Homo Electronicus Migratus

Welcome back.

Friend and fellow conspirator, Dean Sharp, mentioned this article of mine on his blog. If you didn’t read Homo Electronicus Migratus on my website or through my newsletter, you should read it here today. The discussion that follows should be of special interest to those in Search of The Mystic.

Enjoy.

Homo Electronicus Migratus

“You’re going to the United States to live with your mother,” his grandmother told him. She struggled to lift and carry him towards the car.

Instinctively, the boy leaned over, grabbed and squeezed with all of his might the wrought iron fence that protected the windows of their home.

She pulled on his legs gently. “You’ll be happy there.”

He pulled himself towards the fence. “I’m happy here.”

The boy’s grandfather walked past with the luggage and placed it into the trunk and turned back to help his wife loosen the boy’s grip on the fence. Eventually, the will of a defiant six year old submitted to the power of the way things had to be.

Hard to believe after so many years… I thought as the 767 turned to face the California coast, raced down the runway, and took off over the Pacific. Thirty-four years have passed since that day, and thirty since I last set foot there.

A lot can change in three decades.

My name had been changed from the Spanish name of my birth to an Irish name. My primary language had changed from Spanish to English. I was no longer a young boy, but a father. Indeed, the path I resisted as a young boy had turned out to be a blessed path.

But the change I had experienced was little compared to the dramatic changes happening around me. In the course of those thirty years, the whole world had been in the matrix of rapid change. A breakthrough in science in the morning, an advance in technology later in the day, and the whole world is new again.

Do you remember life before email?
It seems so long ago. It was.

The speed of change to which we’ve become accustomed is such that even the recent past is the distant past. At the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, three hundred years pass in thirty.

I believe it was Peter Drucker [Post Capitalist Society] who pointed out that most historical epochs have been characterized by a rate of change that came on a snail’s back, in which grandfather and father passed on to their sons and grandsons a trade, or a skill, which would serve the next generation as it had theirs. In contrast, we live in a world in which grandsons teach their fathers and grandfathers how to program their VCRs.

Contrary to the ancient pattern, in the 21st century time flows backwards, and the younger generation is mentor in certain arenas to the older.

Three decades of chronological time had passed since I left the land of my birth, and three hundred in evolutionary time. In the course of the three decades since I had visited El Salvador, the world had changed from an earth-bound, industrial world that was migrating at amazing rates from the farm and country towards the city to a space-trekking, bio-electronic world that is migrating from terra firma towards cyber space at warp speed.

Earth had become a memory.

This movement may be more akin to an evolution of the human race than to a migration. Is mankind in a transitional phase of evolution from Homo Sapiens Sapiens to some as yet unnamed new species of man? If so, we are Homo Electronicus Migratus, an intermediate humanoid between the species we were and that which we are becoming. The famous Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise once said to a twentieth century earthling who mistakenly thought Kirk was from outer space, “I’m from Iowa. I just work in outer space.” In the same way, many among us are from the future, we just live and work in the present. And in the future, man has evolved from earthling to cyberling.

The former generations were married to the earth. Even in their migrations, those generations were grounded. They knew from where they came and often to where they were going. They had roots and found their identity in the land and in its names. They were generations that could point to a peak of mountains, or a cove, or a valley, and call it home.

The generation of the twenty first century is married to the wind. Even should they stay at one fixed locale, which many do not, the world changes beneath their feet. Movement is constant. This world of changing landscapes has evoked from deep within their hearts a primal longing for place to belong, a hunger for community.

This is a common experience for immigrants.

Predictably, scores of Electronicus Migratus are looking through the hardware of their computer screens in search of the community that as Homo Sapiens they could not find in their workplaces and neighborhoods. In this age of migration into a cyberspace Eden, which promises electronic connectedness, human connectedness continues to be an elusive treasure.

I unbuckled my seat belt when we arrived at our gate at San Salvador International Airport. The future needs a past, I thought, as prophecy needs memory and vision purpose. Later that same afternoon we sat together on the small front porch on which I played as a small boy. My children sat on one side and their great grandparents on another, wind and earth.

I translated as they talked about time, about places, about people. We talked. No modems. No email. This was a face-to-face encounter between Sapiens and Electronicus, and it touched something deep, something ancient. I felt myself reach for the wrought iron fence of the past and I heard a primal scream: Is earth not home? At the same time, I heard the wind passing and saying, time for defiant wills to submit to the power of the way things have to be.

And so, on the same porch of three decades past, I let go of the fence again, knowing that the world into which my children travel is new, but the path is blessed. Fear not, my son. Sail the winds, daughter. And to whatever world this path takes you, make it human.

Alex McManus © 1999
Slightly modifed from my article, Homo Electronicus Migratus , published June 7, 2005 in the newsletter of the International Mentoring Network. Originally written 1999.

What do you think?

into the mystic…

Alex McManus

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12 thoughts on “Homo Electronicus Migratus

  1. While I like the concept, I don’t think that the use of a new tool markes the evolution of a species. It definately marks a cultural shift. As one friend put it, “When our kids are being born with a laptop as part of their anatomy, then we’ve evolved.” I’m intrigued by the concept, and am watching closely the use of this new tool, and really new culture. But I just can’t see the evolution of the species…

  2. I agree with Bishop, namely because that’s my comment he quoted. I really, really enjoy the internet and the connectivity it offers the world. But you’d have to modify the theory of “evolution” to include mainly those in modern countries or those fortunate enough to have laptops, PDA’s, wireless internet, the money for coffee to get free wireless, etc. The majority of the world is not connected to ANY form of high-tech gadgets. What of them? They’re connected to life as it has always been and might always be.

    What of those stranded without electricity in Florida or previously in New Orleans? Do they slip into a wormhole, transported back to being just a regular ole human?

    In the words of Kip Dynamite, “I love technology.” But I could live without the internet if you made me. Great discussion starting post though!! Kudos to Alex and the creativity therein

  3. Bishop,

    When I originally wrote the piece, I used the term evolution not in it’s biological sense, but as a poetic and prophetic device to speak of the radically different world in which my kids live in comparison to the world of my grandparents.

    Now six years later, I’ve begun to realize that the world described by our friend who wrote, “When our kids are being born with a laptop as part of their anatomy, then we’ve evolved,” may no longer belong to the world of science fiction. I’ll be posting on that periodically. But the point here mostly regards a new “evolved” dimension of human connectivity.

    Thanks.

  4. Nathan,

    If I remember correctly, within a generation, 30% of the planet will be connected via the internet. The remaining 70% will have barely experienced the telephone.

    A potential future is one in which humanity does not evolve synchronously. For example, when IQ or intelligence by some other measure becomes manipulatible, who decides what portions of the population will become genetically enhanced humans? Will it be determined by purely economic considerations?

    Is it possible to imagine [and realize] a human future with two kinds of humans: the genetically enhanced and the livestock.

    One of the basic premises of modern day molecular biology, according to Rodney Brooks director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, is that everything including human beings are a product of molecular interactions. So here is what we’re facing: a future where it is the assumption that all organic forms including human beings are machines able to be tweaked and improved. Get ready, sooner or later we may be posting about bacterial robots and debating about what kind of creature is “human being version 1.1.”

    Part of our calling is to remember the humanity of the 70% who don’t make the leap into cyberspace and to explain and interpret the meaning of “human” in an age of machines.

    Thanks.

  5. While I find the idea of giving birth to children with electronic internet implants fascinating and, frankly, slightly grotesque (I am a woman; it is the female of the species who must actually, physically give birth), the part of this article that I most resonate with is the part that discusses the idea of “home.” Maybe it’s because I am in transition, at the moment?

    All my life I have struggled with a concept of home. As a girl I would read Anne of Green Gables and wonder why I didn’t feel attached to my family’s home, the way the protagonist did. I spent the first six years of my life in Upstate New York, and never quite got over it. But I have lived in Ohio for seventeen years now; so why is there a part of me that still thinks of a little grey cape cod house with a red front door, a garden big enough to take up half of a large (by New England standards) back yard, and a pussy-willow plant in front as my childhood home? What was wrong with the much bigger and older (and therefore by my standards cooler) 1930s tudor in suburban Ohio where I spent the subsequent twelve years?

    And now that I no longer live with my parents, why do I now feel as though I have no home at all? Not just house-wise, but city-wise. Each time I travel to a new city– London, New York, Chicago, Antigua, Houston– I can see myself living there. I was down south recently, working with evacuees from New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, and found myself directly in the projected path of Rita, suddenly preparing to weather a hurricane that I had not signed up for. As we bunkered down in a local church, waiting for the storm to hit, I knew I did not want to be there– but where did I want to be? I had no idea. I felt as though there was no other particular place in which I ought to be– no place where I belonged.

    Maybe our culture has encountered a shift, not just due to the internet, but due to the ease of travel. As the world grows smaller– and admittedly the internet helps accelerate that– people become more geographically mobile. No longer the days where three generations will stay in the same neighborhood or metropolitan area. My father thinks I should leave the city we live in for a few years, because he knows me and understands that if I don’t go, I’ll never know whether or not this is where I want to be, where I belong.

    Regardless of a cultural shift, I must still make my peace with the past and the future simultaneously in a world spinning at 365 Rotations Per Year but feeling faster, where all Einstein and relativity can really tell us is that the days drag but the months and years fly. All the while hanging on by the skin of my teeth to the hope of a future Home I’ll never leave, never need to miss. Because that’s what it all comes down to: everyone here on earth is just Homesick for a place we’ve never been.

    Torn between earth-bound past and wind-bourne future? Of course. Enjoy the longing.
    -Mel

  6. Wow, I really resonate with your feelings about “home”, Mel: for me, is it rural Sonora Desert north of the McDowell Mountains? the southern end of Kona, Hawaii (makai side)? the Sierra Nevadas between Kingsbury Grade and that pass just before you get to Kirkwood? the Mogollon Rim east of Flagstaff? Or is it the streets of South Central Los Angeles? Or one of the other myriad places I’ve visited but didn’t stay long enough to grow the roots that yearned to sink in there?

    Better for me, as Alex says, to “marry the wind, not the earth.”

    And that leads to my other point: I understood Alex to be using the term “evolution” in its more general sense, “gradual change over time creating a distinction significant enough to merit or require new classification.” In this sense, the very real differences between how humans understood themselves (and time, space, technology, & countless other things) in my father’s generation vs. my son’s generation DO qualify as social evolution. Alex’ use of a biological classification (homo sapiens/homo migratus) rather than a sociological one (Boomer/Millenial) helps point out that a meta-change has occurred in very recent generations. It is not any larger, proportionally, than the one in the early days of the Enlightenment (think Copernicus and Galileo) but if we keep looking at it through clicheéd sociological lenses, we’ll miss the bigger thing that’s happening. Sure, my kids are anatomically identical to my grandparents (biologically speaking: they are different colors of course). But the biggest difference between my kids and my parents is not their races but their cultures, their worldviews. Stepping back from the dizzying multiplicity of cultures mixing in the megacities of the world today, there really is a deeper seismic shift, a transcultural sea change. Like evolution, it is “gradual” in that it has taken more than one generation to get to this point, but “significant” in that the difference really is beginning to merit a new classification. And it’s a “punctuated equilibrium” evolution in that there has been a long period of very little worldview meta-changes (except in tribal cultures suddenly submerged in modernism) before this one’s eruption.

    It’s difficult to discern generalities clearly when one is in the middle of the muddle oneself, but the metaphor of wind and earth strikes me as helpful as far as it goes. And the categorization of computer/telecom/cybersavvy “haves” vs. “have nots” seem as accurate as any and better than some (e.g. modern/postmodern… tho that is a related sub-issue).

  7. “…A potential future is one in which humanity does not evolve synchronously.”

    Alex, actually humanity has always “evolved asynchronously” (socially speaking). First it was farmers/artisans/merchants racing past the hunter/gatherer tribes around them: Ur was, in its day, a thriving metropolis, and as alien a world to the nomad wandering in from the hills as our techno-cyber-whatever world is to the ‘unconnected’ Midwestern factory worker about to lose his job to outsourcing. (Okay, okay, you Midwestern factory worker bloggers with Treos and video iPods and friends in Slovenia you’ve never met f2f, I meant your ‘unconnected’ buddies— you know who they are). The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution was another dose of asynchronous social evolution: read “Born in the Year of Courage” or any account of Admiral Perry arriving near Edo, Japan in the 1800s, for a striking example of how this asynchronous evolution was continuing even as late as 160 years ago. And note that it had more to do with international connectivity than with technology, its more obvious superficial contrast.

    But though roots of this “evolutional jerk” can be traced back 160 or 400 or 1000 or 3000 years, that does not mean we are all deluded when we say “the pace of change is faster now than ever” or “we’re in a huge period of social upheaval”. Very often, our predecessors felt that way about what was in retrospect fairly minor advancements: the railroad replacing the canal system, for instance, felt like the end of the world, but was just one more click in the steady ratchet of industrialization. But this one is a big one.

    And it has not “happened” yet. We have not found our next plateau of equilibrium, and we don’t know what it will look like when we get there, or how many generations away it might be. Our challenge is, “to whatever world this path takes you, make it human.”

  8. I think the point is not definitions of evolution or kids being born with electronic devices implanted or any of a dozen plus other good and interesting points made in your blog. I think the main point is: And to whatever world this path takes you, make it human.

    We can’t run away from the future and the advancements and the changes. But we can’t get so busy with the stuff or “doing” ministry that we forget that what we are really called to is relationships with people – that’s what ministry is. Relationships are, as Alex says, what each of us longs for in the depth of our beings, that community that can’t be found otherwise.

  9. Rich, great summary. All I’d add is that a motley slice of humanity now creates and defines a large portion of its relationships via media (internet/telecom stuff) that did not exist a while ago. For that slice of humanity, cyberspace is not icing on life’s cake, but part of the cake itself.

    Yes, this is true to varying degrees, but the number of people worldwide for whom it is strongly true has reached “critical mass.” The Mystic and Voxtropolis really will feel like “the body of Christ in my native tongue” to them; other forms of church without integral cyberpresence will seem to fall short or lack depth/relevance.

    I absolutely am not saying, as one infamous critic did, that everything else is “old wineskins” and we should “throw the leaky things away.” Traditional church, contemporary megachurch, housechurches, may they all blossom and multiply… AND we must innovate, too, to keep up with human (social) evolution.

    Or, dare we hope, perhaps even drive that evolution, steer it Godward!

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