Richard Thieme's Islands in the Clickstream

The Power of Projection, the Power of Digital Presence

Welcome to the blank screen.

A computer monitor glowing in the dark. Pixels constellated as an image of printed text. The belief that behind those images is a human intelligence, whose energy and presence you sometimes swear you can "feel." Once that belief becomes our shared or consensus reality, you believe that "I" am talking to "you."

Believing is seeing. Believing is the precondition of a possibility.

So ... here I am again.

Twenty years ago, I moved to Mutton Hollow, a rural area of northern Utah. Since I had lived only in Chicago, London, and Madrid previously, this took some getting used to. The pleasures of a big city were far, far away.

We were high against the Wasatch Front, and the winter skies were magnificent. I bought a telescope with a long barrel. Since the seeing was best at the top of the sky where the air was clearest, I often lay a tarp on the frozen snow so I could lie on my back and look straight up.

I moved slowly through the star fields, pausing at a cluster or the Great Nebula in Orion before losing myself in the three- dimensional darkness among the blue, white, yellow, and blood-red stars.

The stars and the vast spaces between them became my companions. I still can't identify most constellations, however. A constellation is an arbitrary pattern imposed on a random scattering of stars. I guess I can see it's a bull, but it might as well be a bear or a crawling baby.

The images our forebears used to connect the dots were projected from within their own psyches. Once there was a consensus reality about what they were, the projections became "real." It really was a herdsman or a bear "out there."

The computer monitor at which we are both looking right now is a powerful invitation to project a pattern onto what we are seeing.

Haven't you read an email or an IRC communication when your emotion was running high, and you could swear you felt the presence of the sender in the room? As if they were right there in the words you were reading? Hasn't it sometimes seemed beyond coincidence when you went on-line with someone on your mind and bingo! there they were!

Or there their words were. But were they in the words you read? And did the words mean what you thought they meant?

It is a perpetual dilemma of the human condition that we can not easily distinguish our projections from genuine perceptions. Carl Jung said the soul or psyche projects its contents onto archetypal symbols that invite them. You can tell there's projection, he said, when there's secrecy, fascination, and high energy.

A speech I have given for portfolio managers and others interested in the psychology of investment is called "The Stock Market, UFOs, and Religious Experience." What do those three things have in common? All three domains invite powerful projections, and we think we see "out there" in the economy or the markets, in the night sky, or in the universe itself that which we have projected onto it.

Something is out there, something elicited the projection, but we can't see what it is until we withdraw our projections and integrate them once again into our selves. Then we can see where we end and someone else begins.

Confusion of boundaries bedevils online relationships as well as those in the flesh.

All religious and spiritual traditions have tools designed to help us integrate our projections into our selves. We call the process "getting it together," the end result "integrity." We say we "feel centered," when we take back the power we have projected onto another or given away.

The pixels on your monitor invite projection.

Secrecy, fascination, and high energy.

How about it? Have they characterized any of your online exchanges or adventures?

If there is a context for a personal or business relationship before email is exchanged, the online exchange is anchored. Face-time and telephone-time too ground the exchange. When people connect online and do not mitigate their encounter with a context that grounds it, the projections -- and the sparks -- can fly.

The greater your intention to create a context that grounds your email, the greater the likelihood you will not be misunderstood. That requires imagination, an ability to see different interpretations for your words. You may think the words you sent were crystal clear, but the person on the other end, returning to their cubicle in a dour mood, may receive them like a boxing-glove coming out of a closet.

The fewer words you provide, the greater the invitation to project. The stars can be a bull or a bear or a crawling baby. In business as well as personal online communication, we are responsible for creating a context that enables our words to vibrate with obvious meaning.

The digital image at which you are looking is a simulation of printed text, which simulated written words, which simulated spoken words. Reading silently to ourselves is a relatively late practice. T. S. Eliot may have thought that his "words echo thus in your mind," but only a few generations ago, schoolchildren read aloud, all together, so the schoolmaster would know they weren't shirking. The only real words were spoken words.

Some think spoken words are a specialized kind of gesture. Gestures are feelings felt so strongly they make the whole body vibrate like a violin.

When I intend to communicate to you in this medium, all I have is my intention to focus energy and information so you "get it." We human beings are nothing but organized systems of energy and information. That's what computers are too. The words on your screen are merely the echo of a gesture, feelings felt so strongly they show up and glow through the words. It isn't words alone, though, it's the energy or the shape of the energy seen and felt through the words that you "get." A spirit making the electrons coalesce by sheer force of will so you see, and sometimes feel, my presence in the room, in your life, in your head and heart.

Believing is seeing.

So ... as I said ... here I am again.

Islands in the Clickstream is a weekly column written by Richard Thieme exploring social and cultural dimensions of computer technology. Comments are welcome.

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Richard Thieme is a professional speaker, consultant, and writer focused on the impact of computer technology on individuals and organizations.

Islands in the Clickstream (c) Richard Thieme, 1997. All rights reserved.

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