The cultural advances that created the post-World War global village are falling apart. World systems are in gridlock and political factions are in brain-lock. Contagious narratives of blame and self-pity run amok on the streets and the internet. Our world is convulsing with conflict and outrage.
Why is this happening? Once an individual brain is hijacked by toxic stress, it becomes hostage to hate, fear, and confusion. The stressed-out brain then triggers self-sabotaging, compulsive behaviors. The most recent example is the US-Iran swapping military strikes that could trigger world conflict. If our global village succumbs to these base urges, and a viral narrative of hate and fear hijacks millions of brains, our survival is in peril.
The internet is a child
The internet functions as a global emotional brain, much like a child’s brain. The child brain rapidly develops in the prepubescent years to operate its body, socialize, and begin learning about the world. Families and cultures start teaching self-regulation to children by the age of two. Parental guidance provides the child’s brain with a top-down message to learn behavioral norms and cultivate attitudes for socialization. That’s how toddlers learn to engage with their peers—rather than just play side-by-side—which is much more fun, but also charged with potential conflict.
At puberty, a great leap in cognitive development occurs, activating abstract thinking and the capacity for mindful reflection. Tweens can now scare themselves with existential anxiety. Between puberty and 25 years of age, brain growth explodes and goes through a period of pruning whereby neural networks that are cultivated through practice survive for life.
Cultivating a mindful internet
Because children’s brains are sponges, it’s important to acknowledge how the internet is affecting development. For a child, the internet is everywhere: practically on any device with a screen at home and in the classroom. They’re being hijacked by the internet.
That’s why mindfulness training is best started at a young age. By practicing self-regulation and emotional communication, parents can apply similar principles to teach children how to use the internet mindfully. As a whole, the internet needs the equivalent of parental guidance, but its owners and designers have yet to develop and apply a parenting perspective in their mission and invention.
The internet needs a universal code of conduct that helps users keep ethics, morals, and self-regulation front-of-mind. Can we activate a culture that creates a mindful internet—a more ethical, compassionate, mindful machine?
The Global Mind meme
Global Mind is a narrative, hypothesis, and potential cultural meme. Like the neural messages from the mindful brain (pre-frontal cortex) to the emotional brain (limbic system), Global Mind memes can serve as self-awareness reminders, redirecting the internet’s self-centered, impulsive urges toward greater reflective participation.
Habituating to mindful awareness every time you “plug in” is a potential influence on culture. For example, imagine you are watching a YouTube video of a piano-playing kitten. As you watch, you take a moment to reflect on what it reminds you of, such as the memory of a moving concert. You can now reframe that kitten video with a shared comment compassionate connection, such as, “The kitten reminds me of how connected I felt to others at this inspiring concert years ago.”
As we experience deeper self-awareness, our natural connections and innate compassion are enhanced. Promoting this calm connectivity can be shared around the world with a Global Mind meme project.
To realize a Global Mind requires a viral awakening far beyond the education and awareness offered by present-day social movements. Such a leap forward needs to integrate multiple narratives across the internet and consistently reiterate our shared stories. The idea is to recruit the individual reflections of users, platform hosts, and algorithm designers to remind us that we are members of a whole, the global village.
Global Citizen is a good example of what can be done when a concept activates individuals from the bottom-up. However, the celebrity status of such projects can be like the July Fourth fireworks: impressive and glittery, but with limited on-the-ground change in behaviors and attitudes.
Since we’re constantly being fed memes, why not share Global Mind memes that become a habit and a way of thinking, feeling, and doing? These shared images have the potential to make Global Mind a way of being.
To encourage greater introspection and optimism, we must regulate our indulgences in a jaded world of skeptics, ambivalent bystanders, and glamorized over-consumption. Cataclysmic fantasies come easy and are profitable, but that doesn’t really help anybody. We love to scare ourselves, but we need to generate enough concern about each other to practice a new way of being human.
If we acknowledge and accept the impact of our competitive natures, self-centered drives, and predisposition to lie and cheat, we can use the internet to mindfully regulate a new story of fellowship and family.
Generating and augmenting our natural empathy with Global Mind memes is just one way to accomplish this.
A wave of new storytellers
The potential for Global Mind memes is already clear and present. We are witnessing a rapid emergence of thought leaders contributing their personal experiences, research, and observations that can be applied to assuage global burnout. Many authors have called for social and environmental mindfulness—book titles from the last three years alone sound like a chorus of Global Mind memes!
- Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky;
- Don’t Be Evil: How Big Tech Betrayed Its Founding Principles—and All of Us by Rana Foroohar;
- Minds Make Societies: How Cognition Explains the World Humans Create by Pascal Boyer.
Then there are the next generation of activist-storytellers, like Time’s Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg, who demands awareness, accountability, and action to beat the global climate change challenge.
Another example is the Brilliant Minds podcast, which was launched in 2015. It became the basis of the Brilliant Minds Foundation, which aims to promote “Swedish values,” such as openness, transparency, equality, trust, and social responsibility. The foundation sponsors new discourse in global self-awareness through conversations between diverse thought leaders. And conversations are crucial, as we see in family life, since they continue to shape behavior and advance mindful culture.
Global Mind is springing up spontaneously. Deeply felt, scientifically grounded, creative narratives are emerging. If we take them as a signal that the cultural evolution of global self-regulation is being born, perhaps a Global Mind meme project can empower a new organizational hierarchy where the power, profit, and control that shape internet culture can encourage more mindful interaction within the different communities we are members of.