Searching for Meaning Online
by John December
This special issue, edited by Michel Bauwens, represents a departure from the kind of thinking that has dominated the study of computer-mediated communication for decades. Indeed, most people perhaps might doubt the idea that spirituality is a valid topic of discussion in online life. After all, aren't we talking about communication systems, cobbled together from routers and wires, silicon, software, and circuits? And aren't the only knowledge claims we can make about computer-mediated communication valid only in terms of empirical evidence, textual analysis, and verifiable and objective evidence?
I think if we confine our study of CMC to only a perspective which assumes a technological, social, or cultural basis for phenomena will miss part of the essence of human experience online. The point of this special focus on spirituality is to raise issues that perhaps may not have been raised before, and which I doubt could be raised in more traditional publications.
Although I believe that the Net's significance is beyond the confluence of wires and circuits, I do not believe that the Net ushers in some new "Age of Aquarius." Instead--and more subtly--there is humanity online; and where humanity goes, so too does a contemplation of what it means to be human.
I'm proud to present this special focus issue of CMC Magazine, and I thank Michel Bauwens for his hard work in acquiring the material. In fact, he found so much good material, that we will continue the topic of spirituality online in our issue next month.
This issue covers a wide range of issues and experiences in bringing spirituality to computer-mediated communication. Steve Mizrach 's article begins the issue, revealing perspectives of the "infoverse." He develops the idea that information relationships are part of complex patterns that are tending to bring minds as a key force in human experience. Certainly, the Internet itself might be considered a step in this direction, with the possibility that human mind may weave a "Universe Wide Web" in which mediated communication is a key force.
In the here and now, the Web itself does support churches. Charles Henderson, organizing pastor of The First Church of Cyberspace, describes his experiences in moving spiritual discourse and communities online. His experience, spanning more than a decade online, in many ways negates Clifford Stoll's characterization of the online world as "a soluble tissue of nothingness."
It is the intricate nature of hypertext, the very stuff out of which the Web is made, that has brought Anthony Judge to explore the the meaning-making possibilities on the Web. Drawing from traditional dreaming insights of the Australian aborigines with Teilhard de Chardin's futuristic spiritual perspective, Judge's article includes links to his Web site which demonstrate how hypertext can support complex dialogs and relationships, perhaps giving rise to a whole new genre of sacred texts.
Teilhard de Chardin's conception of the noosphere is central to many discussions of technology and spirituality. The Rev. Phillip J. Cunningham outlines the chief perspectives of Teilhard de Chardin. The theme of human consciousness merging, heading toward an Omega point, is a theme found in many of the other conceptions of the ultimate potential of computer-mediated communication.
Richard Thieme also takes a look ahead: speculating on what religious structures of the future may be like, influenced by global, virtual, and cross-cultural forces.
If computer-mediated communication is merely the expression of the profane, secular, or random in human experience, this special focus issue is a huge mistake. We welcome you to read this issue and consider.
Michel Bauwens (firstname.lastname@example.org) is former information manager at BP Nutrition where he developed one of the first working virtual information centers (1990-1993), for which he was elected European Information Professional of the Year. After creating the first European newstand magazine about the digital revolution (the dutch-language Wave), he now assists companies and organizations in their migration to electronic environments as a professional Internet consultant and cyber-marketeer.
Copyright © 1997 by John December. All Rights Reserved.