Notes from the Field

June 2010 / Notes from the Field

The Cosmos and Consciousness Group:
Can Facebook Be Integral?
by Oliver Robinson

Oliver Robinson

When the history of the Internet is written at the end of this century, March 2010 will be remembered as a pivotal moment in its very early years. It was in this month that Facebook overtook Google as the most popular website in the USA. This is much more than a statistic–it signifies a transformation in the very nature of the web. Since its inception, the Internet has been chiefly an impersonal information-sharing service. Facebook’s new primacy shows that the balance has tipped–it is now predominantly a social technology.

Facebook has grown from just 300 users to 400 million active users in six years. This vertiginous success and growth is a result of it meeting the global demand for an integrative online social space. Its interface combines managing and maintaining social connections, moving and sharing socially salient information, and bringing together like-minded people in virtual groups. Every page is a splash of left-brain text and right-brain non-linearity and imagery–the format seems to hum through one’s neurons, splicing together both sides of the cerebrum, and rendering any other online interaction tedious.

Yet like any powerful technology, its shadow side is built into its very nature. Over the course of its meteoric rise to cyber-prominence, it has had to work out how to handle so much personal information while respecting privacy, and has on occasion failed. Furthermore, like Google it has embraced the challenge of finding profit through subtle targeted advertising to users. Those who are on Facebook understand that the boxes on the right of their pages are just such targeted adverts that have been matched to their profile. The detractors of Facebook state that information on its servers is a goldmine for those who do not have our best interests at heart. They are right–using Facebook potentially compromises privacy.

But that is perhaps indicative of the values and priorities of those who use it, and who willingly throw their personal information into the ether. Facebook is trans-modern and trans-national. Nationality rarely features on a Facebook page–a person is definable by their interests and friends, not by their affiliation with a national label. Meanwhile, modernity is premised on independence, liberty and privacy, but Facebook does not embody these things. It embodies the challenge of a world without borders. In Facebook, you are not a sovereign individual,you are a node. You are part of a dizzying melange of informational interdependence.

My particular zone of interest that interfaces with integral ideas and solutions is big-picture thinking that bridges science, philosophy and spirituality, particularly in relation to mind and consciousness. I help to run the Scientific and Medical Network, which explores just such interdisciplinary thinking and research. So just several weeks ago, acknowledging Facebook’s growing importance, I decided to create a group within Facebook that would be designed to share and bring together those interested in this vein of ideas. The group, called “Cosmos and Consciousness,” has been live for just under a month as I write this article, and has grown to 340 members already. The aim of the group is to use Facebook to link integral thinkers into a single virtual space across the world. The group provides a space for sharing events, resources, for engaging in discussions and for meeting others. The exciting bit for me is that while the group will continue to expand, Facebook will continue to refine its services and improve, so that in a year or two’s time, once numbers in the group are hopefully in their thousands, the facilities available will be even more dynamic and exciting.

As Facebook takes us ever closer towards a boundaryless world, should integral leaders stand up and take note? The answer must be a resounding Yes. In the words of Paul Ray:

As Integral Culture comes upon the world scene, it will succeed precisely to the extent that it solves the problems of a whole planet that is starting to be “one world” for the very first time.

If you would like to join the Cosmos and Consciousness group, simply log on to Facebook and put the name of the group into the search box. Once on the group homepage, click Join. It is open to all. See you there.

About the Author

Oliver Robinson, PhD, is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich and Communications Manager of the Scientific and Medical Network

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