In this interview, Claire Milne, Inner Transition Coordinator for the Transition Network, discusses the addictive qualities of digital technologies, how we can make peace with them in our own lives, and how to repurpose these technologies for the transition to a more just, caring and ecological future.
On 20th November, Claire will join Gaia Trustee Philippe Sibaud at 42 Acres Shoreditch in London to launch Gaia’s new report Wh@t on Earth: How digital technologies are severing our relationship from ourselves, each other and our living planet. Book now!
Tell us about your role at the Transition Network?
The Transition movement is about celebrating the wealth of our communities; it is a community-led global initiative to achieve spiritual growth and ecological, social and political change. I am both the Inner Transition Coordinator and I hold a role called Nurturing Collaboration. My roles are basically around the inner dimension of Transition and designing for collaborative culture.
Your work is in large part collaborative and reaching out to external organisations. Is there a place for digital technology in your work in Inner Transition?
I feel like although it [digital technology] plays a role in eroding deeper relationships I also feel like it’s playing, in some respects, very positive roles in connecting people at levels of scale that would otherwise be very difficult, if not impossible. So being able to collaborate beyond the local level – at the regional, national and international levels – is very helpful.
Like with anything, if we are able to be in full choice we can have a healthy relationship with digital technology and it can play a healthy role in our life. Then it starts to get more complicated because, you could equally say that hard-core Class A drugs are not wrong, because at the end of the day it’s about our relationship with them. But what we know about Class A drugs or even technology is that the way they interact with our neurobiology [has] the potential to be hurtful at the physiological and psychological level. Then it becomes more complicated because what we’re being asked to do is recover from addiction.
What part does technology play in the Transition Network’s ideal envisioned future?
I find it really helpful to ask the question: ‘is the world that I’m longing for and that my life is dedicated to in part creating screen based?’ The answer is really clearly no.
But another a part of me recognises that at the stage that we’re at, there is a need for some degree of that relationship with digital technology to enable that scale of change that is required in order to bring about transformation. And at the same time to have the depth of psychological and spiritual transformation that’s needed for us as a species, to survive, there is equal need for us to have times in our lives that are free from digital technology.
That comes back to the reality that technology has this addictive quality and therefore the creative tension that we’re all being asked to navigate at this point in history is how can we relate something that is so crucial to the transformation of our world in a way that doesn’t fall into encouraging that addiction.
And the degree to which we’re addicted to technology is seriously high, and plays out to the identity politics that were already there. The degree to which we are addicted and to what we are addicted to is correlated to the ideas we hold about what will make us lovable and feel like we belong and feel like we’re good enough. Technology just completely feeds into that, and that’s why at a psychological level it’s addictive.
In identity politics at the moment, there are certain aspects like the ‘work ethic’ that plays a big role in burn out. This core belief within us, seen as the capitalist protestant belief, that for us to be good enough – for us to be accepted by the tribe, for us to be loved – we need to be productive and we need to be good at stuff. It’s very clear that technology feeds that. It feeds this idea that we can be superhuman, we can get even more done, we can work 24/7. Social media feeds into identity politics, around what we look like and celebrity status and all the phenomena around getting likes. This is all about that addiction to looking good that feeds into these identity politics.
And I say this with compassion because it’s very easy to slip into a sort of persecutory tone, but the reality is that these are deep wounds and they’re painful and we develop behavioural strategies to protect us from feeling the wounding of believing we’re not lovable and don’t belong. These behavioural strategies have been really amplified and codified by technology.
We are at a tipping point in terms of the ecological damage that humans are causing to our living planet. We have so much knowledge about our impacts, but are arguably more disconnected from Earth than ever. Do you think digital tech is playing a role in that? Can we revive that important connection with the Earth in time before our crises totally overwhelm us?
On a good day I’ll feel like that’s possible and on a bad day I think that that’s just an absolute joke. And I don’t think anyone has the answer.
It comes back to that question: is the life I’m longing for screen-based? And I realise that’s not answering your question. I think that maybe what is important is being able to sit with the not knowing. Too much is unknown to know whether that depth of inner change is possible.
Because we cannot control what is happening, we can make a difference and make interventions. So whatever happens, we need to learn how to navigate challenging, precarious situations in the physical world. So the greatest privilege, and I think human right, is access to support around inner resilience: education around emotional intelligence, and inner resilience.
If we can be in choice around how we respond to things and in choice around how we respond to addictive substances like technology, then we have freedom. For me, the inner dimension of change and the inner dimension of transition are all about liberation from the ego and the superego, and the destruction of patriarchy and capitalism.
So ultimately, the future of the Earth and our interdependence with the other-than-human world is dependent on us liberating our egos from patriarchy and the conditions that then leads to the destruction of the Earth and other beings, because it is leading us to this state of disconnection, disillusionment and separation.
Do you see a correlation between technology and patriarchy?
I think it’s really important to look at the role that our relationship with technology is playing in coping with trauma. Because I think for a lot of people, connecting via technology enables us not to have to feel that trauma.
Connecting through technology really colludes with that dissociated state that comes with trauma. If we’re not in our bodies and in our hearts, then we can’t meet other beings from that heart-felt, emotional place, we’re just two heads meeting.
That dissociated state is what is very characteristic of a lot of society because there’s this sort of low-level trauma that’s just across the board, and I think that technology really speaks to that. A lot of the population are sort of drawn to connecting via technology because it protects us from feeling the pain and limitations around relationships.
Is there any practice that you employ to feel that reconnection with the Earth?
Well, an interesting one for me is the sit spot. And I work with the sit spot in two ways. There’s the kind of well-known sit spot where you go out and you find your spot in nature and take your attention 50% with yourself and 50% with your peripheral vision, which as a regular practice just allows this deepening of connection to the other-than-human world.
But the tune-up on that would be the inner sit spot. So bound out into the world to find your sit spot, and then practice the inner sit spot, whereby you go in to your inner world. It could take the form of a body scan or all sorts of mindfulness practices, but there’s something really beautiful about the combination of that classic sit spot out in the world and then combining that with an inner sit spot to make sure you are in connection with yourself as well.