Finding the Middle Way

I was driving home from teaching yoga one night, and the thought came to me, “Is our addiction to things like Twitter, Facebook and all the like, and the subsequent urge to completely annihilate our relationships with them, similar to the road the Buddha took before discovering The Middle Way?”

Almost every day, I come across someone’s proclamation to quit Twitter or Facebook, or both. Every other day, I’d read about the power of social media tools in connecting people and changing lives in small and big ways.

Once, in a workshop on Ayurveda and the Indian system of dosha, the teacher, Dr. Robert Svodoba, said emphatically, “We all have our addiction.” He didn’t mention tech toys or tools or any specific drugs. Everything is a drug, so long as we’re psychologically dependent on it. Or, as Pema Chodron would say, so long as we “bite the hook.”

History has shown that the pendulum always needs to swing to the extremes first. The Buddha had to starve himself to near death to find out that Happiness was found in neither hedonistic indulgences or self-mortification. So, I’m just thinking, are we going through this process collectively as a society? Am I as an individual? It sure feels like it.

The lute string must be tuned neither too tight nor too loose to produce a harmonious sound. – Wikipedia, The Middle Way

Seven Days Without Twitter

This time last year, I went on my first meditation retreat. It was a 10-day Vipassana silent retreat, which my boyfriend calls “meditation boot camp”, because I couldn’t bring anything: no books, no journal, no phone, no computer, no facebook, no twitter. I couldn’t even talk or make eye contact with my fellow retreat goers.

“You’re not gonna last a day,” he supportively predicted. I laughed because he knows me too well. I am a child of the internets/multitasking age. I’m a child that grew up with the radio on, the TV blaring, I’m on the phone, on IM, and doing my homework at the same time. I’m the generation where ADD, diagnosed or not, is a common disorder.

On top of that, the temperament, or constitution in the Indian Ayurvedic system, I was born with is characteristic of the wind: airy and fast-moving.

Working with the ADD tendency is hard enough, it’s even harder in a culture such as ours, where everyone and everything seems to be all about distraction (for example: a cable news screen would have stock ticker at the bottom of the screen, weather, traffic on top, headline news running across, and four political commentators in separate locations on the main screen, and a tweet stream on the side).

In other words, I’m SOL when it comes to cultivating any ability to concentrate and focus for long periods of time. And yet, focus and concentration is the very thing I’m working on as a dedicated meditator.

Now what?

So, I’ve decided to give myself some bitter medicine. I’ve decided to go without Twitter and Facebook for a while. How long of a while? Well, I lasted seven days this first round. The first day was the hardest, when I would go and justthisclose to opening TweetDeck, when I’d stop myself. I do realize that there are many many useful uses for Twitter. I’d use it if I were stuck in storm in the middle of nowhere. I’d use it if I were at a conference and looking for fellow conference goers.

I had very many normal, ordinary uses for Twitter this past week, like asking for recommendations for places to eat and stay when I was in Portland, Oregon, or wondering if an event I was going to was cancelled or not. I made do without Twitter, however, in keeping with my vow.

So, I’ll be keeping track of my experience, and no doubt write about it here.

I See You’re Got The Twitter

A lot has been said, or tweeted, about Twitter. And, like Amazon(tm) reviews, it’s either all love or all hate, either OMG THE BEST THING SINCE THE WHEEL *AND* THE SLICE BREAD! Or, This, Too, Shall Pass.

For the record, I don’t have an altar for @twitter (or @biz, @ev, @dom). I also don’t have any death wish for the medium and pray for the return of Life BT (Before Twitter).

What I’m really interested in is what it reveals about us, and by “us”, I mean me. And by me, I mean humanity. It’s this little pet project called twentysomething existentialism that’s got me asking all these questions, namely, what does it mean to be human? (Oh yeah, full cheese ahead, get your wine bottle(s) ready.)

So what I want to talk about here is this article I read and heard on On the Media: The Point of Twitter. You can read and listen to the whole segment in all of its glory, including who’s using it for what and how and where, but here are some highlights that are interesting to me.

Well, there is something kind of hilarious about people constantly interrupting their lives to transmit 140-character factoids and random banal thoughts to people who must interrupt their own lives to receive them.

…people simply like to share, not only what they think is cool that you should check out but the reality of what they’re doing or seeing or just thinking right this second.

Hmm, malaria angst and lunch orders, the terrible and the trivial. What do they have in common? Well, what they have in common is that they are variously in Ferreira’s thoughts, and sharing thoughts is something people do, fulfilling a primal human need for keeping in touch, even virtual touch, with other humans.

The magical, exciting, calming, life-affirming charge of human contact. Sociologist Elizabeth Pullen has made a study of Twitter’s attractions. The main one, she says, is community, and especially communal experience.

The most popular events are live events that are televised, that people are watching Miss America or the Oscars or European soccer, football games and tweeting about live events while they’re happening. And that’s just kind of interesting to me – that people want to share the moment.

So that’s kind of a communal experience shared online that I don’t think the people at Twitter ever anticipated.

But data mining is like any other. The deeper you dig, the more value you bring to the service, and that value is enormous.

10,000 Joys and 10,000 Sorrows

And perhaps we have always known that old Buddhist saying to be true, that there are 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows in the world, but nowhere is it more obvious than on Twitter. I once heard somewhere, probably from Pema Chodron, that the difference between you and that crazy person saying random things on the bus or on the street corner is that he/she’s saying it out loud. We are not that adept at controlling our thoughts either, we just know better not to blurt it out.

Touching the Void

Besides amplifying our inability to concentrate (sorry to paint such a bleak picture of our psyche), Twitter enables the ability to virtually touch. Reading this concept made me do a double take, because touching is something that no one’s really talked much about, though we all know how powerful the feel of a human touch can be.

Years ago when I worked on a project with Microsoft Research to explore ways that people communicate, it was something that we mulled over: how do we emulate touch in a virtual environment?

To Err… er… Share is Human

As the population of Social Media gurus outgrows world population, (although, there are rumors that they are being killed off by ninjas), as we are told to obey more rules and tips and tricks for SM (not to be confused with tips and tricks for… you know…), I wonder how often, and how much money we’ll have to pay, to be reminded that To Share is Human?

Humans can't fly, so they tweet instead.

Humans can’t fly like us, so they tweet instead.