Friday, March 19, 2010

Traps and Wonders of Wisdom 2.0

There is a lot of debate currently on the value and relevance of social media for mindfulness related endeavors. A few days ago, I asked on IMC online community, whether anybody else besides me, was planning to attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference. And got these two dissonant responses:

First response:
I personally believe Internet social media and mindfulness don't go well together. There is an element of addiction involved here. One can give excuses like "limiting", "doing it mindfully", "doing it with purpose", "keeping a check" etc. The very fact that one has to look for such excuses makes me suspicious. It is like someone telling drinking alcohol in moderation is ok. Just like one does not need alcohol, one does not need these virtual reality medias. There are tons of libraries, books, real world sanghas and even google to get all the information anyone truly seeking would need. 
Buddhist evangelism should be by example. The Internet social media is turning it into a joke. There are also people who are pretending to be highly ordained monks - not sure what sickness causes them to do that. Respected monks should distance themselves from this. They can publish articles which are very helpful but not get involved in the virtual reality world. 
Second response:
Isn't this true with almost anything though? Every experience has pluses and minuses and buddhist social media seems to have more extreme peaks and troughs. I had a few friends who reacted much as you did after the article in Tricycle sometime ago describing the online difficulties of a few practitioners. In the end though it seems that respected monks should participate if they so wish and can help bring some good to a larger audience. As for those of us in the audience, a re-read of the Kalama Sutta is most helpful.
Personally, I am more in the second 'camp'. And will reiterate response I made to Maia Duerr, in her recent post on same topic, Mindfulness and Social Media: Not an Oxymoron!:
Like you, I don’t see any problem with the two words ’social media’ and ‘mindfulness’ coexisting. There is such a thing as mindfully tweeting, and blogging, and facebooking . . . And blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates can be great media to broadcast mindfulness related experiences. Of course like anything, social media has the potential of being abused and becoming addictive. That does not mean it should be abandoned altogether.
Where do you stand on this debate?


  1. Thanks for raising the question, Marguerite. My thought is that social media (and the Internet in general) is simply a phenomenon, just like any other, and does not have an inherent 'good' nor 'evil' quality.

    It really all comes down to what our Minds make of it. The three poisons -- greed, anger, and ignorance -- can of course run rampant with social media as they can with anything else. It's really up to us to work with our minds. Is our interaction with social media wholesome or unwholesome? To me, that's the question.

    I'll admit that I'm an information junkie, in general. So I need to watch myself around social media. But that's also true of my relationship to information in general -- I can get lost just as easily in books and all forms of information, at the expense of being present to what's right in front of me.

  2. Ah, yes....this is a difficult one. Personally, I try not to overthink it too much. I do enjoy putting out some simple tweets of inspiration or articles I feel that might be helpful...or an update on a blog post. So, on one hand I think you can be mindful doing it....on the other though, how mindful is it if you're watching a beautiful sunset and you feel the urge to tweet about it? It's at that moment that the thinking mind is kicking in and you're drawn out of the moment.

    What it comes down to for me, is helping people. Through writing...through sharing my experiences...through sharing 'me' (whoever that is). That's all!

  3. I have to say I had a bit of laugh at that first response. So tight. So absolutist, while failing to see that libraries, books, "real world" sanghas,etc. have their own set of traps and trouble points, as does the online world. I've noticed how there is a tendency to make the internet an "other," something so completely different from the rest of life, when in reality, it's not all that different from anything else.

    Personally, though, I find myself wondering what to do with the word "mindful." It almost seems meaningless these days, given how often it's used for so many different purposes - including rationalizing sloppy behavior.

  4. Thanks for raising this topic. I've been thinking about it lately. (And I'm looking forward to wisdom 2.0). A few thoughts about it...

    1. I was chatting with a friend about this topic. She's a scholar of Renaissance literature and had been reading various essays in which people were decrying the birth of the printing press, because it was going to allow "any drunken man" to become a legitimate authority in print...because books were going to create needless (or dangerous) distraction in people's lives. We are not the first generation to worry about this kind of impact of new media, and I think a little historical perspective is helpful here.

    2. I care deeply that we all find ways to hear the still small voice within. That's challenging without or without social media. I think it's a human challenge - not a challenge of our era.

    There's a lot of noise out there. There's a lot of noise "in here," in us - too. To me, mindfulness is about being witness to and making choices in the face of that noise - choices that make sense for me.

    3. I believe that the connection, community, inspiration and self-expression that people find online can hugely enrich spiritual life and spiritual practice, and this often seems forgotten in these kinds of debates.


  5. Thank you Maia, thank you Nate, thank you Nathan, thank you Tara, for all your wisdom . . .

    Consuming, and practicing social media is like any other daily activity, such as eating, reading, writing, exercising, . . . to be engaged in mindfully, not compulsively, not excessively. I have gained much wisdom from some of my online interactions. I have also fallen into the trap of mindless Internet surfing, and compulsive tweeting. I like what you say, Maia. Not inherently good, or evil. Only what we make of it. And of course, more matter for practice.

    Maia, Tara, very much looking forward to connecting face to face at Wisdom 2.0

    In gratitude,


  6. I have found the internet and social media quite helpful with my practice. Yes it is easy to get lost in the noise and I did recently remove my personal e-mail and facebook from my blackberry (unfortunately I can't escape the work e-mail as easily) to keep me from using that as a reason to not be mindful of my life.

    But as I am currently lacking a real world sangha, the internet and Buddhist blogoshphere have given me an opportunity to connect with others who share my practice.

    And I consider that quite a blessing.

    Thank you for asking the question.