Two Days ago I walked into a clothing store and scanned my iris into a metal orb. This was the new project of Chat GPT founder Sam Altman, called Worldcoin. The project seeks to establish global citizenship proof, all while staying anonymous. As the too-cool assistants helped me set it up, I became a world citizen in no time! Most people are wary of this project but comfortable with citizenship to a country which is not anonymous, but not me and this experience reminded me why:
A couple of months ago, sitting in a classic Chicago living room watching Osmosis Jones, I was met with a questioning of my citizenship. The room was replete with college educated twenty-somethings, all American born. While I became uncomfortable I also thought to myself, this isn’t the world of yesterday. Patriotism itself has gone down, as 38% of Americans say they are very proud to be American.
Gone are the days where I calculatedly tried to improve my English accent. In the eighth grade I remember looking into a sea of middle-schoolers, looking for the most American table. To my dismay, I had just entered the polish enclave of Chicago. From Serbian bullies to Polish wiz kids, it was hard to find the table that I knew would teach me what it meant to be All-American. Since then, my world has become more exciting. My high school had students from across the city and my college, IIT, from across the world. I heard first-hand accounts about global issues in Armenia and the Uyghur Genocide. I practiced my rock climbing with the French and the Spanish, gained appreciation for 70’s Bollywood that blasted our student center most days, and pledged a fraternity class with brothers from Indonesia to my own Mexico.
As cities and nations become more globalized, and as technology blurs the boundaries between nations we are also shifting into increasing nationalism both at home and abroad. Crises often have dualistic effects. They both create a sense of shame that decreases patriotism but that then can be used by governments as a method of control, leading to patriotism through things like cultural and physical wars. In these same ways the identities we have are embedded into how we treat each other. Nation-states are nothing if not the combined senses of selves of individuals at large. From Presidents to Generals, a country's identity is built of its people.
Identity can be a source of strength but it can also lead to discrimination, groupthink, and violence. When we glorify all the identities we hold, and villainize the ones we don’t, we end up creating worlds for ourselves that are shortsighted and often inaccurate. They also become scapegoats for all the problems in our life that our often more deep rooted, structural, and complex than any identity itself. It made me compare that experience to another I had more recently:
At an outdoor festival in June, a girl’s political proclamation stirred tensions in the group. Later I sat down with her as she explained to me she was not a racist. As I nodded along, one thing struck me as a difference between my other experience: This girl didn’t tout herself as a social justice activist and yet, had experiences with people from across the world and consequently casually mentioned her friends from Mexico, with an almost laissez-faire attitude to their American citizenship or lack thereof. Her world had expanded from her time waitressing in Aspen, where she met seasonal cooks, cleaners, and servers from across Latin America often conspiring and playing jokes on the well-heeled clientele .
And yet, if we were prioritizing identity politics that have become a divisive and powerful force we would have expected otherwise from these two individuals. The girl with a southern twang from rural America was a globalist, and the DSA bro in Chicago was a nationalist. I’ve had other experiences like this, like the activist playwright that championed diversity in hiring yet blamed his own lack of fellowships on people of color. When individuals are tied to their own ego and identities they will often use that hierarchy to prop themselves up and protect themselves, much like nations. The issue is that when this happens, they often end up replicating ideas of hierarchy within humanity. Whether its their race, nationality, gender, or other political identity-the harsh statements only serve themselves and to perpetuate that as people, some groups are better and some are worse.
So how can technology possibly aid this? From planes, to the internet, to a possible global financial system in Worldcoin, I do believe we are becoming globally closer as a result of technological tools. Apart from military use, technology has the potential to bring us closer to each other. Even early forms of technology like books taught me early on not just the data but the emotions and the stories behind moments like the Sri Lankan civil war. From global music to books and now to developments like AR, VR, and AI we are able to experience reality, emotions , feelings, and states of consciousness outside of our present realities.
This happens at the micro-level like this startup that allows you to feel drunk or stoned through VR, to prevent impaired driving . But it can also work at the larger scale. The Black Mirror Episode “Striking Vipers” shows how being an avatar of a different gender allowed the character to experience attraction in a way he hadn’t before . VR can also allow us to experience what it might be like to be blind, which can encourage feelings of empathy and understanding for people with visual impairments. From gender to ability to race, technology can be used to suspend our conceptions of self , if only temporarily.
A quote from David Whyte explains this concept best. “ To go beyond our normal identities and become closer than close is to lose our sense of self in temporary joy: a form of arrival that only opens up to deeper forms of intimacy that blur our fixed, controlling, surface identity.” As a country we are becoming more divided each day and while algorithms and deepfakes can accelerate our silos into evermore fixed ideas about who we are and who we are not and push us into false realities of being- rather , we can use technology as a way to break these paradigms.
Instead of wading away from each other we can decide to go against the current and row towards each other. But rowing towards each other means pushing away from the very realities we know and continuously pushing ourselves into expansion, the ripples of our realities interfering with one another as we try to understand foreign realities . Using digital media , we can try to expand our realities in ways that might not be possible otherwise . As we become more physically isolated , digital expansion might be the way we come closer together in real life . This is because we need to be able to change our minds if we hope to bring our bodies in proximity. When we focus on sensory mechanisms like these technologies we are also able to bypass the DMN, the part of our brain that can only think about others in reference to ourselves . This part of the brain also decreases in activity during intense periods of creativity, focus, and flow.
As we grow up, the soul and body become separated as we construct a social reality and sense of self within it . We become older and start to have a sense of who we are in this world based on the people around us. Although this begins to dissolve at the end of life- with the use of meditation, prayer, and psychedelics we can start that process now . This practice also encourages creativity and empowers us as we detach from beliefs about what things we can and can’t do based on our internal perception . This field known as “cyberdelics” is highlighted in the latest issue of Gossamer magazine. While we might not have achieved the techno-utopianism of the movement’s inception, it presents a vision to achieve these altered states through technology with the goal of building a greater sense of care , equality , and kindness in us all .