Monday, November 25, 2013

Tis the Season for?

Tis the Season for?
December 2013
Tony E Dillon-Hansen

When we come to this time of the year, we encounter many religious inferences and celebrations like Christian birth, Jewish rituals, Buddhist enlightenment, European traditions in addition to the many different religious observations and festivals surrounding the winter solstice. The symbols and beliefs share common threads showcasing how mystical light that does not yield to the mystical shadow of darkness (e.g. northern stars, enlightenment, casting out demons, festival of lights). Notwithstanding the commercialization exhibited during the “holiday season”, each of these festivals also pleads to the compassionate heart of humanity to pursue ideas of virtue, love and sharing over greed, hate and destruction. It is clear that mystical adventure and imagination have been pervasive throughout human societies for many civilizations, and we love to mark occasions of physical world changing with these feelings of spiritual change. Yet, whether one observes religion during this time, technology seems to want to replace those mystical beings and traditions with virtual ones.

Perhaps, we consider how we can improve for the next year and more. With all of the pleasantries surrounding the festivals and rhetorical expressions of good will, we should consider how we can make these themes of the season last more than a day, a month or even the few hours when gifts are exchanged. The living natures of religious doctrines are flawed dreams of humanity, and yet, these doctrines give something to aspire to be and a definition of a good life for which people can strive. We should also understand how technology may challenge those aspirations with its own via instant knowledge distributed over the wireless Internet as one appropriately called it, “the digital now.”

The marvel of technology is great, but the answers to basic questions remain. As Marie Curie remarked, "One never notices what is done, one can only see what remains to be done." While we are so connected in the world of tech, we are searching and looking for answers. Yet, if we equate technology with science, George Bernard Shaw suggests that science “...never solves a problem without creating 10 more."  Shaw’s point is more relevant today because we not only have instant access to good data but also bad data.  We may share our information both to the delight of our families and friends as well as those who mean to harm us. The data is surrounded by the multitude of advertising, logos, and useless headlines enticing us to stay distracted longer. The purpose of email morphs from just getting your messages from friends but finding out ways that companies can enrich your life or satisfy your hungers. Social media is more than reacquainting with long-lost friends but more about how you identify with a marketing segment and how you can improve your self-image by following this person or that brand. Some even invoke religion for you with iconic holiday images and sayings.

Along with having many devices that serve to keep one connected to the grid and all of the ads for buying even more or better devices to identify you at the altar of the Internet, this has become the season of technology because being connected is emphasized even more during this season with companies looking to pad their margins.

There are plenty of opportunities to distract oneself with the digital now, but during the holiday season, one should recognize what is important, whether you believe there is a religious aspect or not. Enjoy the time with people rather than immersing in digital realms. Thanks to revelations of pervasive government and corporate surveillance, maybe we should not digitally convert those experiences from today, the few moments from now, or from our past into the digital archives. There is a wealth of understanding that is here in the present. With the prevalence of digital archiving done today by everyone, we can easily lose sight of the process, the people, the smells, the irritations, the places, and other nuances that make the moment worthy of remembering. Thus, we could lose the ability to understand why. (Sometimes, there is no explanation or picture that can encapsulate the now.)  

Through various news, contacts and other digital distractions, we may scuttle reality into the spaces between the binary digits. Then, the philosophy around God may disappear along with other graceful ethics. Then, the truth and compassion of the human spirit becomes easy to manipulate and hide behind rhetorical claims, narcissism, marketing, and flat lies.

Whether one celebrates the traditional festivals of Samhain, of Jesus, or of just the season, the digital experience wraps around us in a way that insulates us, and we still are wondering why we are here and what our identity is. One cannot ignore the relevance of the teachings of many of the many philosophies and religions to do good and to honor good work. The Internet and technology offers us instead distractions and wayward paths. Religion, by itself, may have brought pain and hardship to many throughout history, but we are easily replacing the sanctuary of church with the instance of technology that shields us from nothing and even more leaves us with fewer answers about ourselves.

Our interactions and communication can embrace real love and courage when we are willing to believe in the human spirit. Yet, the truth of why we are here may never be fully answered, but one reality is that our family, friends and community are here today and that is true. Our legacy can endure through them beyond the distortions of digital symbols or any 15 minutes of fame. What we learn from them and what life unfolds for us is a measure of our expectations and our effort to physically, spiritually and mentally discover in reality.

May many beautiful and happy wintry wishes of the holiday season be with you and your family. May this season bring you gifts of peace, hope, and joy for today as well as through the year to come.