Monday, February 25, 2013

The Dangers of Wisdom 2.0

This year, I chose to not attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference, but I watched from afar, and glanced at a few of the live streams. Wisdom 2.0 always inspires me to reflect on technology and its impact on mindfulness, and vice versa. While a heavy user of tech, I am also very skeptical, and somewhat concerned about what it's doing to me, and the billions of other social media enthusiasts. And here's why . . . 

It is so easy checking my Facebook or Twitter. Feeling bored, restless, annoyed? Rather than sitting with the feeling, I find myself reaching out for the black thingy, typing in the secret code, and going straight for the four familiar icons, one after the other, the white envelope, the green bubble, the little bird that never stops tweeting, and the big 'f'. Past the transient relief, the initial feeling is still there, and the mind has grown even more agitated. That stuff is bad. Same addictive qualities as smoking, or drinking, or eating junk, with one major difference. The addiction is more subtle, and hardly recognized by the outside world. We live in a hyper connected world that demands workers to be in touch 24/7, and encourages friends to text rather that talk live.

Many times before, including on this blog, I have sworn to placing limits on my habit, and it has not worked. The reason: I have overestimated my willpower. Fast reward 2500 years, to the Buddha's teachings back then, about the need to give up "the taking of liquors and intoxicants, of that which intoxicates, causing carelessness", and also "singing and dancing, the playing of musical instruments and the watching of entertainments, which are stumbling blocks to that which is wholesome". It is easy seeing how those instructions directly apply to our tech obsession. Social media is addictive, it also dulls our ability to be mindful. And if we are really intent on the path, we would do well to abandon it altogether.

It's been interesting watching contemporary dharma teachers and monastics. Some have refused to touch Facebook and Twitter. Others have eagerly jumped in with both feet, at the risk of embarrassing themselves with sometimes unskillful public displays. Yet others have let their students manage their social media presence so they don't have to be tempted. The bottom line is we are all struggling to find our way through this revolution. As with everything, the key is to fumble with awareness, and to not underestimate the risks, nor our vulnerability to this new form of intoxication and entertainment. The role of monasteries becomes even more important, as places of ultimate refuge where the mind can be left alone, without the threat of uninterrupted chatter from our various 'networks'.

What is your relationship with social media? Are you hooked? Or are you able to use those tools without unhealthy clinging? If so, please share. 

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