In an attention economy, mindfulness is activism

I’m curious whether a lot of the people here are mindfulness practitioners or interested in mindfulness? I believe strongly that there is a lot of common values and overlap between mindfulness and the humane tech movement (read an article or watch a talk to hear more of my thoughts on this intersection).

I’m actually writing this message from a monastery where my wife and I are engaging in intensive practice, and I’ve been reflecting a bit about the work we do as technologists (i’m a design guy). So I’m curious - do you have a meditation practice? What’s your view of the intersection between time well spent and mindfulness, if you see any crossover at all? Is there a role for mindfulness to play in correcting our technological trajectory as a society?



Just anecdotally, I recall seeing mindfulness mentioned a number of times when skimming the “introduce yourself” thread. I have been interested in mindfulness meditation for a long time.

However, I worry that much of what is being promoted as “mindfulness” in pop culture nowadays is not true to its core purpose.

I read so many articles on mindfulness as a “productivity hack” or a solution to all our problems. To my understanding, this kind of practice is contrary to the very foundations of mindfulness. The basic idea is to practice without attachment to any goal, without seeking to gain anything.

Shunryu Suzuki writes in his excellent Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

As long as you think “I am doing this,” or “I have to do this,” or “I must attain something special,” you are actually not doing anything. When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to gain anything special, then you do something. When there is no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something. In zazen what you are doing is not for the sake of anything. You may feel as if you are doing something special, but actually it is only the expression of your true nature; it is the activity which appeases your inmost desire. But as long as you think you are practicing for the sake of something, that is not true practice.

I worry that this aspect of meditation is lost on so many Western audiences encountering mindfulness for the first time. It is not a tool to accomplish any specific task with, such as breaking ourselves of compulsive tech use.

What is referred to as mindfulness in most modern contexts might just as well be called “concentration practice”. In this case, we would do just as well to train our concentration on memorizing poetry, or doing math problems, or untying really tangled knots in our shoelaces. All these are worthwhile pursuits, and perhaps concentration/attention practice is just exactly what we need to work on. But for me, mindfulness hints at something just a step further than basic concentration, at a general spirit that cannot really be harnessed to apply to one problem or another as we see fit. I would hate to see that spirit lost because we misuse the word in reference to practices which do not fully live up to its original meaning.

The most famous “applied meditation” program is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Notice the cleverness of the name, which addresses the exact problem I am talking about: it is
not mindfulness, but mindfulness-based. The activities in the stress reductions have their basis in mindfulness, they are inspired by mindfulness, but the program is not touted as having actual mindfulness meditation at its core. Great! Kabat-Zinn acknowledges that certain principles of mindfulness (self-awareness, discipline, etc.) are being adapted to a new program, which is not quite mindfulness itself. He doesn’t call it, “7 ways mindfulness can help you make more money at work”, or “mindfulness can give you superpowers”. It’s mindfulness-based. Any program dealing with compulsive tech use that has meditation as a starting point needs to keep this in mind.

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I have practiced meditation for the past 12 years, more recently in line with the Thai Forest Tradition—aka the teachings of Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

For my part, I meditate whenever I can: if I’m in the subway, I start playing a dharma talk on iTunes and I focus on where my body as-felt-from-within feels good as I’m on the subway. I also do my best to meditate from home once a day, anywhere between 10 to 40 minutes.

I think there are limits on what mindfulness can do for tech. For one thing, the meditation master Luang Pu Dune defined suffering as ‘the mind flowing out to its objects’—and what is design but enticing people’s minds to flow out onto a web page and navigate it? Of course, we can use the enhanced sensitivity that comes with a meditation practice to be alert to seductive design cues and advise against their use.

That said, there is goodness in the work we are doing to reduce the addictiveness of technology. One thing I’ve been taught is that mindfulness and generosity are not distinct things: indeed, without generosity, meditation is rather pathetic—because you give yourself qualities of mind, you give yourself time to practice, and you give yourself permission to open doors you never even dreamed existed. In our giving time to others to lead more fulfilling lives, that goodness is not wasted. We should remain… mindful of that.

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This article contains a bunch of nice tips and tricks to make your tech more mindful… its really all TWS stuff :slight_smile: