Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Integral-Convergence Age


If the co-evolutionary dance between the Pluralistic worldview movement in the LL cultural holon and the Information Age in the LR social holon is evolving to the next level, that of an Integral worldview movement in the LL cultural holon, the question arises: What is the equivalent Socio-Techno-Economic Age in the LR social holon?

There are many indicators that suggest that this next age is already unfolding, as information technologies and networks evolve into convergent technologies, networks, and systems. Terminologies like convergence media appliances, virtual reality, immersive environments, avatars, embedded technologies, and augmented realities are swirling around in the information soup. Entertainment streams across multiple delivery platforms into our theaters, homes, cars, computer screens, phones, gaming consoles, and even through digital walls in the architectural and social spaces around us. The movie Avatar immerses us in its world through immersive IMAX 3D technology telling us a story about becoming technologically immersed in another body and reality. Gamers take on virtual personas and play each other in living rooms and on cell phones across the globe. On other technology fronts, human and natural realities are converging as well, from genetic modification to hybrid and nanotechnologies. We ride around in hybrid vehicles, eat genetically modified foods, wear nanotech clothing, attend virtual concerts, purchase goods and services in a virtual economy, and communicate with each other through phones that are also computers, radios, televisions, and global positioning devices.

One of the first observers of the convergence trend in media technologies was MIT political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool who noted an emerging media convergence process that he called the “convergence of modes” in which the lines between media platforms are blurred and “the one-to-one relationship between a medium and its use” is eroded (Pool, 1983, p.23).

American media scholar Henry Jenkins extended this work through his observations of a co-evolutionary trend between convergence media socio-techno-economic forces (LR) and what he calls convergence culture (LL), noting that “convergence does not occur through media appliances, however sophisticated they become. Convergence occurs within the brains of the individual consumers and through their social interactions with others” (Jenkins, 2008, p.3). This new convergence culture is made up of individuals and social networks that engage with and integrate dispersed media content into meaningful wholes. Jenkins notes that this co-evolving techno-cultural movement appears to be ushering in an “…era of media convergence, collective intelligence, and participatory culture” (Jenkins, 2008, p.170).

Another hallmark of this Convergence Age is the increased capacity for embodied “perspective-taking.” Whereas the Information Age gave us a multitude of information and information sources, the Convergence Age portends to offer us the capacity to take on a multitude of perceptions and worldviews, one of the essential qualities of the Integral perspective.

Both Pool and Jenkins note that the capacity to navigate this rapidly evolving and convergent environment is incredibly complex and challenging. If this trend is indeed the co-evolutionary movement in an Integral-Convergence Age, then the Integral worldview would be the most appropriate level of consciousness for fully comprehending and mastering this unfolding era.

One of the coming major tipping points in the emergence of this Convergence Age will most likely be the widespread disbursement of high speed and high bandwidth communication networks advanced enough to fully handle immersive, embedded, and virtual realties. While this technology already exists, its widespread dispersion is dependent on various political and financial constraints…so this tipping point in the technological and communication domains can occur very soon or take many years to actually reach its evolutionary moment. Google’s recent announcement of their intention to bring this type of widespread and advanced networking technology to the world is an indicator that there is indeed movement toward this particular tipping point.

Wilber notes that as we evolve up the evolutionary ladder, greater depth and span also brings greater challenges and potential dangers (Wilber, 2003). This new Convergence Age also ushers in the potential threat of nano-viruses, genetic mutation, the erosion of direct human contact social structures, and many other new challenges.

Many of these threats come from the potential misuse of these higher technologies by individuals and cultures operating at a lower worldview. History is full of horrific examples of this mismatch between consciousness and technology, from the holocaust to the potential for nuclear terrorism. The complex and often push and pull co-evolution of consciousness and technology is interestingly reflected in the film Avatar, which appears to be a convergence technology movie with a Pluralistic worldview center-of-gravity, telling a story about the use and abuse of convergence technologies by a dysfunctional mythic-rational human culture against an idyllic (Pre/Trans) magic-mythic alien culture.

As with all evolutionary movements, there is great challenge and also great potential. As one nanotechnology futurist website proclaims… “We are approaching an evolutionary event horizon, where the organic and the synthetic, the virtual and the ‘real’, are merging together into an operational ecology, an existence morphology for which there is no precedent in the history of which we are currently aware” (http://www.historianofthefuture.com/).


REFERENCES

Henry Jenkins (2008). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press.

Ithiel de Sola Pool (1983). Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech in an Electronic Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Ken Wilber (2003). Volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy: Excerpts A, B, C, D, and G. Available at: http://wilber.shambhala.com/html/books/kosmos/index.cfm/


*Originally published at Integral Life
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