Part of a series, this essay explores a subheading from Chapter Eleven of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.
What’s My Impact & What Impacts Me?
What’s my impact — what’s the nature of the wake I’m leaving as I swim, paddle, sail, or otherwise make my way along the river or across the ocean of life? How does my wake impact other vessels and the water itself, and to what extent am I aware of this impact?
What impacts me — what is the nature of the impact on me of other vessels, the wakes they leave, and the river or ocean itself? Less metaphorically, what beliefs, behaviors, habits, cultures, relationships, environments, systems, and people affect me; to what extent, large or small, do they affect me; and what, if anything, am I doing or can I do about it?
With such questions, it helps to explore the broadest, deepest view available of my current beliefs, behaviors, relationships, and environments. Shining the light of awareness on my current awareness — witnessing myself as I am — is a significant practice. What interiors and exteriors impact who and how I am? Whether, when, where, and how I choose to shine this light of awareness emerges from the story I hold (or that holds me) about who I think I am, and the worldview — focused on me, us, all of us, or all that is — that holds my story.
The world of experience continues to offer additional givens throughout our lives. The concrete manifestation of our earliest and ongoing givens are the literal infrastructures and systems — the natural and human-made environments — in which we live our lives, from the tablet, computer, or phone you’re using right now, to the physical space you’re in, to the electricity or to the sun itself that lights that space. Cultural givens and environments co-arise, co-relate, and impact each other and each of us. Beliefs and values lead to things and systems, which in turn revise and create beliefs and values — which in turn lead to new things and systems.
Intentional fire, writing, the wheel, horticulture, agriculture, gunpowder, the printing press, steam power, trains, electricity, internal combustion, the automobile, paved roads, airplanes, the assembly line, the radio, television, space travel, atomic power, computers, robotics, the World Wide Web, smart phones, social media and many other technologies shaped and shape our environment, and, in turn, they shape us. Way back in the previous century, Neal Postman proposed six questions that are worth exploring each time a new technology is being developed or emerges:
1. What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?
2. Whose problem is it?
3. Suppose we solve the problem and solve it decisively, what new problems might be created because we solved the old problem?
4. Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?
5. What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies and what is being gained and lost by such changes?
6. What sort of people and institutions acquire special economical and political power because of technological change?¹
The importance of these types of questions occurs at the intersections of everything is a story, technological impact, and who we think we are. Here are some variations on a theme:
1. How does who you think you are impact what stories you are telling yourself about the impact of the technologies you choose to use or must engage with every day?
2. How do the stories you tell yourself impact who you think you are and the technologies you choose to use or must engage with every day?
3. How do the technologies you choose to use or must engage with every day impact the stories you tell yourself about who you think you are?
The above is not an attempt at cleverness. Consider spending some time with these questions in the context of what you believe is true, first in your own life, and then in the history and current affairs of the United States. Identity, story, and impact matter.
1. Neal Postman, “Staying Sane in a Technological Society: Six Questions in Search of an Answer,” Lapis, (New York Open Center, Issue 7, 1998), 53–57.