Elephantjournal Has a New Look; But Is It Mindful?

Via on Oct 14, 2009

Elephant tabs

Full disclosure: this post was not my idea originally, it was my wife’s, you know, the poetical, lovely Joana Smith. Well, the post part wasn’t really her idea, but the topic is all her. Admittedly, this may be something I’m not as sensitive to as her. Basically she complains loudly pretty much every time she sees the new elephant site. Her problem is that she can’t bring herself to post her lovely, sweet little posts on a site where the top row of tabs include $$$ and  SEXXXY, and where the all-time most popular posts include Naked Yoga, Now That’s Hot Yoga and NSFW Is Tantra All About Sex? XXX. (Believe me, I understand the irony of linking these here…)

“Is this some kind of smut rag?!” Joana howls. “Are we trying to be the green, mindful blog for frat boys?!”

To be fair, if you actually click on these links, you won’t find smut, you won’t find “greed is good” ideology, even the NSFW stuff would be safe for television commercials in Europe. But I think the worry is worth our while. After all, elephantjournal has been doing some fairly open and public soul searching. What is elephant about anyway? Sure, in the immortal words of Trekkie Monster, “The internet is for porn.” But shouldn’t we, mindful people, try to create an oasis free of all that? Shouldn’t elephant aspire for more, for a renewal of faith, respect, interpersonal communication, and peace? Is that really compatible with wallowing in the worst of what the internet has to offer?

Waylon has often talked about wanting to do for sustainability, peace, and green what Jon Stewart has done for politics. I love Jon Stewart, but he’s a comedian who fills a good bit his airtime with the usual potty humor, jokes about masturbation, etc. Is that where elephant is going? If so, would it be wrong?

What is mindfulness all about anyway? Isn’t it about recognizing feeling as feeling, emotion as emotion, perception as perception. If this stuff is all out there to be seen, and these emotions are to be felt, then it wouldn’t be mindful to stick our heads in the sand. When the Karmapa talks about video games as a way to relieve stress and as a “skillful method” or “skillful means” is there an analogy to be made here?

And elephant is supposed to fun, right? So if we get all puritanical aren’t we going to kill the thing before it even has a chance to get going?

But when we make this a pretty visible part of the site, are we part of the cure or are we part of the disease? You tell me.

About Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is a philosophy professor at Houston Community College - Northwest. He's a father of two and husband to fellow elephant columnist, Joana Smith. As a philosopher, he specializes in Descartes, the philosophy of mind, and phenomenology. He's interested in all kinds of things, but he blogs primarily about politics, spirituality, and good, green living. Follow him on twitter @smithnd. And share your thoughts in the comments; he doesn't bite.

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15 Responses to “Elephantjournal Has a New Look; But Is It Mindful?”

  1. I like the new tabs, simply from a web design standpoint. It makes it much easier to find what you're looking for on a site that can otherwise be quite confusing to a new reader.

    As for the content. Sure, anything goes. That's refreshing, and I would drop the lame attempt to aggrandize it as some sort of virtuous "mindfulness", except in the sense that it's what's on your minds. You're doing it because it's good for business (= it's interesting to your readers), just like everyone else.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  2. As I said to Joana in response to her email, "money {$$$ tab links to our posts re:} conscious consumerism. "sexxy" is fun, just click the links. It's all mindful, love and sex and relationships are part of that, mindfulness ain't always boring (though fine if it is)."

    Basically, we can't conveniently fit "conscious consumerism" on the one tab, so I put $$$. I don't see money as inherently a problem, good or bad. It's a tool. We're not about materialism, certainly, and I understand Joana sees "$$$" that way. But if any of those links are clicked on, I'm confident she (and our 80,000 monthly readers as of time of writing) will find thoughtful posts that reflect our continued mission of, among other things, writing re "concscious consumerism." Initially, I'd asked our webby to put "con$ciou$ con$umeri$m", but then thought that was not only too long, but a bit tacky.

    As for "sexxxy," I understand the concern. That said, those posts bring us traffic—which benefits all of our less clicked upon content, and helps keep elephant alive, magnetizing advertising support and may, eventually, pay my mortgage. And more importantly, those posts themselves I hope reflect a sense of humor and thoughtfulness that is in keeping with their subject. I was particularly "proud" of the recent Richard Branson Naked post. While featuring nudity (that appeared in mainstream publications all over the world) at the verrrrry bottom, 90% of the post, and all of the content above the nudity, was re The Elders. A most worthy subject. Our approach: reel the masses in with something they think they care about, then hit 'em over the head with a little mindfulness, humor, and worthy content. That's essentially what Jon Stewart does, and as you mention, he's a great example of bringing integrity to the mainstream, and someone we hope in some small degree to emulate.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. JoanaSmith says:

    men,
    I don't think that I'm puritanical (I listen to the Velvet Underground!) But I think women have more of a gut reaction to SeXXXy than men. All I know is what I see. Just take a tour through our world and look at what usually carries the label XXX: big concrete parking lots, sex districts, prostitutes, disease, did you see "Boogie Nights?". Great film, people looking to fill a void, and it was sad. I said to Waylon in my email, "Green" is about love's recovery from the way we've trashed it. See, I love to think about beauty, sex, pleasure…I think it's important not to leave out the carnal, these things make us free! But don't set elephant journal in the parking lot by the side of highway, or I guarantee, you'll alienate a great portion of the gentle people who make up green nation just based upon their gut reaction. Appearance makes an difference.

    Here are the pew demographics on who Green nation is: 48% women, 45% men.

    http://lamarguerite.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/tryi

  4. JoanaSmith says:

    about the other tabs…(I realized I only addressed XXX). I just think there are more creative ways than $$$. Way, I'm sorry you had to strike conscious consumerism because of space, it was clever and much better articulated what you mean. And I don't know why you don't take up "The Mindful Way" for your own stuff…when I first came to this site that's what i naturally assumed it was for.

    I asked one of my girlfriends her opinion on the site…she's a really young, green, philosophy prof., but she only comes to elephant for my posts. Upon looking she told me it was so busy that she couldn't make out what the main stories were because too many words made it too distracting. …I realize you want to pay your mortgage, but more does not necessarily mean more, ex: all u can eat.

  5. JoanaSmith says:

    men,
    I don't think that I'm puritanical (I listen to the Velvet Underground!) But I think women have more of a gut reaction to SeXXXy than men. All I know is what I see; just take a tour through our world and look at what usually carries the label XXX: big concrete parking lots in front of sex shops by the side of the highway, sex districts, prostitutes, disease, did you see "Boogie Nights?". Great film, people looking to fill a void, and it was sad. I said to Waylon in my email, "Green" is about love's recovery from the way we've trashed it. See, I love to think about beauty, sex, pleasure…I think it's important not to leave out the carnal, these things make us free! But don't set elephant journal in the parking lot by the side of highway, or I guarantee, you'll alienate a great portion of the gentle people who make up green nation just based upon their gut reaction. Appearance makes a difference.

    Here are the pew demographics on who Green nation is: 48% women, 45% men.

    <a href="http://lamarguerite.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/tryi…” target=”_blank”>http://lamarguerite.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/tryi

  6. JoanaSmith says:

    Hey guys~ Dalia and I were talking this morning and we were both kind of feeling bad. We want to see elephant succeed, I feel really invested in this venture, and perhaps I take it too personally sometimes. I guess the only problem is that my vision differs from that of the management, I do sometimes think that my gut reactions are good indicators of what other's gut reactions might be to certain things, but Way, as Nathan pointed out you do a good job of giving us mindful info, even on those smutty-sounding* posts, the Branson one in particular. We like you. I'll be the painter in your pocket any day!

  7. JoanaSmith says:

    Hey guys~ Dalia and I were talking this morning and we were both kind of feeling bad. We want to see elephant succeed! I feel really invested in this venture, and perhaps I take it too personally sometimes. I guess the only problem is that my vision differs from that of the management, I do sometimes think that my gut reactions are good indicators of what other's gut reactions might be to certain things, but Way, as Nathan pointed out you do a good job of giving us mindful info, even on those smutty-sounding* posts, the Branson one in particular. We like you. I'll be the painter in your pocket any day!

  8. JoanaSmith says:

    Hey guys~ Dalia and I were talking this morning and we were both kind of feeling bad. We want to see elephant succeed! I feel really invested in this venture, and perhaps I take it too personally sometimes. I guess the only problem is that my vision differs from that of the management. I do sometimes think that my gut reactions are good indicators of what other's gut reactions might be to certain things, but Way, as Nathan pointed out you do a good job of giving us mindful info, even on those smutty-sounding* posts, the Branson one in particular. We like you. I'll be the painter in your pocket any day!

  9. JoanaSmith says:

    Hey guys~ Dalia and I were talking this morning and we were both kind of feeling bad. We want to see elephant succeed! I feel really invested in this venture, and perhaps I take it too personally sometimes. I guess the only problem is that my vision differs from that of the management. I do sometimes think that my gut reactions are good indicators of what other's gut reactions might be to certain things, but Way, as Nathan pointed out, you do a good job of giving us mindful info, even on those smutty-sounding* posts, the Branson one in particular. We like you. I'll be the painter in your pocket any day!

  10. ndsmith. Thanks for your response. I was sorry I used the word "lame" right after I clicked "send" (and I forgot this is one of the few sites where you can go back and edit you comments.) It gave my comment an unfriendly tone that I didn't intend at all.

    I don't know how much feedback you want on site design, but let me just say it's not the presence of ads themselves that's the problem with the site design. It's the difficulty of navigation, meaning easily finding what you're looking for in a sea of menus and links.

    Maybe this doesn't make any difference for an experience reader. But as a relatively new reader, I will just say it was quite confusing. Maybe I have a greater sensitivity to this because I used to own a web design and development company. For more, see Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think" http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Make-Me-Think-Usabilit

    Thanks again for kicking off this discussion. I hope it's obvious that we're all taking the time to comment because we love Elephant and appreciate what you guys are doing every day.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

    • Main problem: we don't have much dough for design. Give us some bucks, we'll make this site fly. For now, tabs is best we can do to make our content more accessible on a dime, I think.

      • I completely understand that. Given the perspective of limited funds, this site is nothing but excellent!

        The tabs really do help. I think the debate is all about the labels on the tabs, not the the tabs themselves. And my vote goes for whatever brings in the readers. I don't think those who already enjoy Elephant Journal are going to be turning away because of a little $$$ and SEXXXY. If it takes a little pzazzz to increase readership, why not?

        Bob Weisenberg
        YogaDemystified.com

  11. First off, I love Elephant as well, and completely understand the need for ads in a modern world; I think it was such a huge leap that Waylon took by going paper-less, so I have to publicly applaud that decision. Graphic Design is a lot like artwork, and I can personally attest to the fact that everyone sees it slightly differently. But, I have to log in with the ladies on not being too crazy about the new tabs. I always loved how elegant, even sexxxy, Elephant Journal Online was, and I'm not sure the tabs are completely in line with the brand Elephant has developed. The beautiful thing about web design is that you can always make improvements as the designer's theory becomes reality and more people experience it's intended usage. I imagine the tab design and new site will continue to morph into something bigger and better as well.

    But, my real question is, How come you can fit "non new-agey spirituality" but not "conscious consumerism"? :-)

    Rachel Znerold
    Artist, Designer
    http://www.rachelzart.com

  12. [...] association for a person teaching yoga. When you create any sort of content or correspondence with design components, be aware that this is part of your brand. Choose your words, type/font, color story and widgets [...]

  13. We've changed Sexxxy, which is more pornographic and less humorous than intended, to Sexxy. At least it's not XXX anymore, good call!

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