Digital Sabbaths and Electronic Buddhism

Nathania Silahi, YGI Staff Writer

A Buddhist saying states that “just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life”. Since the ancient times, humans have always been intrigued by the mysteries and wonders of the Earth and the universal concepts of individual ‘purpose’ or ‘significance’. Yet sociologist Max Weber once described modernity – with its increasing rationalization and intellectualization of observations through science and technology –  as the “progressive disenchantment of the world”.

People often take one glance at statistics of declining religious activity vs. increasing use of technology and agree that there must be a direct causal relationship between the two. Yet lots of different acts have data patterns that seem to correlate! For example, did you know that the per capita consumption of cheese in the U.S closely correlates with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets from 2000-2009? Going back to the original point, even though technology most likely has affected the religious aspect of our communities, we shouldn’t accept this cause and effect relationship as is and let it degrade the spirituality of our society.

The adjective ‘spiritual’ refers to things “relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things” whilst being religious deals with faith in a divine entity or being part of a religious group with certain beliefs and interpretations of the world. Although not everyone maintains religious beliefs, everyone has experienced moments of spirituality or togetherness of humanity through seeing the pain and tragedy of the human condition or witnessing otherworldly acts of kindness or grace – be that in movies or real life. Yet our dependence on technology and constant need to stay updated on social media can be a hindrance to some of the deeper things in life.

According to Common Sense Media, a family technology education non-profit group, teens spend more than one-third of their days using media such as online video or music in addition to the popular social media apps like Twitter or Instagram. Over generations, the time we take for self-reflection and quiet thinking has decreased, affecting our creativity and sense of empathy in the long-term. The nature of fast-paced life due to the ever-presence of technology in our lives forces us to divide time into smaller and smaller fragments, raising our stress levels to the point where international levels of antidepressant drug consumption has increased considerably. Even the Guardian reports that 1 in 10 people in Iceland consume antidepressant drugs.

However, what we need to realise is that we can manipulate our spiritual experiences for personal benefit through the purposeful presence and absence of technology. Indian Mathematician Khurshed Batliwala says that “everybody feels that spirituality is too mystical and otherworldly to understand. However, spirituality is very scientific. If you practice certain rules and rituals in a particular sequence, they yield particular results, just like a scientific experiment. So, it is repeatable, universal and it gives the same result”.

We need to take time to embrace technology. The novelist Alan Harrington discusses how technology is an important medium through which we can hide depressing concepts such as mortality in contemporary life. “The disco has become an electric art form,” Harrington says, “We loosen our anxieties with the help of enormous guitars in a temple of fragmentation… (Discos) smash the separateness of everyone present.. to expose feeling and breakthrough thinking; to make us live, in the phrase of Alan Watts, ‘a perpetual uncalculated life in the present’… all this too amounts to one more attempt to hide from the end; a sort of electronic Buddhism in place of sequential perception.” Discos and parties with surround sound speakers and high-tech lighting leads to an irreplaceable sense of hype and togetherness – a form of spirituality in itself that is essential to human experience. Conclusion: work hard, play hard?
But we need to take time for some digital detoxification; we need to engage in the occasional digital Sabbath. Technology can distract us from productivity, create a stress-inducing expectation to always be on-duty and make us feel like we’re missing out on life when we look at other people’s Snapchat stories. We need to take weekly digital Sabbaths or daily mini-Sabbaths to stop this sameness and engage different parts of our brains instead to rejuvenate our mind and spirit. Try disconnecting from social media, emails etc. from Friday evening until Sunday lunch. Otherwise, try not using your phone for half an hour before bed and half an hour after you wake up. Focus on uninterrupted family time, reading time, working-out time, outside-in-nature time and complete silence time. Technology can have more positives than negatives in our social and spiritual lives if we make it so.

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