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I studied Communications Theory in college, and experienced a eureka! moment while reading the work of Alfred Korzybski, founder of General Semantics, where he said: "The 'Map' is not the 'Territory'." It was a profound intellectual awakening, which was deepened later during my twenty years of Zen Buddhist practice. What I came to realize is that the totality of the world "out there" beyond my cognition--the territory--is only partially represented in my mind--my "map"--and it was and is important to recognize that no mental map I would ever produce of the territory could ever be adequately representative of the total reality "out there." Or for that matter,
"in here", for my cognition of myself is also limited. There is a lot more going on within the territory of my self than I am consciously mapping. Like all maps, our cognitive maps are highly selective and abstract in what is represented. A New York City subway map will not help us navigate New York City streets. A NYC street map will not necessarily help us understand the bus routs without a bus rout map which will not help us navigate the subways. And no map will give us the actual experience of the noise of the subway, or the traffic in the streets, or the crowds on the sidewalk, or the heights of the buildings, or the displays in the shop windows, etc. We require different mental maps for different journeys. The journey we took in Krista Tippet's conversation with Sherry Turkle certainly accords with a map of consciousness which suggests that the adaptations we are making to modern communications technologies are leading to altered, fragmented, dissatisfying human relationships to each other and to ourselves. I share the concerns in this viewpoint. However, I'm also aware that this is a challenge primarily for the affluent third of the world. I'm sure it's not a problem for most Kenyans, or Peruvians, or citizens of Bangladesh. I'm also aware that it is a challenge to be viewed in the context of the environmental/climate change/peak oil/energy crisis unfolding. Just as it is nearly impossible for all 6.9 billion people on earth to live like the most affluent people in the world without severe global environmental consequences, there are severe limits to how much the technologically driven behavior bemoaned in the conversation with Sherry Turkle can actually be adopted by everyone on earth. There are limitations of precious metals and rare earth elements needed to produce such technologies. There are limits to our energy systems--either we continue using fossil fuels to the detriment of our planet's climate, and to the detriment of our economy as oil depletes, or we transition to renewable forms of energy. But to produce photovoltaic technologies, and battery storage technologies for wind turbine energy, scarce precious metals and rare earth elements are needed which will prove limiting in a global population exceeding 9 billion people in 40 years. How will that affect economic production and our use of these gadgets--mobile phones, hand computers, etc.? When one changes the scale of the map with which we look at the current phenomenon of our obsession with communications technologies, and locates that phenomenon within the larger disintegration of the primordial order of nature, it is clear that neither can continue without serious dislocation to what we call human civilization--as nature is unraveled by human technology, so human nature will be unraveled by human technology, and all of this unraveling will lead to a new configuration, which is likely to be disastrous. What was discussed with Sherry Turkle is part of that process--but it won't last forever. Meanwhile, those with any modicum of spiritual discipline and awareness know exactly what to do: resort to mobile phones, e-mails, computers, MP3 players, etc. only when necessary and limited to specific places and times; otherwise maintain a healthy detachment by living in the territory of the real instead of unreal maps--by gardening, cycling, hiking, meditating, playing music (an instrument not a digital recording), practicing yoga or t'ai chi, making gourmet meals, painting, dancing, and so on. And enjoy relationships built around doing these real things, and real experiences rather than the cognitive delusions of abstract "maps" in technological software. All it takes is an actual hike in the woods (without cell phones) to realize that a digital streaming image of someone hiking in the woods on youtube is not the same thing. The "map", quite simply, is not the "territory."