The Power of Love

by rthieme on October 10, 1998

Islands in the ClickstreamCyberspace hangs by a thread, a tenuous connection not always visible when we focus on chips and switches, the speed of connectivity, the sizes of our drives. The hardware is a visible image of something less tangible that quickens our network life, making us skip and hop like spring lambs.

The ubiquity of electronic connectivity is the context of our lives. As the interface becomes more seamless and invisible, we notice it less and less, like the fact of speech. It becomes “space” in which we live and move and have our being.

Context is content. McLuhan said it clearly in the guise of a digital prophet, but others have said it before. That is a truth the apprehension of which immediately causes a contextual shift in our lives. We see the landscape from a new point of reference.

When Yobie Benjamin, Chief Knowledge Officer of Cambridge Technology Partners, says that real power consists of moving from node to node within the network, seeing the system now from this point of view, now from that, he is speaking of the freedom of multi-nodal scanning, the capacity to “hyperjump” inside a system by an exercise of will and intention. In cyberspace, however, the mind exercising that prerogative is the hive mind of collective humanity. That may have always been true but today the images and symbols of the Net function as dye in the arteries of that hive mind, visible and outward signs of a real and inward animating spirit.

Columbus, McLuhan reminded us, was a mapmaker before he explored. Interacting with technologies that made maps possible, he internalized a new set of possibilities that percolated into his heart and mind until they ignited. Then he set sail. But he was merely an aperture, one opening through which a new horizon of possibility was disclosing itself. It was humankind in its restless quest for mapping space and time that set sail for a new world.

Columbus did not really think he would fall off the edge, but plenty of people live their lives as if they do. During times of radical change, the edge is the new center, speeding toward the dissolving center at a faster and faster pace. Maybe that’s what Robert Galvin meant when he said that every idea that made a critical difference at Motorola began its life as a minority opinion. Or Shaw when he said that all great truth begins life as blasphemy.

Two hundred years ago, the English conceived of themselves as the center of everything, their colonies as the edge. In fact, for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, colonies like the United States were already the new center. Today, we think of our island earth as the center and “outer space” as a whirligig of concentric planes or rings turning wildly about ourselves, when in fact the orbital slots of the earth, the colonization of near earth space, our evolution toward participation in trans-galactic civilization, already constitute the center. Just as “the Soviet Union” was recently the name of a country that vied for dominance in “outer space,” the names of all of our bases are passing into the inconstant storage device of historical memory.

When all things are morphing into goal states that we individuals have difficulty imagining but which our hive mind seems to anticipate, it is more important than ever to trust the process. Trust mitigates our fear of the edges. Once we break through fear, there is nothing but space, sheer possibility. Then we can fly.

Because of my different history – the early loss of parents, a self-conscious search for identity on the margins of other cultures – I have lived much of my life on the edge. That can be said of any minority group as dominant cultures define them. But marginalization is a gift. Those inside a dominant culture do not need to know when their self-perception blurs into a comforting myth, but minorities must know the difference between statement and behavior. Their well being, if not their lives, are at stake, and they do not have the luxury of not knowing what people in the dominant culture really mean. I am useful as a consultant to people who have always lived at the center because center-dwellers need edge-dwellers as pathfinders these days to name the behaviors that work in a world that is always on edge.

Because the center of a network or web is wherever we are, and no one else is displaced by our presence at the center, power is exercised in a web by participating and contributing, not by dominating and controlling. We know that our own heads are not the universe, we know that the symbols and images of our belief systems are maps and not the territory. We know that we are nodes or modules in a web or network vast beyond our comprehension. We are moments of self-luminous knowing in a transitory pattern made up of the conscious conversation of sentient life everywhere.

Still, we must take care of ourselves, we must manage practicalities, because if we don’t, who will? But if that’s all we do, we diminish ourselves. We are more than selfish little clods of earth, as Shaw said, whining and complaining that the world will not devote itself to making us happy. We do not own the world, we are owned by it, and our real fulfillment lies in making this firefly moment burn as brightly as we can.

The field of subjectivity, a skein of self-consciousness, animates our lives even as it knits us into a single diaphanous fabric. Human nets and electric nets connect at a nexus where the sparks fly, but power in that Net derives from our will and intention. How we set the arrow of our lives in the bow of intentionality creates the shape of the target. When intentionality is fused with the deep knowledge of contingency and belonging, we have ignition, we have blast-off.

That’s when mountains move.

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