Integral for the Masses: A fresh Perspective on Technology and Its Role in Furthering Integral Leadership

Keith Bellamy

keith bellamyFirst an apology to anybody who was expecting to see the second part of my article on the work that we did on the State of the Integral Spirituality Movement at the Integral New York City Salon (iNYCS) earlier this year. It was always my intention to present the conclusions that we arrived at in this issue of ILR. However, as the great Liverpudlian sage, John Lennon would have said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making plans to do something else!” A lot of life has been happening in recent weeks that has managed to get in the way of completing that piece of work. I consider it too important to rush, so it will have to wait for a future edition.

I thought I’d use this space and time to explore a subject that I am finding a tad irritating. At the present time, it is impossible to open any Newspaper, Journal or any other form of media without being bombarded about how “social networking” is the panacea to every problem that you can list, and a few more that weren’t even on your radar screen. Worse still, the embrace of the technologies that facilitate social networking seems to be as strong with the Integral Community as it is with any other grouping I can think of. As the various lists that I subscribe to attempt to overcome the barricades to raising the level of Integral Consciousness to the tipping point necessary for it to affect society, the simple answer seems to be “social networking.”

All it takes is for somebody to suggest building yet another website, or setting up another Facebook group, or participating in one more blog or tweeting about it and the mindsets of the participants in the conversation seem to turn to Jello and draw one of two responses. The first is, “Wow, yeah, great idea I never thought of that!” The second is, “Wow, yeah, I love social networking let me tell you about an experience I had when the Buddha befriended me on Facebook!” Am I the only person on the planet wanting to scream, “Get real!” We are talking about technologies here that may or may not have a role to play in solving the issues being discussed, but for some reason all the hard earned lessons of Integral Theory are thrown out in the rush to occupy an emergent neo-flatland.

I have spent the last 40 years of my life at the leading, and in may cases bleeding, edge of technology adoption. I have been a proselytizer for transformations that were built on technological capability but I have also seen how individual and collective shadow can latch onto new developments and effectively nullify the potential benefits quietly, surreptitiously and sometimes ominously. Technology may enter our world through the right-hand quadrants, but the impact that they have is predominantly in the correlates that arise in the left-hand quadrants of Wilber’s AQAL map. As aspiring Integralites it is upon us to truly consider how a new technology might change and transform intentions and culture before declaring it the ultimate salvation to today’s pressing problem.

One example of how technology changes our intentions and culture can be seen in the recent report from Virginia Tech that identifies that “texting while driving increases the chance of an accident 23 times!” Like Duh! Who’d have guessed? Yet without understanding that a significant proportion of the population have a completely different intention for the technology compared to those who originally created it, the downside of new technology can be hilarious at times and fatal at others.

I am long enough in the tooth to remember the old days of photocopying when the copy created came out of the machine wet, and had to be allowed to dry otherwise it would smudge. When Xerox created dry copying and photocopiers started to proliferate across the office landscape, I remember one very seasoned professional salesman telling my boss at the time as he was seeking to close the deal, “…and of course, buying the XYZ will mean that you never have to read an article again!” We both looked stultified, as he went on to explain that in his experience one of the major changes in behavior that he had noticed is that before the explosion of copiers, managers had no choice but to read articles in circulated magazines before passing them on. Once there was a photocopier on the floor of the office, the manager would instruct his or her assistant to take a copy and add it to the pile of reading that he or she always planned to get around to one day.

As we all know, one day rarely comes and the majority of articles were disposed of in the biannual clearing of the filing cabinets and old reading material was discarded to make way for the new. When one’s seniors asked, “Did you read such and such’s article?” The answer was, “Of course,” which really meant, “It’s in my pile waiting for some spare time, which I would have if you didn’t keep giving me all sorts of other meaningless tasks that stop me from actually reading the articles you send around.”

The moral of this tale is that the introduction of technology changes behaviors. That’s pretty oxymoronic, because if it didn’t have some transformative impact, who in their right mind would invest in the technologies that we surround ourselves with? However, not only does it affect our behaviors, it also impinges on our intentions. If the truth be told, technology plays to our lower levels of development and any shadow that is lurking around at that level. Give a highly functioning Achiever a fully equipped Smartphone and they rapidly regress to a babbling Opportunist before your very eyes. Your future potential deputy starts losing focus in the middle of meetings; out of the corner of your eye you notice that he is adopting the “pose”—pushed back from the table slightly, left arm extended under the table and the squint as he tries to read 6 point text on the screen of the phone that he really thinks you cannot see.

In the main workplace, the flow of traffic to social networking sites is starting to boom. This is not only putting increased stress on already strapped infrastructure but soaking up enormous quantities of time as individuals need to keep up with the latest tweet or photograph or whatever has been posted in the last 30 microseconds. The trouble is that you cannot ban the technology completely as when it is focused it can have amazing benefits on the way teams pull together and tackle problems that just didn’t happen in the past. However, there is no way of knowing whether the gains outweigh the detriments. Furthermore, once a technology has become engrained in an individual’s working ecology, extricating it is a major challenge and often leads to an outbreak of “over my dead body” syndrome as witnessed by a statement such as, “You are taking Twitter away from me, over my dead body.”

Like photocopying of 30 years ago, many of today’s social networking sites mean that you never have to read or explore the nuances of any subject any longer. Instead of making copies, we just bookmark the URL’s that are passed around, often never to return to them again. We have replaced, or are rapidly replacing, coming together with each other to explore and wrestle with meaningful and highly complex subjects and to collectively become their masters. We are spending more time sitting in front of screens, often in isolation attempting to make the breakthrough into higher consciousness. And those of us who purport to be at the leading edge of these developments are not only doing it willingly but actively encouraging all and sundry to do the same thing.

One of my favorite biblical myths is that of the Tower of Babel. King Nimrod, the hunter or seeker, pulled together all the leading tribes at the time and had them believe that all it would take to look God in the eye would be to build a tower to the heavens. It sounded so simple and easy that everybody signed up for the challenge. The technology of choice was to use bricks to create this platform that would allow Man to reach the same level as God. However, along the way different opinions started to emerge as to the best way to make bricks, how to lay them and various other disagreements. In the end, the unified initiative split into 70 nations each with a different tongue.

Technology, including social networking, is a great tool for furthering the cause of raising Integral Consciousness. It allows us to disseminate ideas and concepts and to come together more frequently than might ever have proved possible in the past. However, if we are serious in our challenge we have to remember that it is just a tool and that we need to master it in our activities. If we allow it to become our master then we run the risk of creating our own Tower of Babel and splitting into our own 70 nations each with a different tongue. To allow this to happen would, in my opinion, set mankind back considerably if not irrevocably.

So the next time you find the best thing since sliced bread, think carefully before shouting it from the rooftops because your desire to share and bring the Integral Community closer together, could actually be sewing the seeds of its demise. And on that note, I must get back to reading the 80 emails that have arrived while writing this column.