Sunday, January 8, 2012

Technology and Mindfulness

Recently, I've read several articles about how technology and social networking are causing us to be less present in our daily lives.  These articles were all from relatively mainstream news sources, which kind of surprised me.  (You don't typically read a lot about present moment awareness in the news).  One of the articles was by the granddaughter of Emily Post, aka "Miss Manners."  The article talked about the etiquette of picture taking in the digital age.  She advises putting the camera (or phone) away if we find that our picture taking is preventing us from fully participating in whatever is going on around us.  Yes, she says, it is nice to have a million pictures of your sister's baby shower.  However, your sister would also like you to really be there to share the special occasion with her.  A shared smile between you or an assuring shoulder squeeze could end up being more memorable and meaningful than a photograph.

Another article talked about how Facebook is "making us miserable."  The author explained how the ways we use Facebook can create a lot of unhappiness.  One of the things the article mentioned was that people no longer just use Facebook on their home computers.  Now, we use Facebook at work and on our smart phones and Blackberries.  No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can always jump on Facebook to update our status (and to check on our friends' statuses).  But what if status-checking your Facebook friends interferes with your ability to fully connect with the real-world friend sitting right next to you?  Are we so busy playing on Facebook that we miss out on what's going on around us right now?  The article's author interviewed several people for his story.  One person admitted that she was almost hit by a car while crossing the street because she was using Facebook on her phone and wasn't paying attention.  (I like that anecdote.  It shows that not attending to the present moment has real -- and potentially fatal -- consequences).

When I did a Google search of the terms "mindfulness" and "social media," I discovered that there are two contrasting approaches to the issue.  A few of the search results seemed to promote "unplugging" from our cell phones and the internet periodically to get in touch with the present moment; these results were, however, in the minority.  By far, the majority of hits I got from my search talked about the mindful use of social media; they also talked about using social media (and other technology) to promote mindfulness.  Some of the headings included, "10 mindful way to use social media" and "Mindfulness based social media."  One title asked, "Can mindfulness be tweeted?"  I concluded that most people have embraced technology as a means to facilitate and to promote the use of mindfulness.  Those that warn of technology interfering with mindfulness seem to be in the minority.

In my opinion, people who are motivated to enrich their lives by being conscious of their internal and external environments will find a number of ways to support their efforts, to include online sources and social media.  Those who have no desire to seek spiritual and psychological growth will approach technology the same way they approach everything else in life: without mindfulness.  Which side of the debate do you support?  Does technology help or hinder our efforts to be more present in our daily lives?

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