Richard Thieme's Islands in the Clickstream:

Words, Words, Words

Last week's column (When Computers are Free to be Computers) was a jazz-like riff using images in words in the search for an image of a world of images beyond words - life as we might live it inside a grid of virtual communication, our thoughts like electrons traveling on interlacing wires.

A reader named Michael Goldhamer ( challenged that vision:

"Dear Richard Thieme," he wrote,

"I too have dreamt of something similar to what you discuss, how computers could widen our communicative powers, but reading your letter forces me to doubt it. Look at how quickly and easily words bring up images and permit our attention to move freely down all sorts of different channels in rapid succession with little ambiguity.

"While it is true that words might be augmented by pictures, language has been perfected over thousands of years. Language itself is multi-modal and I doubt we shall ever be able to convey images faster than we can in language. You can take me on your little image-filled joy-ride in words far more easily than any other way.

"In fact, the Internet may prove to be the renaissance of text...."

as the Renaissance was, in fact, the renaissance of writing, as writing was the renaissance of speech, speech the renaissance of gesture and guttural utterance ...

Now, far be it from me to deride this textual medium in which I live and move. I am probably the Last of the Print-text People. Most colleagues in the speaking profession use slides in their presentations, but I prefer to make pictures out of spoken words. That creates a completely different kind of transaction between audience and speaker. It's like building a virtual fire, then lighting it. When it works, we engage with one another with intransitive attention, enmeshed in a dynamic flow. To follow intuitively the energies that flow back and forth between a speaker and an audience, surfing the currents of the group mind that emerges in the moment, is more like reading Tarot cards than lecturing. When an audience looks at slides or reads words in sound-bite bullets, it engages another part of the brain, and unless images have been so well integrated into the presentation that a new unity is created, that flow is broken.

When I am in the presence of an artist - or a web site - that successfully integrates words, images, sounds in a coherent whole, something new, something rare is taking place. But speaking about that new unity using only words is like "dancing about architecture."

In his latest book, "Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century," Bob Horn claims that a new auxiliary language is emerging that integrates words and visual elements. Horn's book contains nearly 3000 visual elements in 270 pages, so it's a book about our new visual language composed in visual language. He tries to describe in images and words the syntax and grammar of this new sea in which we are just learning to swim.

Still, Horn's book is only a baby step along the way. I was imagining life well into the next century, as different from ours as robots on Mars are from steam engines. I was trying to illuminate something that includes and transcends whatever infrastructure might evolve. I was searching for a way to describe that deeper conscious intentionality that underlies all real communication.

Remote viewing, by way of example, is a kind of clairvoyance that intelligence agencies explored for several decades. Remote viewing is migrating now into the domain of competitive intelligence. It seems that RV is a primitive function located in the brain stem. Impressions of distant places or events are received as images. "Higher" brain functions immediately begin to interpret those images in words. Our beliefs skew our experience so that our experience will seem to support our beliefs. Part of the art of remote viewing consists of learning how to compensate for those filters so the first impression can be held lightly in a kind of freeze frame and clearly seen. It's like listening around the corners of your mind for quanta that come from all directions.

Communication is a function of the intention both to send and to receive. Everyone, everything, is radiating information always, and all we have to do to receive it is learn how to pay attention. Listening closely is a learned skill.

We have all had the experience of someone trying hard not to hear us. We know what we have to do to get their attention. We raise the level of our intentionality and penetrate their defenses. We discover that communication is a function, not of the media we use to communicate, but of our intention to connect. When I intend that you "get" it, you get it, even when "it" is a wordless communication of love, compassion, or deep respect.

Talking about communication on this deeper level is inseparable from talking about spirituality. Once we know that life is a web in which we are all enmeshed, we discover an obligation to become as conscious as we dare of what we are sending, then accept responsibility for modulating the signal if it sounds like static or noise. The evolving electronic infrastructure - the immersive 3-D virtual collaboratory landscape in which we will live - will replicate primitive brain stem functions like Remote Viewing at a higher level of the fractal of life. The infrastructure will disappear through habitual use and become background noise, just as our hardwired language-making brains have become the presupposition of human conversation.

The universe is an open-ended system, always evolving, always free to find new ways of arranging molecules in self-conscious clusters. We use words like "sacred" to mean those moments when we experience a nexus, self to Self. The connection itself is experienced in silence, but we seem compelled to express it, telling stories, storing memories in clusters designed to remind us of the deeper possibilities of life when we have slipped back into the routine slumber that we call our lives.

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, 1998. All rights reserved.

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