social media

3 New Ways to Engage In Mindfulness

First published Psychology Today, March 29, 2016

Mindfulness is a meditation practice that is easy to learn and can be used anywhere. It is about maintaining "a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment."1 We’re hearing more and more about the ways the science behind mindfulness is being applied to healthcare, education, the criminal justice system, and more. One area where the science behind mindfulness hasn’t received as much attention is media and computing. Mindfulness is a word associated with peace and tranquility—it’s downright paradoxical to mention it beside words like media and computing—words strongly associated with mental activity and stress.

To get behind this paradox we intuit that we might be asked to set our smartphone aside for a period of time, or worse yet, turn it off altogether. Right away that thought makes some of us sweat. These technologies tell us the time, the weather, and the news. We use them to keep up with our schedules, our friends, and our investments—to track our activity, map our destinations, and answer our questions. They serve as portable concert halls, movie theaters, and gaming arcades. It’s no wonder we’re reluctant to allow terms like mindful media, mindful computing, and mindful technology to take up residence in our lives—much less the collective consciousness.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: What exactly do we mean by these terms? Can anything that’s so distracting be used to quiet the mind, or enhance a mindfulness practice? Does applying mindfulness to our digital lives mean turning off your television and smartphone? To answer questions we must bring our conscious attention to the way we’re using these technologies: are they facilitating our wellbeing or detracting from it?  Here's a quick summary of the way I see this powerful intersection:

  • Mindful media: Bringing the science of mindfulness to our media habits means paying attention to the impact media has on our bodies. Noticing what we're sensing and feeling while viewing a particular program. To do this, we need to watch ourselves watching the show. How are we breathing? What are we feeling?  Although mindfulness does not involve passing judgement on our thoughts or feelings, this practice may lead us to question the impact of media on our overall wellbeing. Leading us to ask ourselves a few essential question: Does our media intake support healthy psychological states? Are we using it to cover up feelings of loneliness, sorrow, or depression? Do the shows we watch anchor us to our past or inspire us to live in the present moment? Have we ever considered the ways we might use media as a tool to empower and uplift ourselves? If not, we're missing out on a powerful tool for self-improvement. If this idea is new for you, try reading one of the books written by positive psychologists, Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding, that show us how we can use films to build character strengths and virtues.2
  • Mindful computing/technology: Web surfing takes us on a ride, but sometimes it's more like being towed under a wave of mindlessness. Applying mindfulness to computing means paying attention to our thoughts and feelings as we engage with digital technologies. Is your breathing pattern short and rapid, or deep and relaxed? Researchers at Stanford University’s Calming Technology Lab have begun exploring breathing patterns in relationship to human-computer interactions, and the development of digital technologies that promote states of calm.3 We'll be hearing more about this area in the coming years. Author and consultant, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang suggests we can learn to use information technologies in ways that protect us from being perpetually distracted.4 Right now, one way we can engage in mindful, or contemplative computing is through noticing the type of interactions we have online. Mindful computing can include embodying the Cyberhero archetype through engaging in digital altruism, e-philanthropy, and digital activism--all activities that require us to be consciously aware of what we're doing, thinking, and feeling.5  Just as there are films that support our wellbeing, so too are there are Apps that support relaxation, meditation, and lucid dreaming. Which brings us to the very thing that makes our pulse race . . .

    Source: Unknown 

  • Mindful disconnect: If sleeping is the only time we're disconnected from electronic stimuli, we're shortchanging our senses. Undoubtedly, information technology enhances our lives in many ways, but the technology that delivers it can also dull our senses. The biological impact of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) on the body remains the subject of ongoing research.6 As an energy field in its own right, the human body deserves the chance to give us its own feedback—feedback we can only access if we slow down and tune in. Plus, there are other benefits, including consciously focusing our attention on our loved ones. How do we pause long enough to restore and revive our five senses and go back to our everyday lives consciously? This summer, I’m excited to be involved in the “Mindful Unplug Experience” a first-of-its-kind retreat workshop at the Feathered Pipe Ranch under Montana’s Big Sky.7 The Mindful Unplug is designed to equip participants with the ability to bring a new sense of consciousness to their lives and help them “return to the world of noise and technology grounded, conscious, and well equipped for a commitment to sustaining our own health, and an inspiration toward applying our heart and our intelligence for the common good.” The Ranch is one of the oldest centers for conscious living in the country and we’ll be rebooting back to a healthier relationship to technology in a relaxed, leisurely, nature-drenched setting. Some of the areas we’ll be exploring include:
    • Learning how to bring mindfulness and compassion into daily life.
    • Learning how to apply the science of mindfulness to our use of media and digital technologies.
    • Engaging in yoga, mindful movement and other somatic practices

The science of mindfulness has touched so many areas of our lives: it's time to consider applying it to our interactions with media and computing. 

1. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition

2. Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding (2008). Positive Psychology At The Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths, Hogrefe Publishing.

Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding (2013). Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Virtues and Character Strengths 2nd Edition,  Hogrefe Publishing. 

3. http://calmingtechnology.org/lab

4. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang(2013). The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul

5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/digital-altruism/201207/introducing...

6. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html

7. http://featheredpipe.com/feathered_retreats/mindful-unplug-1-1/

Media Saturation & Your Health

"Mindfulness and moderation are keys to healthy living in a media saturated world" Published on August 14, 2013 by Dana Klisanin, Ph.D. in Digital Altruism

 

Now more than ever our lives are saturated with media—from email to Twitter, Facebook to Instagram, Linked-in to Netflix—television, video games, instant messaging, and web-surfing. Even our youngest children are busy swiping their way across e-readers, i-Pads, and tablets. Through our willingness to adopt these technologies, we are willingly engaging in one of the largest experiments in our evolutionary history—an experiment with biological, social, and ethical impacts.

At the recent Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, (APA), I met with colleagues in the Society for Media Psychology and Technology (Division 46)— to review current research and scholarship in this burgeoning specialization. For readers unfamiliar with this area, media psychology includes research and applications dealing with all forms of media technologies:

Traditional and mass media, such as radio, television, film, video, newsprint, magazines, music, and art as well as new and emerging technologies and applications, such as social media, mobile media, interface design, educational technologies, interactive media technologies, and augmented, virtual and blended environments.

Two important “take aways” from the meeting include:

  • Expect a continuing escalation of media saturation. The launch of the Google Glass in December is expected to usher in the “era of augmented reality.” You might have already seen or purchased children’s books with this technology. If not, here’s a sample. Expectations are that Google Glass will be replaced by augmented reality “contact lenses”. 
  • While we continue to conduct and compile research on the impacts of various forms of media and interactive technologies on both adults and children (including television, video games, smart phone use, augmented reality, etc.) across a variety of dimensions (biological, emotional, social, ethical, etc.) results are inconclusive. Expect the situation to remain this way for some time—scientific studies must be replicated and longitudinal studies take time.

Instead of waiting for scientists to provide definitive answers to the impact of media and interactive technologies on your health, I recommend taking a holistic approach by practicing mindfulness and the tried and true virtue of moderation. Mindfulness involves bringing conscious awareness to your media use habits. For example, when someone is talking to you don’t let “apps” come between you, especially where children are concerned. These are “monkey see monkey do” moments—give your children, and other family members and friends your full attention and expect them to do the same.  To mitigate potentially harmful biological effects from electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) and radiofrequency radiation (RFR) don’t sleep near your smart phone and/or computers.

Mindfulness also involves an awareness of the restorative power of the natural world. For millions of years humanity has evolved and flourished through being immersed in nature. Nature’s textures, colors, sights, and sounds, are familiar to us. They have a calming influence—color science shows that shades of green and blue are the best hues for living rooms and bedrooms because they induce a state of relaxation. The science behind colors is used in marketing (here’s a good post by Leo Widrich on the topic). One experiment at Stanford’s Calming Technology Labinvolved covering a desktop with organic grass (living lawn grass) to test its potential as a stress reducer. You can use color science and balance your interactions with technology by making time to go outside, spending time in your backyard, or a local park—sitting in the green grass, and gazing at the blue sky.

A healthy life—one in which you, your loved ones, and members of your community, are flourishing, involves being mindful across a wide range of human activities. We need to eat organic food whenever possible, engage in a regular program of exercise, and practice relaxation and meditation techniques daily. We need to share intimate moments with family and friends—moments in which we shake hands and share hugs. All of these activities reduce negative stress and support wellbeing.  We can make use of apps and programs designed specifically to help us monitor our respiration, heart rates, and achieve a state of self-regulationand calm (for example, b-Life and GPS for the Soul). 

In the grand scheme of things, media technologies are new (television wasn’t found in most US homes until the mid-1950’s and video games weren’t widely played until the 1990’s). The American Psychological Association’s, Society for Media Psychology & Technology wasn’t even founded until the 1980’s. Longitudinal research takes time and research must be replicated – until further notice – say, fifty or a hundred years hence—the best approach to healthy interactions with media and media technologies is a conscious approach involving mindfulness and moderation.

 

Introducing the Cyberhero Archetype

“Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe."                                                                                                                            Alan Watts

If you’ve turned on the radio, watched television, gone to the movies, or visited Facebook, chances are you’ve seen or heard someone talking about cyber-crime, cyberbullies, and maybe even the threat of cyber-war.  With all this talk of negativity and the Net, you might have drawn the conclusion that nothing good is going on in cyberspace. No one could blame you for drawing this conclusion, but fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In recent research exploring the positive use of the Internet, I found that well over 100 million individuals are engaging in online activities with the intention of helping other people, animals, and the environment. 1 Many of these individuals are engaging in daily acts of digital goodness—acts of digital altruism and digital activism. The most committed among them represent a new form of the hero archetype: the cyberhero.

The cyberhero archetype brings together some of the best qualities and characteristics of heroes (benefiting others and acting selflessly) with some of the most interesting abilities of superheroes (dual-persona, shape-shifting, bi-location, and speed)—all with the intention of using the Internet and digital technologies in the peaceful service of achieving humanity’s highest ideals and aspirations; i.e., world peace, social justice, environmental protection and planetary stewardship.

Does this sound like sci-fi? Stranger than sci-fi? To explore the theory of the emergence of the cyberhero archetype, I designed a questionnaire and launched it online. As it turns out, the proof of their existence is compelling:

  • 84 percent of respondents said they are consciously using the Internet to promote peace in the world.
  • 74 percent of respondents feel a sense of unity with all the other people who are engaging in various forms of digital goodness (e.g., clicking –to-donate or signing on-line petitions).
  • 76 percent believe that simple actions such as click-to-donate can have a significant impact when a lot of people click each day.
  • 83 percent feel that the Internet enables them to help others more than they could without it.
  • 93 percent either “agree” or “strongly agree” that their life is interconnected with all the life forms on our planet
  • 93 percent enjoy acting on behalf of people in need regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender
  • 86 percent use the Internet to act on behalf of more than one cause or charity
  • 85 percent think the needs of other people are as important as their own needs

These responses suggest individuals who have a  “transpersonal” sense of identity—a “sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche, and cosmos.”2 Clearly, in their hands, technology is something filled with creativity, something capable of promoting “peace in the world.” 

Currently, Internet activism and various forms of digital altruism are referred to with the pejorative terms, “slacktivisim” and “slacktivist”. These words suggest that people who support a cause by performing simple online actions are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change. These terms confuse “ease of action” with “importance of action,” diminishing the latter and the individual with it. The term “slacktivist” is yet another example of the ways we are focusing on the negative aspects of technology at the expense of its positive aspects. Rather than celebrating engagement in the world, “slacktivist” undermines human motivation,  belittling endeavors that depend upon Internet technology and mass participation (e.g., World Community Grid , Foldit) and the achievements made possible through it.

Slacktivist would be better used in referring to individuals who use technology everyday, but make no effort to send an inspiring message, click-to-donate on behalf of a hungry child, donate their unused computing time to efforts like the World Community Grid, or sign a petition on behalf of a cause they care about.  Individuals who think these actions don’t matter aren’t doing their homework. Rather than straying into the controversial Kony campaign, which is an excellent example of cyberheroing activity, let’s take a look at a recent effort led by Julia Bluhm.

Julia is a teenager who created an online petition at Change.org asking Seventeen Magazine to commit to printing one unaltered “real” photo spread per month. In the petition, Julia explained that she wanted to “see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that’s supposed to be for me.” Her concern was the photoshopped, airbrushed, images of models were leading “some girls try to “fix” themselves. . . . lead[ing] to eating disorders, dieting, depression, and low self esteem.” 3

 After over 84,000 people signed her petition, Julia delivered it to the executive editor of Seventeen magazine who not only agreed to Julia’s request, she went a giant step beyond it; committing not to alter the body size or face shape of the girls and models in the magazine and to feature a diverse range of beauty in its pages.  Julia's message to all her supporters: 

"Seventeen listened! They're saying they won't use photoshop to digitally alter their models! This is a huge victory, and I'm so unbelievably happy. Another petition is being started by SPARK activists Emma and Carina, targeting Teen Vogue and I will sign it. If we can be heard by one magazine, we can do it with another. We are sparking a change!"

Julia and the 84,530 individuals who signed her petition have done more than spark a change, they have used technology to co-create a better world, for themselves and those that come after them. Each and every one of the 84,530 signers is part of this victory. By signing the petition, they spoke up behalf of girls everywhere. Their actions have implications that may well include the prevention new cases of bulimia, anorexia, depression, and death. Only by recognizing the myriad ways that human beings are interconnected with each other and the natural world can we begin to see the ripples of our actions as the waves of change they truly are. Valuing our voices and raising them in whatever way we can to improve the world is a noble pursuit. These girls and millions of other individuals using the Internet as a tool of action are more than slacktivists, they are young leaders who may well have saved someone’s life. As such they deserve a more descriptive designation, an empowering, uplifting, designation. They are cyberheroes.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

                                                                                  H.H. Dalai Lama XIV

While we have been quick to language the negative uses of digital technologies, it isn’t too late to begin recognizing kindness on the Web and calling it for what it is—especially since the majority of American teens and adults say they are experiencing more kindness than cruelty online. In the study conducted by the Pew Internet and Digital Life project, researchers found that “Most American teens who use social media say that in their experience, people their age are mostly kind to one another on social network sites. Overall, 69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say that peers are mostly unkind, while 11% volunteered that “it depends.” At the same time, in a similar question asked of adults 18 and older, 85% of social media-using adults reported that people are mostly kind to one another on social network sites, while just 5% felt that people are mostly unkind.”4

Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, suggests that compassion can be nurtured and reminds us that "human communities are only as healthy as our conceptions of human nature."5 Through using words that convey the human motivations behind pro-social digital activism motivations such as altruism, caring, and compassion, we can nurture the healthy aspects of human nature and foster healthier societies—online and off. Lera Boroditsky, a psychologist at Stanford University, suggests that the way we language our thoughts plays a large role in the way we experience reality. According to Boroditsky, “A hallmark feature of human intelligence is its adaptability, the ability to invent and rearrange conceptions of the world to suit changing goals and environments.”6

Our information and communication technologies are arguably one of our greatest intellectual accomplishments; we cannot afford to language them such that we become their victims. If we don’t want to live in a world full of cybercrime, cyberbullies, cyberwar, and slactivists, then we must language the compassionate activity taking place online. By including digital goodness and the cyberhero in our lexicon, we expand more than the dictionary—we expand the moral domain. This opens up the human imagination, providing words with which our children might “invent and rearrange conceptions of the world to suit changing goals and environments”— with ways of thinking that include the possibility of using our digital technologies to collectively co-create a better, more equitable, peaceful world. 

1. Klisanin, D. (2012). The Hero and the Internet:Exploring the emergence of the cyberhero archetype. Media Psychology Review. (Online) 4-1.  

2.  Walsh, R. and Vaughan, F. (1993) Paths beyond ego: The transpersonal vision. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.

3.Change.org (2012). Seventeen Petition: Give Girls Images of Real Girls

4. Leehart, A., Madden, M. Smith, A., Purcell, K., Zickuhr, K., Rainie, L. (2011). Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. Pew Internet and Digital Life Project.

5. Keltner, D., in Kelter, D., Marsh, J., and Smith, J.A. (2010). The Compassionate Instinct. New York: W.W. Norton&Company, Inc., pp. 13-15.

6. Boroditsky, L., (2011) How language shapes thought. Scientific American, February, 63-65.

Note:

The cyberhero archetype represents an ideal form. Individuals who use the Internet solely to benefit their own “in-group” are not cyberheroes,  just as someone in the real world would not be considered a hero if he or she limited their activity to an in-group of their own (for example, those of a shared race or religion). The hero ideal, or archetype, has no regard for constructs that place boundaries on virtues or moral values, such as compassion, empathy, and loving-kindness. The cyberhero archetype embodies impartiality to the nth degree, being itself reliant on an interdependent, boundary-less Internet that favors no individual above another (ideally speaking).