Mindful social media and the rise of the Buddhist geek

Posted by Flux on 

25 March 2014


There are many occasions for wry smiles in the trend-spotting world, as you watch the pendulum swing back and forth. Surprisingly, trends are not always about the next big thing, but sometimes a return to the centre, after veering off on a misguided adventure. In the realm of social media, the pendulum swing is the most noticeable. Our multiple social media platforms have given us social connectivity, but also the attention spans of lab rats. Those omnipresent notification beeps and icons on our phones and laptops might seem convenient, but they simply break our focus throughout the day. We think we’re multi-tasking champions, but in essence, we’re just distracted addicts waiting for our next social media hit.

But fear not, a cyber self-help industry is emerging. “Digital Detox” is not only a new buzzword, but also an organisation based in California that is “dedicated to finding and creating more balance in the digital age”.  The founders describe their business as a “slow-down, not a startup”, and their mission is to “inspire, empower and teach our generation how to create more mindful, meaningful and balanced lives, both online and off.” Their device-free retreats have hosted employees from companies like Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Google.

Similarly, the Buddhist Geek is not just a clever catch phrase, but an annual conference that was launched in 2011. It is billed as “one of the only events on the planet where you can participate at the intersection of Buddhism, technology, and global culture.”
Wisdom 2.0, is another conference that is striving to help people balance their on and off line lives. Their most recent conference took place last month in San Francisco and brought together participants with a common goal: “to live with greater wisdom, purpose, and meaning,
while using technology in ways that create a more open and healthy culture”.

Clearly there is a groundswell of collective consciousness and a very real desire to reign in our ill-advised journeys in cyberspace. Even the large technology companies, like Google, are starting their own mindful-tech programmes. Search Inside Yourself an internal course for employees, and there is a waiting list, and just as the other conferences promise, staff members are signing up because they feel the need to cultivate “emotional intelligence” in a digital age.

Emotional intelligence is definitely what’s needed when it comes to social media. The tide of abusive, toxic tweeting has been stemmed with, what will prove to be, a landmark court case in May when Peter Nunn (32), is brought to trail for sending tweets that were “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” to Stella Creasy, a labour MP who was campaigning to ensure women featured on British banknotes. Devout fans of pop icons like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and One Direction, please take note.

As the search for meaning in cyberspace grows, new social media platforms that promote “mindful sharing” are also mushrooming. In essence all of these new platforms are a reaction to what is known as “The Facebook Eye”: the default behaviour of only posting the most fabulous moments of your life. We edit out the daily grind of real life and overshare only the good times, eliciting severe attacks of FOMO (fear of missing out) from our followers.

Blipfoto is a Zen version of the photo-sharing platform, Instagram. Instead of posting pictures throughout the day, Blipfoto invites you to only share one image per day, to document your life. It forces you to think before you share. As founder Joe Tree explains, “The number of photos people take has grown at an incredible rate, but the care with which we preserve our most precious moments has diminished just as fast. Blipfoto gives your throwaway moments of today much more significance in the future.”

The global movement, #100happydays, works on the same concept. It’s not aligned to any social media platform, but the challenge is to post one picture a day of something that makes you happy, but the challenge is to do this for 100 consecutive days. If you’re successful, they send you a compilation of your 100 happy days in an electronic photo album. Like Blipfoto, it makes you more mindful of what you share, with the added benefit of focusing on things that make you happy – and we could all do with a bit more happiness in our lives.

However, if Zen social media is not for you, there is another platform that seems to fill a darker gap. Whisper is an ingenious idea that is taking off – rapidly – and speaks volumes of our collective state of mind. The polar opposite of The Facebook Eye, Whisper allows you to air your dirty laundry – anonymously. It’s like a confessional in cyberspace and it’s very obvious that people need to vent, confess and spill the beans in an era where façade is everything. It may not be very Zen but it’s clearly very therapeutic, and illustrates yet another pendulum swing in the digital days of our lives.

By: Dion Chang

About Dion

Image credit: Blipfoto

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