na’vi language as tsaheylu, and this alone becomes responsible for the defeat of the otherwise technologically superior and better armed human army.

Sometime back I had mused on the influence of internet and social media connectivity and the shift it is bringing to our society in ‘A World of Tweeple’. A shift that is moving large swathes of humanity from traditional groupings of ethnicity, community and religion to individual ‘Me- Self’ connectivities that satisfy emotional and social needs. My crystal ball gazing showed up two paths. One leading to a frightening Matrix like future where wired to central intelligences, we access information at will in return for our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for others to examine. The other path holding the promise of our individualism being empowered by the power of networks to achieve a utopian future.
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What is it about these visions of connectivity that fascinate so? Does such connectedness somehow, somewhere, signify an aspect of yearning, an area where we see a lack? I dwell upon this. I see myself connected to every life form through that double helix structure called DNA. I see my connections in the symbiotic relationship of the air, food and water that I take in. And I also see my connections in my social needs to bond and belong.

So what exactly is lacking?

I decide to do a reality check. What is it that makes us prefer Facebook friends to real ones? Could this be because deep down we remain diffident and uncertain about our ability to ‘connect with our hearts’, so essential to blossom a real friendship? Could this be because Facebook and such social media technologies allow us to calibrate and control how much, when and where we choose to share? Something which real friendships and connections could never tolerate. Could this be the reason that as technology gives us the means ‘to connect’ more and more, we see increasing evidence of disempowering disconnect all around? As we try and escape by shifting our connectivity to gadgets and technologies than to each other……….

I once again come round to the thinking that we have indeed become obsessed with a “Me- Self” mindset. And have chosen to forget all that had our forefathers had learnt to reach this stage of societal development. Aspect of being there for each other. Aspects of trust and empathy. The need to reboot our ‘operating system’ back to “Us –Selves” from the recently acquired “Me- Self”

So I come back to the question about what could we do to steer onto the alternative path promising that utopian future?

In a recent graduation address, Nipun Mehta, the 32 year old founder of CharityFocus.org and a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, speaks of three keys that helped him to return to a place of connection.

• Key number one ‘To Give’: Contrary to what the corporate world teaches, Nipun started with the hypothesis, “Maybe Greed is good but Generosity is better”. His experience with several projects has shown that (in his own words) ‘People consistently underestimate generosity, but human beings are internally wired to give.”

• Key number two ‘To Receive’: In Nipun’s words, “With any act of unconditional service, no matter how small, our biochemistry changes, our mind quietens, and we feel a sense of gratefulness. This inner transformation fundamentally shifts the direction of our lives.” It is in giving that we receive.

• Key number three ‘To Dance’: Contrary to what most people do, Nipun says that we should never try and track what is being given or received. Instead we need to let go and tune into the rhythm. The real reward of the give and take lies not in the value of what is being exchanged but the connection which flows underneath.

To Nipun Mehta’s three keys, I wish to add a fourth one.

• Key number four ‘To be Conscious’: As conscious beings, we are uniquely endowed with awareness and imagination. Aspects which allow us to connect to the Universe. As we do this, using vehicles like Science, Art and Religion, we are able to gain the unique understanding of the “spirit” that permeates and connects all things. Much like the connectivity in Avatar, it is this spiritual consciousness that becomes our ultimate connection to everything in the universe.

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So, are we ready to give, to receive, to dance and to be conscious……… and to connect as we move through our lives?

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
― Carl Sagan, 1990.

In Learning…………………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: Miserable & Magical: A Graduation Speech for Paradoxical Times– by Nipun Mehta, May 27, 2013.

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A World of Tweeple


Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

 

                                                                                                                                          John Lennon, 1971

 

 

The other day I watched Barkha Dutt’s,“We the Tweeple” on NDTV. While the debate centered on the significant spread of positivity and assertiveness that twitter in particular and social media in general have created amongst common folk, one could still sense disquiet amongst a section of the participants. I was left wondering whether there remained concerns unsaid and unanswered.

It is often remarked that the anarchism the internet and its various appendages have come to signify, holds out the promise of societal empowerment for the first time in the history of mankind. The eighteenth century English philosopher William Godwin believed that the ‘Euthanasia of authority” would need to be achieved through individual reformation. As the tweeple inheriting today’s world, have we taken the onus of reforming ourselves and creating an existence on our own terms, bereft of any Governmental and organisational controls?

So can the social media revolution be viewed as a way forward? A concern that is often voiced is that it is fragmenting society and breaking down societal bonds. But as I ponder, I realise that such shifts in society and its perspectives have occurred many times in the past. Be it the massive changes in the socio-economic structure, culture and customs wrought when we moved from a predominantly agrarian to an industrialised society. Or the relatively lesser breakdown of our sense of neighbourhood and community which the Television brought about. So why this rising shrillness and uncertainty about the negative impact of Twitter, Facebook, SMSs etc?

As I ponder some more, I become aware of a more fundamental shift. A shift that is taking human society away from ethnic, religious and community groupings to connectivities at the individual level. We, the technologically empowered tweeple, are no longer willing to accept family and community pressures to “belong” to specified groups. We would rather prefer to tap into diverse networks that meet our emotional or social needs.

Which brings us to the disturbing aspect of this electronic invasion of social media into our lives viz. the blurring between our inner private space and our outside social footprint. This has major implications on our “thinking out of the box” creativity, our behaviour and even our inner values. As we continue to lose more and more of our inner selves, would we not be losing out on our individualism, our inner peace- which is the reason why we were attracted to be a tweeple and its empowerment in the first place? Therein lies the dilemma and its irony.

So what happens as we move forward a few decades or centuries down the curve?

Would we become a wired node to an omniscient society with the capacity to access information at will, anywhere, any time? In return our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for all to see and examine? Would those frightening visions of The Matrix, of Morpheus welcoming Neo “to the real world” where all people are wired to a central intelligence, come true in this fashion?

Or would social media become the enabler for our heightened individualism as we use its networked capability to achieve John Lennon’s utopia of “joining in and making the world as one?

In Learning……………………..

Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:

  • Living Networked in a Wired World- by Barry Wellman & Keith Hampton.