A Beginner’s Guide to the 21st Century | Astrology | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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A Beginner’s Guide to the 21st Century 

It's taken me 14 years to get a handle on the 21st century, but I finally feel like I'm making some progress. One thing that I will say is that I'm learning how helpful it is to look to the past for some information about where we are today. It may not be the ultimate guide, but if you want to know where "here" is, it's a good idea to know where you came from and how you went.

That includes the astrological past, and it includes the past as told by eras when one communication medium collided with another one. Fortunately there is an easy intersection of those themes, as told in astrology, media studies and social history.

In 1964, in a time much like our own, when many things were changing very fast and few people understood what was happening, a soft-spoken English professor, a Canadian fellow named Marshall McLuhan, came out with a book that explains how society has become a product of its media. It always does, he says, and if you want to understand what society is becoming and why it's becoming that way, look at how people communicate. Look at their technology. That will tell you the story of what is actually happening.

He takes this back to the emergence of the printed word—the innovation of the typeset and printed book, which paralleled the development of industrial society and industrialized people. He describes how the printed word led to a sense of false individualization, which in turn de-tribalized society. The printed word ended the oral tradition of in-person storytelling.

The mode or "medium" of communication, McLuhan proposed, is more influential than the specific content. That is what he means by "the medium is the message." For anyone doubting this, he suggests you consider the electric light—a medium of pure information without specific content. Electric light changed civilization, and everyone and everything with it. It turned night to day and in the process, changed every person, every town and every city with it. What was the message of light? Well, it was LIGHT!

While this is happening, it's difficult to notice, because it's happening gradually, and as a new technology, it's taken for granted. People figured out that TV was changing politics when John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon for the presidency because he understood how to use TV and Nixon did not. All politics followed suit, but we stopped noticing.

Today we are in the age of the Internet fully emerging. It's true that I'm writing this article on the 16th anniversary of the Planet Waves website. The Internet itself is not brand new, but its mass proliferation is—mainly in the form of the "smart phone."

The "smart phone" puts the Internet everywhere, all the time. It therefore puts the user everywhere, all the time—often except where they actually are, such as having dinner with friends, while texting someone else, somewhere else.

The Internet is redefining the concept of self in such a way that there is no private self, there's just a public self. Anything conveyed via the Internet is presumed to be public, whether voluntarily, by surveillance, or by hacking. One's private self becomes a mass media event.

Tom Wolfe, an author who was one of the first people to understand and promote the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, parodied the "media event" in his book The Bonfire of the Vanities. In one scene there was supposed to be a protest, but which was not quite happening. Then the TV truck arrived, raised its mast with the microwave dish on top, and everyone gathered around the truck and the protest actually happened.

This is becoming the story of our lives.

In the story of astrology, the current developments are described by the transit of Uranus in Aries. Aries is the sign of self-concept, self-seeking, identity, and "I am" in general. Uranus has been in this sign for a little while, making some bold aspects there. Uranus is about technology, inventions, revolutions and very fast, unexpected changes, often on a mass scale. By inventions I mean some of the most important ones, such as the light bulb and the airplane (and the Moon landing, the Concorde and the 747, all of which happened under the influence of Uranus).

In Aries, Uranus represents the rapid technological developments we're now experiencing, and it also represents reinvention of self as a result of those advances. It's kind of the ultimate description of the selfie—the obsession with self, but that self is being broadcast almost all the time—to some group. The thing is, what we're experiencing or exploring now is the selfie defining the self, rather than being a picture of the pre-existing self.

Speaking of...

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  • Standing Apart from Mommy Internet
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    Most people I know have a relationship to their Internet life and social media experience that’s a little ambivalent—neither wholly positive nor wholly negative. We’re all hurtling at fiber-optic speeds along a path whose implications for how and where we locate identity, self-esteem and emotional/spiritual nourishment are questionable (when they’re questioned at all).
    • Apr 23, 2015
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