Consciousness hacking is about human and planetary flourishing. It refers to no tech, low tech, and high tech tools for expanding consciousness. Meditation is the oldest form of consciousness hacking. In Western psychology, research in this area is found in the humanistic, transpersonal, and integral schools.
First published Psychology Today, March 29, 2016
Mindfulness is a meditation practice that is easy to learn and can be used anywhere. It is about maintaining "a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment."1 We’re hearing more and more about the ways the science behind mindfulness is being applied to healthcare, education, the criminal justice system, and more. One area where the science behind mindfulness hasn’t received as much attention is media and computing. Mindfulness is a word associated with peace and tranquility—it’s downright paradoxical to mention it beside words like media and computing—words strongly associated with mental activity and stress.
To get behind this paradox we intuit that we might be asked to set our smartphone aside for a period of time, or worse yet, turn it off altogether. Right away that thought makes some of us sweat. These technologies tell us the time, the weather, and the news. We use them to keep up with our schedules, our friends, and our investments—to track our activity, map our destinations, and answer our questions. They serve as portable concert halls, movie theaters, and gaming arcades. It’s no wonder we’re reluctant to allow terms like mindful media, mindful computing, and mindful technology to take up residence in our lives—much less the collective consciousness.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: What exactly do we mean by these terms? Can anything that’s so distracting be used to quiet the mind, or enhance a mindfulness practice? Does applying mindfulness to our digital lives mean turning off your television and smartphone? To answer questions we must bring our conscious attention to the way we’re using these technologies: are they facilitating our wellbeing or detracting from it? Here's a quick summary of the way I see this powerful intersection:
- Mindful media: Bringing the science of mindfulness to our media habits means paying attention to the impact media has on our bodies. Noticing what we're sensing and feeling while viewing a particular program. To do this, we need to watch ourselves watching the show. How are we breathing? What are we feeling? Although mindfulness does not involve passing judgement on our thoughts or feelings, this practice may lead us to question the impact of media on our overall wellbeing. Leading us to ask ourselves a few essential question: Does our media intake support healthy psychological states? Are we using it to cover up feelings of loneliness, sorrow, or depression? Do the shows we watch anchor us to our past or inspire us to live in the present moment? Have we ever considered the ways we might use media as a tool to empower and uplift ourselves? If not, we're missing out on a powerful tool for self-improvement. If this idea is new for you, try reading one of the books written by positive psychologists, Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding, that show us how we can use films to build character strengths and virtues.2
- Mindful computing/technology: Web surfing takes us on a ride, but sometimes it's more like being towed under a wave of mindlessness. Applying mindfulness to computing means paying attention to our thoughts and feelings as we engage with digital technologies. Is your breathing pattern short and rapid, or deep and relaxed? Researchers at Stanford University’s Calming Technology Lab have begun exploring breathing patterns in relationship to human-computer interactions, and the development of digital technologies that promote states of calm.3 We'll be hearing more about this area in the coming years. Author and consultant, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang suggests we can learn to use information technologies in ways that protect us from being perpetually distracted.4 Right now, one way we can engage in mindful, or contemplative computing is through noticing the type of interactions we have online. Mindful computing can include embodying the Cyberhero archetype through engaging in digital altruism, e-philanthropy, and digital activism--all activities that require us to be consciously aware of what we're doing, thinking, and feeling.5 Just as there are films that support our wellbeing, so too are there are Apps that support relaxation, meditation, and lucid dreaming. Which brings us to the very thing that makes our pulse race . . .
- Mindful disconnect: If sleeping is the only time we're disconnected from electronic stimuli, we're shortchanging our senses. Undoubtedly, information technology enhances our lives in many ways, but the technology that delivers it can also dull our senses. The biological impact of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) on the body remains the subject of ongoing research.6 As an energy field in its own right, the human body deserves the chance to give us its own feedback—feedback we can only access if we slow down and tune in. Plus, there are other benefits, including consciously focusing our attention on our loved ones. How do we pause long enough to restore and revive our five senses and go back to our everyday lives consciously? This summer, I’m excited to be involved in the “Mindful Unplug Experience” a first-of-its-kind retreat workshop at the Feathered Pipe Ranch under Montana’s Big Sky.7 The Mindful Unplug is designed to equip participants with the ability to bring a new sense of consciousness to their lives and help them “return to the world of noise and technology grounded, conscious, and well equipped for a commitment to sustaining our own health, and an inspiration toward applying our heart and our intelligence for the common good.” The Ranch is one of the oldest centers for conscious living in the country and we’ll be rebooting back to a healthier relationship to technology in a relaxed, leisurely, nature-drenched setting. Some of the areas we’ll be exploring include:
- Learning how to bring mindfulness and compassion into daily life.
- Learning how to apply the science of mindfulness to our use of media and digital technologies.
- Engaging in yoga, mindful movement and other somatic practices
The science of mindfulness has touched so many areas of our lives: it's time to consider applying it to our interactions with media and computing.
2. Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding (2008). Positive Psychology At The Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths, Hogrefe Publishing.
Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding (2013). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths 2nd Edition, Hogrefe Publishing.
4. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang(2013). The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul
First Published at Psychology Today on November 30, 2015
After the Paris attacks, the French government announced the cancellation of a massive climate march on November 29. How did the Parisian’s react? By lining the streets with their shoes.
Paris’ symbolic act of solidarity with climate marchers was powerfully received, so much so that the world reacted by joining them in a virtual march launched by Avaaz.org(link is external). The virtual march invited people to upload a photo of themselves with a pair of shoes and add a caption.
Resilience is made up of a cluster of character strengths and virtues. It isn’t studied in isolation because our ability to bounce back from adversity is tied to our relationships—with our families, communities, and cultures. Being resilient means we’re not stopped by adversity. We move forward with optimism and hope intact.
A few years ago, I met climate scientist, Michael Oppenheimer(link is external) for coffee to talk about how we might inspire young people to become climate activists. Dr. Oppenheimer is the co-founder of the Climate Action Network(link is external) and a lead participant of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. In the 1980s, he and his colleagues organized two workshops that eventually led to negotiations that resulted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. These were signed at the 1992 Earth Summit and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. For more than four decades, Dr. Oppenheimer has been confronting the antagonism of climate change deniers.
Beginning today, 40,000 diplomats, experts and advocates, including more than 135 world leaders, are meeting in Paris for a major U.N. Climate Summit(link is external). The goal is a new global climate treaty—a treaty capable of helping the world avoid the worst consequences of human-caused global warming. COP21 is different that the 20 climate conferences that preceded it because we have the opportunity to respond with hope and optimism. Standing beside us, are millions of allies around the world—interconnected by the invisible threads of the World Wide Web. To help us connect, the United Nations Foundation(link is external), launched #EarthtoParis(link is external), a campaign designed to raise awareness and give us a way to join the dialogue. Let’s do our part to support Dr. Oppenheimer and the millions of other scientists and climate activists around the world. Facing our fears about climate change may not be easy. We may feel uncomfortable, even anxious. This is normal.
We can develop our own resilience during the roller coast ride of the climate change negotiations, by supporting our larger climate activist families, communities, and transitioning cultures. You can join artist, Naziha Mestaoui's participatory art project, 1Heart1Tree by using an app to plant a real tree. With music by Philip Sheppard, the artwork spans the online and offline worlds by creating a forest of light on the monuments of Paris during the UN Climate Conference. It offers spectators the ability to create a virtual tree of light using a heart beat sensor. For each virtual tree of light created, a real tree is actually planted in a reforestation project. You can watch your virtual tree growing on the app, to the rhythm of your own heartbeat. Links for Apple and Android below.
At Avaaz.org, you can join over 3.5 million extended family members, by signing the Mega Climate Petition. The #EarthToParis Anthem video has been viewed 6 million times and shared 94 thousand times. You can watch it here(link is external), and participate in the UN Thunderclap(link is external) by taking action before December 7. And, if you want to do more, share your own thoughts with COP21 leaders by using the hashtags, #EarthToParis, #COP21 and #EarthActionNow on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
That's a culture of resilience.
- 1Heart1Tree - Apple(link is external)
- 1Heart1Tree - Android at Google Play(link is external)
- http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en(link is external)
- http://mashable.com/2015/11/25/paris-climate-conference-cop21/#V1utlU87skqW(link is external)
- https://secure.avaaz.org/en/paris_virtual_march/?tVWAaib(link is external)
- Live stream COP21: http://www.earthtoparis.org/event(link is external)
Dana Klisanin, Previously published @ Psychology Today on September 24, 2015
What happens when 100 people from all walks of life come together to Hatch a better world? A week ago today, I set out on that adventure, thanks to an invitation to attend the Hatch Experience (link is external). Hatch is a community, movement, and a series of experiences designed to “active creativity and hatch a better world.” In its 12th year, Hatch involves a four day annual “retreat meets summit gifted to 100 of the most provocative innovators, inventors, and cultural catalysts, across a wide range of disciplines.” Founder, Yarrow Kraner (link is external), is a creative alchemist on a mission to "activate creativty to hatch a better world" through curating an experience that brings together all of the elements that support creativity & then some. It’s easy to imagine Yarrow extending his generous invitation to anyone—because he firmly believes we each have a superhero inside waiting for permission to come out.
Although there's nothing quite like attending Hatch in person, here are four factors that were part of the experience -- they align with the creativity research of psychologist, Robert Epstein (link is external).1 If you're ready to experience a mini-Hatch, place yourself in the most beautiful, stress-free, environment you can find, and read on:
1) Capture new ideas – According to Epstein, we should keep an “idea notebook,” (voice recorder, smartphone or laptop) with us so we can write our ideas down.
Hatch provided each attendee with a bright orange notebook – one of the colors most often associated with creativity and enthusiasm.2 You might consider including some inspiring words.
2) Seek out challenging tasks – Take your imagination on a excursion through projects that don't necessarily have a solution.
At Hatch, we set out to explore solutions to the educational crisis, curing cancer, and tackling climate change ... to name just a few!
3) Broaden your knowledge – Expand your imagination by exploring new subjects, and engaging in new experiences.
Hatch brought together attendees from a wide range of disciplines, many who shared their wisdom with the group. These included Oscar-winning filmmakers, CEO’s and Founders of diverse companies and non-profits, musicians, designers from IDEO, NASA, Google, Amazon, and a wide range of hackers, inventors, educators, disruptors, and mavericks. With an eye toward future, a number of high school students were also invited to attend.
4) Surround yourself with interesting things and people. Epstein suggest that we get together regularly with diverse and interesting friends, and that we bring out-of-the-ordinary objects to the workspace. Unusual objects help stimulate more original ideas.
The best part of Hatch was getting to know a diverse group of interesting people, but Hatch was also filled with unusual objects and experiences such as: Makey Makey (link is external), a musical experience designed by Eric Rosenbaum; Rigamajig (link is external), a play experience designed by Cassandra Holman; Every Hat Has A Story (link is external), a creative experience in radness created by Tony Milano, and Contact Improv/Expressive Movement led by Rhia Gowen.
If you set aside time to deeply engage in these four factors of creativity, chances are you'll find that a fifth factor develops -- a group synergy that strips away false fears and reveals what's real. When all's said and done, the heart of creativity looks a lot like love. Don’t underestimate the power of these five factors to ignite your creativity. And, as Yarrow would say, “Go hatch a better world!”
1. Amy Novotney, http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2009/01/creativity.aspx (link is external)
2. Rachel Grumman Bender, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/27/how-color-affects-our-moo_n_111...
Launching on Earth Day, these educational initiatives will change the world.
This Earth Day two exciting new ventures are being released that represent new directions in the future of education—for elementary and college students. These initiatives are close to my heart and worth knowing about: here’s why.
Three years ago, I began putting together a team of Advisors to guide the development of the Cyberhero League. One of those advisors, Gary Tomchuk of AwareCinema, introduced me to Carolyn Scott of Cool Planet Labs. Carolyn is an environmental educator and award-winning filmmaker. From our first email there was palpable synergy; she invited me to her off-grid home and we talked nonstop for several hours about our joint mission to mobilize people, especially young people, to support and implement effective, action-oriented, community-based solutions to global challenges. Carolyn’s project, The Storybox Adventure, is now ready to launch.
Source: Solutionaries, used with permission
Designed for elementary and middle school children and their families to explore climate change solutions, The Storybox Adventure is an interactive app that takes viewers on a quest to discover seven “Solutionaries” (climate change heroes) who have implemented strategies to solve climate change. Participants find clues to the identities of the seven Solutionaries hidden throughout the eBook which was written by award-winning playwright Kristin Carlson, with creative direction and illustrations by Carolyn Scott. Celebrated artists from around the world have created “treasures” as part of the game play. The artists include Margaret Atwood, Lily Yeh, Fran Forman, Mia Tavonatti, Giulio Menossi,Marie Gibbons and Ron Seivertson.The Solutionaries project is part of a larger mission to build a multimedia, online Climate Change Solution Library. Visit Solutionaries.org to learn more or download here.
Source: Ubiquity University, used with permission
The second educational venture slated to launch on Earth Day is Ubiquity University, a radical new approach to higher education. Ubiquity first came to my attention when I was approached to contribute to departmental and curriculum design. What’s radical about Ubiquity? For one thing it’s the first University to be integrally-informed from the outset. For another, the Founders are on a mission to make higher education affordable. But what really excites me about Ubiquity is their next-generation social learning platform that enables students to take action on a variety of global challenges—as part of their coursework. Eminent philosopher, Ken Wilber, is the University’s Inaugural Chancellor.
Ubiquity is designed to address the needs of Millennials who feel the traditional 4-year degree is suspiciously allied to the 9-to-5 grind—which holds no interest for them. The Hippie gene has made it’s way into the Millennial’s DNA. The “old school” approach to work and education is not right for them. A Millennial would rather be a “freelancer” than a “cog-in-the-wheel” of so-called progress. Their highest aspiration is to become “independent freelancers and global citizens who make a difference in the world.” I’m excited to be part of this new endeavor. If you or someone you know would like to learn more, check out the free webinar on Wednesday April 22nd. Happy Earth Day!
The commercial line-up during Super Bowl 2015 was filled with positive media psychology touchdowns. McDonald’s #PayWithLov’ (link is external)advertisement brought “random acts of kindness” to the corporate level, at least through Valentine’s Day. Dove’s “Men+Care: Real Strength” (link is external) sent fathers an important message: “we need you." And Always’ #LikeAGirl (link is external)advertisement touched hearts and minds while reminding us that gender stereotyping hurts us all. However, for those psychologists exploring the intersection of the Internet and positive psychology, the top-scoring commercials of the evening were those aired by Microsoft and Coca-Cola.
Microsoft’s commercials sent messages of technological empowerment by showcasing human initiative and perseverance. In one (link is external), retired schoolteacher, Estella Pyfrom, brings technology access to kids via her Brilliant Bus (link is external), a mobile learning station that serves under-privileged communities. In another, (link is external) a young boy, Braylon O’Neil, uses prosthetics to navigate and enjoy life, in part due to gait mechanics technology. These commercials not only remind us of the positive uses of technology, but they also ask us to look inside and find something positive to contribute to others. #WhatCanWeDo is a winning campaign.
In the final analysis, however, it was Coca-cola (link is external) that won the game by directly addressing cyberbullying through their #MakeItHappy commercials. Produced by Wieden Kennedy (link is external) of Portland, the ad encourages cyberhero behavior. A study in positive media, the dynamic opening visuals grab our attention, while the lyrics, "don't let me show cruelty, though I may make mistakes . . ." speak direcly to the problem while the refrain, "show me love" simultaneously provides the solution to it. When the bottle of coca-cola spills, our attention is gripped. We all know how damaging fluids and foods can be to our computers—but in a wonderful twist, rather than harming the system, the sweet substance traverses cyberspace, spreading kindness in its wake. The #MakeItHappy campaign extends onto the World Wide Web (link is external) -- you can sign a smile petition and engage in other cyberheroing activities.This is the winner of the Cyberhero meme award. Thanks, Coca-Cola, for reminding viewers that an antidote to cyber-bullying exists. #GoCyberheroing
The results are in! Thanks to all the readers who responded to my call for participation in the collaborative heroism survey. Three hundred participants from 25 countries completed the survey. The results represent the first empirical validation of the theory of collaborative heroism. The top findings:
(1) Collaboration expands heroic potential
(2) Internet technology expands heroic potential
(3) Heroes are motivated to serve and protect
(4) Heroes are responsive to injustice
(5) Concern for others is a required ingredient
Before this summer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) wasn’t widely known. The Ice Bucket Challenge changed that—since July 29, 2014, over 17 million videos were shared and received over 10 billion views—that’s a lot of exposure for a little known disease. Exposure andeducation alone are excellent, but the Ice Bucket Challenge achieved even more: since launching the campaign, the ALS Association has received $115 million in donations. The Association will be using the funds to support programs and initiatives designed to expedite the search for treatments and a cure for ALS. One of the initiatives may well result in the end of ALS. Let’s look at another example of collaborative heroism—the People’s Climate March.
The People Climate March was initiated when members of Avaaz.org—a worldwide community (38 million members in 194 countries) set a “crazy goal” of launching “the largest mobilsation on climate change in history.” Their audacity paid off. On September 21, people marched in over 2000 communities around the world, with more than 400,000 people flooding the streets in New York City alone. The People’s Climate March also included the online actions of 2 million individuals who signed an online petition, which Avaaz founder, Ricken Patel presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York City on the day of the March.
The collaborative nature of this quest to respond to one of the central crisis of our time is eloquently stated by Sarah Wade of the World Wildlife Fund: “As we approached Times Square, we passed a huge screen displaying photos from sister marches in Kenya and Colombia—just two of the more than 2,800 solidarity events that took place in 166 other countries. Together, we represented what scientists have been trying to communicate for years: Climate change isn’t just something everyone should care about. It’s something everyone has to care about, because it’s threatening all of us.” [italics added]
What do the Ice Bucket Challenge and the People Climate March have in common? Or more specifically, why are they examples of the collaborative heroism?
1) Both initiatives are difficult challenges and/or crises that cannot be easily solved by a lone individual.
2) Both initiatives are pursuing noble goals—ending ALS and confronting climate change.1
3) Both initiatives blur the line dividing the online-offline space. In the ALS challenge individuals took action offline via filming themselves in the act of participating in the ice bucket challenge, but via uploading and sharing the video the act crossed over to the online realm. Likewise, in the People’s Climate March, 2 million petitioners acted in solidarity with the marchers—who themselves not only marched in the “real world,” but took online action during the March (sharing photos, videos, status updates, tweets, etc.).
As I write, the world is facing another difficult challenge: containing the rapid spread of Ebola and finding a cure for this deadly disease. Medical personnel on the frontlines are the traditional heroes, but online/offline actions are already gearing up by ordinary people who seek to be part of the solution. Avaaz.org, for example, recently sent out a request for medical volunteers to its extensive network. The goal? Helping to "create a pool of potential volunteers for frontline humanitarian organization such as Partners In Health, International Medical Corps and Save the Children, who are urgently seeking skilled international volunteers."
Millions of individuals all over the world are responding to this and other crises facing our global village. They are overcoming the Bystander Effect—one by one, two by two, four by four, their individual actions are being multiplied by the power of today's digital technologies. Together they are changing the tide of history. This is collaborative heroism in action.
Through recognizing the proactive pursuit of noble goals we encourage them
Over the course of March we’ve witnessed a crowd-sourced effort unlike any other in aviation history. In my previous posts, I stated that the search for Flight MH370 exemplifies “collaborative heroism” a form of heroism that involves online action in tandem with action on the ground.1 Rather than requiring risk of life, as in traditional definitions of heroism, collaborative heroism is about proactive action in the pursuit of noble goals. Crowd-sourced wisdom becomes collaborative heroism whenever these efforts aim to achieve the goals set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.Most examples of collaborative heroism aren’t as high profile as the recent search and rescue efforts, although some have been, for example, efforts to map territories struck by natural disasters such as launched through Google Crisis Response.2 Google’s Crisis Tools includeGoogle Person Finder .
Online initiatives that support collaborative heroism are as wide-ranging as the human imagination. Whether they’re designed to help one person or millions, they all involve the use of digital technologies and require thecollaboration of individuals both online and off. Many involve meta-level cooperation between governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, nonprofit organization, corporations, and individuals. These efforts need to be recognized for what they are: the human spirit in proactive pursuit of noble goals.
Here’s a short list:
World Community Grid’s mission is to create the world's largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity. Members donate their unused (idle) computer time in the service of solving complex problems (AIDS, Cancer, Malaria, Global water shortages, etc.). World Community Grid works by “joining together many individual computers, creating a large system with massive computational power that far surpasses the power of a handful of supercomputers.”
Avaaz has been described as “the world’s largest and most powerful online activist network.” With over 34 million members, the network empowers people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict andclimate change.
Causes.com and Care2.com are social networking sites that enable individuals to take action on behalf of a variety of issues. These sites enable anyone to start a campaign and/or petition, while not all address noble goals, many do.
Change.org is the world's largest petition platform. There are more than 45 million users in 196 countries. Individuals use the platform to transform their communities – locally, nationally and globally. Many of these campaigns aim to achieve noble goals and have had profoundly positive consequences.
Unprecedented technological acceleration and innovation have changed the way we understand our world. As I write, researchers are scrambling to understand the impact of these technologies on the human body, our social interactions, and the natural world. Likewise, it’s important for us to recognize the many ways these technologies are impacting the human spirit. Individuals are using digital technologies to encourage hope,empathy, altruism, and compassion, but it is up to us to acknowledge their actions. Yesterday 3 million people went on Digital Globe with the goal of helping others. What does tomorrow hold? One billion acting together to solve pressing global challenges? By recognizing the flame of compassionate action within the hearts and minds of individuals using digital technology to participate in worthy endeavors, crowd-sourced wisdom becomes collaborative heroism.
1. Klisanin, D. (2013). "Contemporary Media, Heroism, and Social Change," Symposium, American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI.
2. Google Crisis Response: https://www.google.org/crisisresponse/response.html
Help locate the missing Malaysia flight
Last year, after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Phillippines, thousands of individuals supported relief efforts by using satellite imaging to map the devastation. Right now the same Colorado satellite imaging company is asking the public for help analyzing high-resolution images. This is a crowd-sourced attempt to locate the missing Malaysia airline flight, but it is much more than that: It is a chance to participate in a collaborative heroism.
What's collaborative heroism?
Luke Barrington, senior manager of Geospatial Big Data for DigitalGlobe explains it this way: “For people who aren’t able to drive a boat through the Pacific Ocean to get to the Malaysian peninsula, or who can’t fly airplanes to look there, this is a way that they can contribute and try to help out."1
What Mr. Barrington is really saying is that through collaborative action we can take part in the search and rescue—we can do more than be bystanders—we can use our interactive technologies to join the crew.
The age of interconnectivity is transforming our world and with it our worldview. Joseph Campbell, the well-known comparative mythologist, pointed out the important role technology—a product of culture—plays in expanding human consciousness. Interactive technologies have come to define our culture. They are the means through which we read the news, listen to music, watch TV, and play games, and as such they are the matrix in which we are evolving and cultivating new myths. Collaborative heroism is product of this evolution (Klisanin, 2013). As a construct, it helps us see how we can weave online and offline actions together and make greater strides in accomplishing noble goals.
Readers might be surprised to learn that we know far more about space travel than we know about heroism. Fortunately, research is increasing.The Hero Roundtable is a cross-disciplinary conference on heroism where experts from many fields including psychology, education,philosophy, sports, storytelling, and the news media, gather to discuss heroism from many perspectives. Heroism is difficult to study because lumping a war hero, a firefighter, and one’s parents into the same category makes for unwieldy operational definition—a scientific necessity. One way we are tackling this thorny issue is through creating categories of heroism and using different definitions to refer to heroism’s different forms. A taxonomy of heroism, for example, might include trending heroes, tragic heroes, traditional heroes, transforming, and transcendent heroes—and that is just a beginning (Allison & Goethals, 2013; Cecilone & Allison, 2013)2
Collaborative heroism is a form of heroism that enables us to tackle huge challenges together: Today there’s a chance for you to participate. If you’re interested, volunteers are being asked to log onto the Tomnod website.3
1. Alan White, BuzzFeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alanwhite/theres-a-crowdsourced-attempt-to-locate-the-missing-malaysia
2. Allison & Goethals, http://blog.richmond.edu/heroes/2013/01/22/our-definition-of-“hero”/
"Mindfulness and moderation are keys to healthy living in a media saturated world" Published on August 14, 2013 by Dana Klisanin, Ph.D. in Digital Altruism
Now more than ever our lives are saturated with media—from email to Twitter, Facebook to Instagram, Linked-in to Netflix—television, video games, instant messaging, and web-surfing. Even our youngest children are busy swiping their way across e-readers, i-Pads, and tablets. Through our willingness to adopt these technologies, we are willingly engaging in one of the largest experiments in our evolutionary history—an experiment with biological, social, and ethical impacts.
At the recent Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, (APA), I met with colleagues in the Society for Media Psychology and Technology (Division 46)— to review current research and scholarship in this burgeoning specialization. For readers unfamiliar with this area, media psychology includes research and applications dealing with all forms of media technologies:
Traditional and mass media, such as radio, television, film, video, newsprint, magazines, music, and art as well as new and emerging technologies and applications, such as social media, mobile media, interface design, educational technologies, interactive media technologies, and augmented, virtual and blended environments.
Two important “take aways” from the meeting include:
- Expect a continuing escalation of media saturation. The launch of the Google Glass in December is expected to usher in the “era of augmented reality.” You might have already seen or purchased children’s books with this technology. If not, here’s a sample. Expectations are that Google Glass will be replaced by augmented reality “contact lenses”.
- While we continue to conduct and compile research on the impacts of various forms of media and interactive technologies on both adults and children (including television, video games, smart phone use, augmented reality, etc.) across a variety of dimensions (biological, emotional, social, ethical, etc.) results are inconclusive. Expect the situation to remain this way for some time—scientific studies must be replicated and longitudinal studies take time.
Instead of waiting for scientists to provide definitive answers to the impact of media and interactive technologies on your health, I recommend taking a holistic approach by practicing mindfulness and the tried and true virtue of moderation. Mindfulness involves bringing conscious awareness to your media use habits. For example, when someone is talking to you don’t let “apps” come between you, especially where children are concerned. These are “monkey see monkey do” moments—give your children, and other family members and friends your full attention and expect them to do the same. To mitigate potentially harmful biological effects from electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) and radiofrequency radiation (RFR) don’t sleep near your smart phone and/or computers.
Mindfulness also involves an awareness of the restorative power of the natural world. For millions of years humanity has evolved and flourished through being immersed in nature. Nature’s textures, colors, sights, and sounds, are familiar to us. They have a calming influence—color science shows that shades of green and blue are the best hues for living rooms and bedrooms because they induce a state of relaxation. The science behind colors is used in marketing (here’s a good post by Leo Widrich on the topic). One experiment at Stanford’s Calming Technology Labinvolved covering a desktop with organic grass (living lawn grass) to test its potential as a stress reducer. You can use color science and balance your interactions with technology by making time to go outside, spending time in your backyard, or a local park—sitting in the green grass, and gazing at the blue sky.
A healthy life—one in which you, your loved ones, and members of your community, are flourishing, involves being mindful across a wide range of human activities. We need to eat organic food whenever possible, engage in a regular program of exercise, and practice relaxation and meditation techniques daily. We need to share intimate moments with family and friends—moments in which we shake hands and share hugs. All of these activities reduce negative stress and support wellbeing. We can make use of apps and programs designed specifically to help us monitor our respiration, heart rates, and achieve a state of self-regulationand calm (for example, b-Life and GPS for the Soul).
In the grand scheme of things, media technologies are new (television wasn’t found in most US homes until the mid-1950’s and video games weren’t widely played until the 1990’s). The American Psychological Association’s, Society for Media Psychology & Technology wasn’t even founded until the 1980’s. Longitudinal research takes time and research must be replicated – until further notice – say, fifty or a hundred years hence—the best approach to healthy interactions with media and media technologies is a conscious approach involving mindfulness and moderation.
We weren’t yet out of the parking lot when he asked to open the box. “Not in the car,” I said, ignoring his youthful protestations. As soon as we hit home, he asked again. “Okay,” I replied, placing the cracker box in his eager little hands. His face lit up with strange, surreal excitement as he ran from the kitchen, clasping the box to his chest like a prized trophy.
Moments later the wailing began. Horrible cries that brought me panicking to his side—“What’s wrong? What happened?” I asked.
"There’s no party in my box!” he said, between sobs.
“What?” I asked, shaking my head in confusion as he turned the now open box towards me in an attempt to show me what he couldn’t seem to communicate.
I was baffled. A party in the box? Where would he get such an idea?
As fortune would have it, several days later the mystery of the Ritz cracker box resolved itself in the form of a television commercial. My eyes were glued to the tube as I watched a party literally pop out the Ritz cracker box—streamers, confetti, noise-makers—you name it—anything and everything a party could need was there, present and accounted for.
The tag line?
“There’s a party in every box!”
I’d watched TV all my life, but that was my first real lesson in media literacy. (My second came when my potty-trained daughter began wetting her pants because she wanted to wear Huggies “Pull-Ups.” Their tag line? “Big kids wear pull-ups!” Indeed! You haven’t lived until you’ve tried explaining to a toddler that big kids wear underpants.)
At that time I didn’t know I’d go on to become a psychologist, nor that I’d specialize in media psychology. All I knew was that my children were being saturated with sticky information. Good, bad, happy, sad, peaceful, violent—whatever label we give it, one of the most interesting things about media is that oft times we don’t realize what’s been written on us until we come into contact with situations that bring that information to the surface in the form of reactions.
Violent television, movies, and games, matter because they imprint our children (and us) with possible reactions, behaviors, and ideas. The larger question—the question that has come to the forefront in the wake of the Newtown shootings is: Does violent media harm our children? Our society?
My son believed that there was a party in every box of Ritz Party Crackers because he was at an early stage of cognitive development—the pre operational stage. We’ve all passed through the preoperational stage and gone on to higher stages of cognitive development. But it’s important to realize that this passage takes time. On average, it isn’t until adolescence and adulthood that we reach the higher stages of cognitive development. We’ve seen a lot of media by then--and the majority of it isn’t Sesame Street. Back in 1999, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary reported that by age 18 the average American child would see 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence. Violent video games and violent lyrics are also a “normal” part of their lives.
To assume that violent media isn’t negatively impacting our children, means to assume that they can process the imprints they are receiving. This is what we might call the “party in the box” fallacy. In fact, high levels of cognitive and moral development are not generally found in children. What’s more, high levels of cognitive development do not guarantee high levels of moral development—as the actions of Nazi doctors attests.
It has been said that media serves as a mirror of society. A quick glance at the current box office hits should give us a reasonably good sampling. Of the top ten films, seven fall into one of the following categories: Crime, Thriller, Horror, or War story. They all have one thing in common—violence. Is this the only form of conflict we know how to script? Of course not.
Perhaps its time we ask ourselves whether positive media matters? What might the mirror tell us if we made more of an effort to create, produce, and distribute media that mirrors what’s right with the world? Stories that demonstrate a variety of possible responses to the emotions we feel. Video games in which winning is based on how much good you do rather than how many cops you can kill or how many drugs you can sell. There may well be a place and time for weapons, but to glorify violence over reasoned debate—war over peace—over and over again—from the time our children are old enough to pay attention to a television or gaming screen is to perpetuate an outdated worldview. The days of toy soldiers marching across fields while civilians remain tucked in their beds unharmed are long gone. Drone strikes are de rigueur and those in harms way are no more than vanquished blips on a computer screen. We talk a good talk about living in a global village—we recognize that oil spills and nuclear meltdowns have repercussions around the world, but we’re deeply in denial about the power of media to shape our worldview and our reactions.
As one of the largest exporters of media to the world, we in the United States have a great responsibility. The challenges we face are too large to be legislated by a board of censors, however wise and well meaning. The point of action is with each of us as media creators and media consumers. As media creators we must extend our creative buckets deep into the well of the imagination and rather than taking the first inspirations that come to mind, we must examine them—are they polluted with our most toxic emotions? With our worst societal pathogens? We must ask ourselves for whom the product is intended and why? Is the viewing audience significantly developed to process the toxins and pathogens without succumbing to its ills? Or, does the viewer believe there’s a battle on every block? As media consumers we must put our money where our mouth is. If we demand consciously created media we will find it, indeed much of it is produced each year. To create consciously does not mean that our media need be free of aggression, but rather free of an antiquated mindset that refuses to recognize our essential interconnectedness. And finally, as parents, we must recognize that our position of authority is not as arbitrary. In your home there is a hierarchy, and you are on top--expressly because you have already passed through cognitive and moral stages that your children haven’t begun to approach. Until we have more conclusive research about the effects of violent video games, it’s up to us to err on the side of caution. Age recommendations should be followed and time limits employed. Each time you turn on your television, or hand a smart phone to your children, remember that while we might wish it were otherwise, violent media matters because all media matters.
“Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe." Alan Watts
If you’ve turned on the radio, watched television, gone to the movies, or visited Facebook, chances are you’ve seen or heard someone talking about cyber-crime, cyberbullies, and maybe even the threat of cyber-war. With all this talk of negativity and the Net, you might have drawn the conclusion that nothing good is going on in cyberspace. No one could blame you for drawing this conclusion, but fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In recent research exploring the positive use of the Internet, I found that well over 100 million individuals are engaging in online activities with the intention of helping other people, animals, and the environment. 1 Many of these individuals are engaging in daily acts of digital goodness—acts of digital altruism and digital activism. The most committed among them represent a new form of the hero archetype: the cyberhero.
The cyberhero archetype brings together some of the best qualities and characteristics of heroes (benefiting others and acting selflessly) with some of the most interesting abilities of superheroes (dual-persona, shape-shifting, bi-location, and speed)—all with the intention of using the Internet and digital technologies in the peaceful service of achieving humanity’s highest ideals and aspirations; i.e., world peace, social justice, environmental protection and planetary stewardship.
Does this sound like sci-fi? Stranger than sci-fi? To explore the theory of the emergence of the cyberhero archetype, I designed a questionnaire and launched it online. As it turns out, the proof of their existence is compelling:
- 84 percent of respondents said they are consciously using the Internet to promote peace in the world.
- 74 percent of respondents feel a sense of unity with all the other people who are engaging in various forms of digital goodness (e.g., clicking –to-donate or signing on-line petitions).
- 76 percent believe that simple actions such as click-to-donate can have a significant impact when a lot of people click each day.
- 83 percent feel that the Internet enables them to help others more than they could without it.
- 93 percent either “agree” or “strongly agree” that their life is interconnected with all the life forms on our planet
- 93 percent enjoy acting on behalf of people in need regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender
- 86 percent use the Internet to act on behalf of more than one cause or charity
- 85 percent think the needs of other people are as important as their own needs
These responses suggest individuals who have a “transpersonal” sense of identity—a “sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche, and cosmos.”2 Clearly, in their hands, technology is something filled with creativity, something capable of promoting “peace in the world.”
Currently, Internet activism and various forms of digital altruism are referred to with the pejorative terms, “slacktivisim” and “slacktivist”. These words suggest that people who support a cause by performing simple online actions are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change. These terms confuse “ease of action” with “importance of action,” diminishing the latter and the individual with it. The term “slacktivist” is yet another example of the ways we are focusing on the negative aspects of technology at the expense of its positive aspects. Rather than celebrating engagement in the world, “slacktivist” undermines human motivation, belittling endeavors that depend upon Internet technology and mass participation (e.g., World Community Grid , Foldit) and the achievements made possible through it.
Slacktivist would be better used in referring to individuals who use technology everyday, but make no effort to send an inspiring message, click-to-donate on behalf of a hungry child, donate their unused computing time to efforts like the World Community Grid, or sign a petition on behalf of a cause they care about. Individuals who think these actions don’t matter aren’t doing their homework. Rather than straying into the controversial Kony campaign, which is an excellent example of cyberheroing activity, let’s take a look at a recent effort led by Julia Bluhm.
Julia is a teenager who created an online petition at Change.org asking Seventeen Magazine to commit to printing one unaltered “real” photo spread per month. In the petition, Julia explained that she wanted to “see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me.” Her concern was the photoshopped, airbrushed, images of models were leading “some girls try to “fix” themselves. . . . lead[ing] to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem.” 3
After over 84,000 people signed her petition, Julia delivered it to the executive editor of Seventeen magazine who not only agreed to Julia’s request, she went a giant step beyond it; committing not to alter the body size or face shape of the girls and models in the magazine and to feature a diverse range of beauty in its pages. Julia's message to all her supporters:
"Seventeen listened! They're saying they won't use photoshop to digitally alter their models! This is a huge victory, and I'm so unbelievably happy. Another petition is being started by SPARK activists Emma and Carina, targeting Teen Vogue and I will sign it. If we can be heard by one magazine, we can do it with another. We are sparking a change!"
Julia and the 84,530 individuals who signed her petition have done more than spark a change, they have used technology to co-create a better world, for themselves and those that come after them. Each and every one of the 84,530 signers is part of this victory. By signing the petition, they spoke up behalf of girls everywhere. Their actions have implications that may well include the prevention new cases of bulimia, anorexia, depression, and death. Only by recognizing the myriad ways that human beings are interconnected with each other and the natural world can we begin to see the ripples of our actions as the waves of change they truly are. Valuing our voices and raising them in whatever way we can to improve the world is a noble pursuit. These girls and millions of other individuals using the Internet as a tool of action are more than slacktivists, they are young leaders who may well have saved someone’s life. As such they deserve a more descriptive designation, an empowering, uplifting, designation. They are cyberheroes.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
H.H. Dalai Lama XIV
While we have been quick to language the negative uses of digital technologies, it isn’t too late to begin recognizing kindness on the Web and calling it for what it is—especially since the majority of American teens and adults say they are experiencing more kindness than cruelty online. In the study conducted by the Pew Internet and Digital Life project, researchers found that “Most American teens who use social media say that in their experience, people their age are mostly kind to one another on social network sites. Overall, 69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say that peers are mostly unkind, while 11% volunteered that “it depends.” At the same time, in a similar question asked of adults 18 and older, 85% of social media-using adults reported that people are mostly kind to one another on social network sites, while just 5% felt that people are mostly unkind.”4
Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, suggests that compassion can be nurtured and reminds us that "human communities are only as healthy as our conceptions of human nature."5 Through using words that convey the human motivations behind pro-social digital activism motivations such as altruism, caring, and compassion, we can nurture the healthy aspects of human nature and foster healthier societies—online and off. Lera Boroditsky, a psychologist at Stanford University, suggests that the way we language our thoughts plays a large role in the way we experience reality. According to Boroditsky, “A hallmark feature of human intelligence is its adaptability, the ability to invent and rearrange conceptions of the world to suit changing goals and environments.”6
Our information and communication technologies are arguably one of our greatest intellectual accomplishments; we cannot afford to language them such that we become their victims. If we don’t want to live in a world full of cybercrime, cyberbullies, cyberwar, and slactivists, then we must language the compassionate activity taking place online. By including digital goodness and the cyberhero in our lexicon, we expand more than the dictionary—we expand the moral domain. This opens up the human imagination, providing words with which our children might “invent and rearrange conceptions of the world to suit changing goals and environments”— with ways of thinking that include the possibility of using our digital technologies to collectively co-create a better, more equitable, peaceful world.
2. Walsh, R. and Vaughan, F. (1993) Paths beyond ego: The transpersonal vision. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.
5. Keltner, D., in Kelter, D., Marsh, J., and Smith, J.A. (2010). The Compassionate Instinct. New York: W.W. Norton&Company, Inc., pp. 13-15.
6. Boroditsky, L., (2011) How language shapes thought. Scientific American, February, 63-65.
The cyberhero archetype represents an ideal form. Individuals who use the Internet solely to benefit their own “in-group” are not cyberheroes, just as someone in the real world would not be considered a hero if he or she limited their activity to an in-group of their own (for example, those of a shared race or religion). The hero ideal, or archetype, has no regard for constructs that place boundaries on virtues or moral values, such as compassion, empathy, and loving-kindness. The cyberhero archetype embodies impartiality to the nth degree, being itself reliant on an interdependent, boundary-less Internet that favors no individual above another (ideally speaking).