Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Media and The Mind


Media, Parenting

The question is; can we use image and information technologies without them infecting us and changing how we perceive, how we feel, what we think about, value and behave? The answer is no, so precede with caution.

What most fail to consider is that media, symbols, words and pictures, which includes the internet – mimic the brain’s own symbolic and image making capacity. Think of media: written text, books, videos, graphic illustrations, photographs, etc., as external forms of communal or shared imagination. As we will explore below, it is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to live in a mediated-reality and remain grounded in what we used to call reality. Reality used to be the resonate-representations of the external world created in the brain by our unique set of human senses. This unique set defined being human. In the not too distant past the neocortex exploded and added an inner-dimension to this sensory based reality, the imaginative world of inner-images not generated by our senses, rather by the brain itself. Imagination, by its very nature, is a subjective-virtual-reality that we very often mistake as objective. The bigger and more complex our capacity to imagine grew, the more this subjective reality overshadowed our objective, sensory reality.

Today this communal subjective-virtual-reality circles the globe, is being syphoned into mobile computers that many carry 24/7 and is being fed daily with a never-ending tsunami of counterfeit imagination surrogates. Is it any wonder that we are more confused, more opinionated, and more manipulated than any generation in human history? With the exponential growth of media and technology, doubling every few months, what we used to call reality, or ‘truth,’ matters less and less. Add to this that powerful forces that intentionally pour misinformation, propaganda and censorship to further distort our feeling of being grounded in objective truth. The ability of technology to profile each individual and selectively deliver messages based on that profile, messages that may be factual or not, is further clouding what is considered real. Real is whatever subjective-virtual-reality you accept and identify with. This is not new, just infinitely more complex and intense. And this is the evermore confusing, unstable and wobbly reality the absorbent mind of the next generation is adapting to, all made possible by image and information based technologies.

As a documentary filmmaker and commercial photographer for over fifty-years, with a passion for theater, the world of image and media is no stranger. Perhaps this background is part of the reason I’m cautious about these technologies. Don’t get me wrong. I use image, information and communication technologies every day. It’s great to look up stuff; word definitions, maps, locations, the weather, reviews for the coolest restaurants. You know. That is the general perception, isn’t it? That we use it – rather than it using us. When I think of the impact of commercial and political exploitation of media and the internet, especially on the innocent developing brains of young children, a scene from the Academy Award winning film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, comes to mind. The large Native American, Chief Bromden (Will Sampson), who faked being deaf and mute, said to R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson):

The last time I seen my father, he was blind and diseased from drinking. And every time he put the bottle to his mouth, he didn’t suck out of it, it sucked out of him until he shrunk so wrinkled and yellow even the dogs didn’t know him.

Something very creepy is happening all over the world, in our homes, offices, in our pockets and purses. Could it be that we have it backwards, that media is using us rather than we are using media and the internet? We know we are addicted. Every click is being watched, counted, analyzed and used to control us in small ways and in very big ways. Like the dying man’s bottle, media-technologies, which mimic the inner-imagery the brain produces, sucks attention out of us while we think we are sucking something out of it. And the folks that create and use these technologies know it. Ask Google and Facebook.

The inner-images we call thought, language, and metaphor and the outer-images we call media and the internet are the same field or mental realm. Looking inward we see thought and imagination. Looking outward we see the internet and media. Joseph Chilton Pearce and others have described how the displacement of descriptive language by visual media impairs the brain’s ability to both imagine and imagine with clarity and lucid objectivity, two separate and important distinctions. More intimately, it is scary to consider how image-technologies affect brain development, perception, mental processing and values. Years ago I met with Jerry Mander, author of The Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, in my view the best work ever on the impact these technologies have on the human mind.

Working in advertising allowed me to understand how easy that was to move information into people’s consciousness. If you had enough money and understood the media it was easy to change public consciousness. At first this was fun and amusing. After a while I was horrified by it.

Billions of dollars are spent every year to encourage people to live a certain way and all the ads are identical. One’s advertising a Ford. One’s advertising toothpaste, but the goal’s the same. The average viewer gets 22,000 of these powerful messages each year on television. 22,000 messages telling you that you are not adequate and that the only thing that will satisfy your inadequacy is a product, which must be bought.

What are the four arguments?

There are really hundreds of arguments, which are described in four categories. The first is Environmental. The second is Political. The third is Personal in terms of personal consciousness. And the fourth deals with Communications, what kinds of information pass through the media, and what kinds don’t?

The environmental argument is based on how we have moved our consciousness inside artificial forms – from the natural world to that of a mediated reality. Television has a major role to play in the mediation of consciousness, the mediation of reality.

The political argument explores how the use of advertising and television benefits some people more than other people. Advertising and television provide extremely powerful tools to unify consciousness, tools which are more immediate, direct and faster than anything that ever preceded it.

The third argument describes how television affects people. What it does to kids. What it does to the way we understand ourselves. What it does to thinking. What it does to our psychology.

The fourth argument explores how television threatens democracy. Television accepts certain kinds of information while rejecting others. Conversations like this would be boring on television and yet violence, sex and sports work well. The medium has a built in bias.

From the Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television, 1978

Replacement of Experience

America had become the first culture to substitute secondary mediated versions of experience for direct experience of the world. Interpretations and representations of the world were being accepted, as experience, and the difference between the two were obscure for most of us…

People’s patterns of discernment, discrimination and understanding were taking a dive. They didn’t seem able to make distinctions between information which was preprocessed and filtered through a machine, and that which came to them whole, by actual experience…

If people believed that an image of nature was equal to or even similar to the experience of nature, and were therefore satisfied enough with the image that they didn’t seek out the real experience, then nature was in a lot bigger trouble than anyone realized.

The Illusion of Neutral Technology

Far from being “neutral” television itself predetermines who shall use it, how they will use it, what effects it will have, on individual lives, and if it continues to be widely used, what sorts of political forms will inevitably emerge.

Sensory Deprivation

Our environment itself is the manifestation of the mental processes of other humans. Of all the species of the planet, and all the cultures of the human species, we twentieth- century Americans have become the first in history to live predominately inside the projections of our own minds.

The Inherent Need to Create Need

Advertising exists only to purvey what people don’t need. Whatever people do need they will find without advertising if it is valuable… Advertisers sell their services on the basis of how well they are able to create needs where there were none before. I have never met an advertising person who sincerely believes that there is a need connected to, say, 99 percent of the commodities which fill the air waves and print media… In fact, advertising intervenes between people and their (real) needs, it separates them from direct fulfillment and urges them to believe that satisfaction can only be obtained through commodities.

How does this bias affect our experience and the programs we see on television and implicitly internet imagery?

Television exploits a genetic fight-flight tendency in human beings. When living in pre-industrial environments we had to be aware of changes in the environment to survive. Television comes along and presents images which trigger the same survival response. If something violent is happening on television, we react. We may be intellectually aware that the violence is not “real” but our emotions don’t discriminate. They react. It is part of our survival reflex and advertisers and programmers exploit this tendency as much as possible.

To exploit means to use something to one’s advantage or to take advantage of another’s weakness. Advertisers, and the corporations they serve, are extremely sophisticated in exploiting television in this way, especially when it comes to children.

It became very clear, observing my kids watching television, that they were entering an artificial reality, one where people no longer remember what the world was like without television. It is a reality cut off from the natural world – one created and controlled by a limited number of corporations to sell products people really don’t need.

I was very, very worried about that and with good reason. We already have a generation of people who don’t know that there was ever a world without a television. They can’t imagine what life would have been like without television. Look how we have moved through the technological age and how it has established a new reality, which has no relationship to the intrinsic values of nature. This is tremendously tragic and the main reason I wrote the book.

You describe how this new reality, driven by television (and by implication the internet), is spreading like a huge wave all over the globe.

It came out of love for my own kids and also the observation that the next generation won’t care about, or even remember nature. They won’t remember the experiences, thoughts and feelings, which happen outside of television’s mediated reality. They won’t care about it, which of course will doom us.

I think that’s already happened in our country and it is spreading, along with television and computers, throughout the world. Emotional concern for nature is way down, even though more and more people are going to parks, which I call nature zoos. They go and observe it as if they were going to the zoo. Relatively few people experience real wilderness or have the feelings and perceptions which nature brings. That’s very, very serious.

Through intimate human relationships that a basic sense of trust and empathy enfold, and that includes intimate relationships with nature, which is our true nature. That connection is broken when you split the mother from the baby. Trust isn’t there. The child grows more and more defensive, self-centered, isolated, which the altered reality created by television and computers intensify. If you can’t trust or feel empathy for mom and dad, family and community, how are we ever going to address the mounting ecological challenges? We are going to form a personal identity. Will it be based on the selfish-defensive forces we call culture, or our authentic nature, which is transcendent creation, not grounded in abstract concepts, but grounded in nature. This is the core issue.

Circling back to the future, as David Bohm described, we don’t really understand how thought works. Thought happens so fast and with such emotional resonance that we quickly forget or lose track of what is happening, or more precisely, we fail to keep track of what we are doing to ourselves and others. And on this already shaky foundation we now have the global influence of technologically enhanced communal and yet subjective virtual-reality, including intentional manipulation, misinformation, propaganda and censorship. This is our reality. And upon this massive, some maintain intentional state of confusion, we, and more importantly our children, are expected to meet and solve the global crisis this confusion has and will continue to create. Realizing this, a rare few have pointed to the exit:

It is the responsibility of each human being to bring about his own transformation, which is not dependent on knowledge or time.

J. Krishnamurti

In Krishnamurti’s parlance, knowledge and time reside in the abstract state we have been describing, those very thin, wispy, dream-like cognitive mental images floating like clouds in a vast, open sky we call mind. Of itself, the cloud, like most of our abstract education is meaningless, other than as a metaphor pointing to and representing something else, which is not an abstraction, rather an experience. But the enchanting power of the image is so compelling that it sucks up nearly all of our available attention. We get lost and believe the dream, the same way counterfeit dream-cloud images are now being projected into our brains by image and information based technologies, mobile computers and the internet.

The abstract mental metaphor called thought, and its animation like repetition, one thought following another and another in the mind, create the appearance of time. But that appearance is just an appearance. What is actual is the vast, open sky we call mind that this thought-cloud is floating in. This inward play of cloud-imagery called thought, projected outwardly, creates culture. Information and image-based technologies exists as thought does, embedded in the virtual reality we call culture. On close examination, the inner image called thought and the outer image called media-technology are the same, as are the inner image we have about ourselves that we call ego, and the outer meta-egotistical image we call culture. All of this exists and lives in the inner virtual realm called personal thought-knowledge-time, and the outer virtual reality called culture. What most fail to see is that the inner and outer are two sides of the same coin. There is one field or realm. When viewed inwardly we see thought and ego. When viewed outwardly we see media, technology and culture. But it is all the same.

“Not dependent on knowledge and time,” is the instantaneous transformation that Buddhism, Krishnamurti, Bohm and Joseph Chilton Pearce describe as ‘living in insight.’ “Not dependent on knowledge and time,” is a state of the mind that frees attention from its enchantment with this self-induced virtual reality. Like an exploding super-nova, suddenly what awareness becomes aware of is infinite, no longer limited to the puny, repetitive conditioning that reincarnates our enchanting virtual reality. Why so enchanting? Because the entire system of conditioned thought and its reflexes is essentially defensive, fear-threat driven, and our images of self and culture mirror this.

There is another state that evokes inner images; innate wonder, curiosity and play. Being free from threat, therefore free from images of self and culture, the child-like mind plays, discovering and creating new patterns and possibilities. And the difference between these two forms of inner imagery, defensive ego-culture and playful creation, is fear or its absence. Fear evokes images that are essentially defensive and therefore self-centered. The absence of fear expands attention and play infinitely, with its implicit wholeness, empathy and appropriateness for everything, not sacrificing everything in the service of self-defense. Each of these frames-of-mind create a context for identity. Do we identify with threat, fear and defense, which culture is, or do we identify with wholeness and wellbeing for everything, which is our authentic nature? While holding this question, do consider the impact of digital technologies. As Jerry Mander describes, media, by its very nature, filters out what used to be called objective reality, nature, which is our authentic nature. In its place we get a surrogate counterfeit identity.

The next generation won’t care about, or even remember nature. They won’t remember the experiences, thoughts and feelings, which happen outside of television’s mediated reality. They won’t care about it, which of course will doom us.

I think that’s already happened in our country and it is spreading, along with television and computers, throughout the world. Emotional concern for nature is way down, even though more and more people are going to parks, which I call nature zoos. They go and observe it as if they were going to the zoo. Relatively few people experience real wilderness or have the feelings and perceptions which nature brings. That’s very, very serious.

When our true nature is masked by the virtual reality fear and threat create, that mask is all we see. Once established, the mechanical-associative nature of thought, as a defense reflex, keeps repeating and repeating, creating the appearance that we are the mask and the mask defines everything; our relationships, values, and behaviors. Negate the mask, the fear-driven context for identity, and everything changes, our relationships, values and behaviors.

Yes, you and I must live and model this expansive, infinitely creative state and its implicit identity. To do that, we must first see what we are doing to ourselves and others when we falsely identify with the mask that thought-as-ego and thought-as-culture is. Second, as Krishnamurti implores, each of us must bring about our own transformation which is not dependent on knowledge or time.

It is so simple. But as Samdhong Rinpoche notes, not easy. But the challenge is there and you and I must face it, for our own sanity and for our children.

How do you and I model a state of being that will awaken and expand in my daughter, Carly Elizabeth, and all the Carly’s of the world, the capacity to live a full, authentic, even miraculous human life while staring the very real possibility of extinction in the face, to break the destructive spell we call Civilization and rediscover who and what all of us really are – transcendent-nature, and by so doing tip the scales from death back to life in this next, most threatened generation ever?