Technological (r)Evolution

Bruce Damer and Galen Brandt at Dunderry Park

Galen and Bruce are both experts in virtual worlds. Bruce was recently awarded a PhD from University College Dublin for his research work on his project, the ‘EvoGrid’ – an inter-disciplinary, worldwide computer simulated system which constructs a model to measure the evolution of chemical life on Earth. Along with this project, Bruce is also the author of a book on Avatars; and CEO of Digitalspace – where he has worked on space simulation projects for NASA.

His partner Galen shares this passion for exploring new territory, as well as being involved with Digitalspace projects; she is a writer, speaker, musician, and performer. She specializes in the social and cultural implications of new media technologies, especially in the healing potential of virtual reality and avatar applications.

We caught up with Bruce and Galen to talk about the future, and how we can change our world.

‘There’s such a rush of change in the world at the moment’ says Bruce, ‘it’s really like a tsunami of change. And it’s a trend that has disconnected us from nature. If you think about our ancestors, and how they would have seen the world, it can really shed light on how different we see the world now – go back in time, twenty thousand years or so, and we would have had shelter in a small cave or a basic hut, and we would be very much part of nature, outside the opening to our shelter is the natural world'. 

'Then as time passes we begin to move away from that. Eventually we make brick, and our shelter becomes more solid, and soon we are looking out at nature through a square window. Then we begin to live in large towns and cities, and we look out through glass and we can see mainly other buildings. Soon after, we’re at the stage that we are in now, where we can sit in a fifty story building and look out to see other high rise buildings, we can no longer see the horizon, we are completely enveloped in technology and increasingly separated from nature’. 

‘One useful way to think about it is like a necklace’ says Galen, ‘where you have a central stone surrounded by smaller stones. In our current set-up, we have an Azure centre stone – that represents technology, the azure glow of the smartphone, the sleek blue glass of an office block; and set around this centre stone we have smaller Emerald stones, these are our little pockets of nature; a trip to the park, a holiday in the wilderness…but what if we had a civilization where the centre stone was emerald, and the outside stones were azure?’.

‘We don’t have to disown technology’ says Bruce, ‘we have made so many important advances that have improved our lives. We can still have antibiotics, we can still have flight, we can still have our technology, but we don’t allow it to become our core’. 

Avatars and Virtual Reality
An avatar (from the Sanskrit avartarana) was initially used to describe the form a deity took on earth. The word has since come to mean the representation that a user takes when communicating in virtual community space. An avatar can be the picture or icon you use to represent yourself online, on forums or in email, or the character you have designed to represent you in a game.Virtual Reality, or virtuality, is the simulation of real or imagined events using computer technology - this can be seen an attempt to fully embody an avatar. VR technology is regularly utilised for a range of applications, from games, to surgery, to emergency training.

While it is unrealistic to try to remove ourselves from the technological framework that Western culture is infused with, a possible future where we have a more balanced and sustainable relationship with technology seems to be a viable goal to work towards. ‘Technology can be used to dehumanize’ says Galen, ‘but it can also be used to re-humanize. As goes the user so goes the tool. In a lot of the work I have done, I have worked in a Virtual Reality environment, where computers have tracked me, and transferred me in virtual time into a virtual me. I have been able to literally move through alternative selves and watch myself do this, so there is kinaesthetic and visual feedback loop. This is an extraordinarily ecstatic and freeing experience. This is a use of technology that is very joyful and healing – there is very much a healing of body, mind, and spirit in these environments’.

‘I believe that one person loves another because of the self that they get to be around them. If I love you it is because I love myself when I am with you; because I get to be my highest self. I came to have a very tender and intimate relationship with these machines, because I loved the self that they allowed me to be’. 
Galen makes the point that it is the user, not the tool, that determines the result: ‘I think that we are finally starting to realize that we are all related. Even if you don’t believe things come back to get you karmically or spiritually, it comes back economically. I think that centrally this involves what we value. I think that it is true that humans act in what they believe is their own best interest. But it would seem that, because we are all connected, my best interest is to collaborate with you. It doesn’t stray too far at all from the Golden Rule. I think that people are beginning to sense that it can’t be person against person, nation against nation anymore; we really do have to act as a planet – that is ultimately what is in our enlightened self-interest, and that is what we should value. The purpose of technology should be to enable that which we value’.
The full text of this interview is available in Network Magazine issue 80. 
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