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Michae Foster Headshot

Digital Fire: Starting Over From Zero

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It took ancient civilizations a long time to figure out the concept of zero. Numbers, the alphabet, written characters and the printing press changed how ideas were transmitted and caused massive societal shifts. Nowadays, our whole lives are affected daily by ones and zeros, whether you're interacting with your computer or mobile phone or making a withdrawal from an ATM. Numbers have gotten us this far, have helped us and hurt us, have fed our bellies and messed with our minds.

During the recent and ongoing worldwide economic turmoil, savings, homes, lives and livelihoods have been lost. And starting again from zero has become a reality for millions upon millions of people around the world. Everything has been broken, destroyed, transformed or interrupted by global monetary chaos. Millions more have experienced a series of brutal shocks to the system -- endless wars, massive and unpredictable storms brought on by climate change, unchecked corporate greed, and a long litany of wrongheaded corporate and government policy decisions (going back decades) -- many in the name of progress, others done in the name of politics.

At this historical moment, you either begin again from scratch or you shoot for the moon. And this is the Western mind's nightmare and dream, rolled up into one diamond-sharp image. So many problems in our society relate to this all-or-nothing thinking. As Westerners, we've been handed down cultural tales of people traveling to America from distant lands to reach for the golden ring, striving to locate cities made of gold, or searching for fountains of youth. Our minds have been vacillating between being close to zero and wanting infinite riches for so long that our heads are filled with phantasmagorical puffs of currency floating in the air and almost into our hands. We have cloudy notions of cities in the sky far beyond our wildest dreams: "All the tea in China." "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." "I want it all." "I want to live forever!"

Every day we're bombarded with countless messages from advertisers. But even when times were good and everything seemed like it could all roll on, into the rosiest of futures, the Western mode of a "constant consumer society" was built on shifting sands. When so much information is thrown at you that you're always in a state of information overload, your life depends upon being selective. It's already been studied, this agitated state of being too wired. Uncluttering the mind and taking a zero-stimulation break could become the next big thing.

Over the last century we've gradually adapted to a more holistic mode of thinking. Our minds can encompass so much more. Concepts like quantum mechanics, time travel, string theory, multiple universes, and the Singularity have become more mainstream. While the global economic crisis has deposited so many lives into a bleak, dark time, our thoughts can act as a safety valve. And now, as ever, our ever-expanding thirst for knowledge may yet be our saving grace.

Great minds have always reacted for and against the times they lived in. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Picasso developed Cubism, where multiple perspectives could simultaneously be seen in a painting. In a fragmented, sped-up world, images needed to be broken into their separate parts and pieced back together. Looking back from the vantage point of the early twenty-first century, the period just before and after the First World War seems quaint by comparison. Back then people became quite disturbed by a woman's portrait painted with two eyes on the same side of her face. Simply shocking!

When we start looking at ourselves as a blank canvas, it's easier to slip into the mindset of starting from zero. Reinvention depends upon an open mind, and selectively filtering and blocking media messages has now become one of our most useful tools. Asking ourselves which messages, information and knowledge we want to allow into our minds -- and what should be blocked at all costs -- is as essential a question as anyone can ask during these times of reinvention.

The writing team of Smith and Foster comes from an extensive background of New Media content creation, in both the written and visual content creation side of the web. They are established professionals with writing and art backgrounds, unique perspectives on culture, and two diverse and similar backgrounds.