7 ways to use the internet to reduce suffering.

Via on Jul 20, 2010

Applying Eastern Wisdom to Modern Tech.  Lessons from Wisdom 2.0 Summit.


Wisdom 2
1. Practice being present in person
2. Practice being present online
3. Build Relationships
4.Enforce accountability
5. Raise money and spread petitions
6. Organize information & Study
7. Coordinate Actions & Meetings

1. Practice being present in person

New technology only recontextualizes the same challenges that we have always faced.  The original message of Buddhism still applies: Don’t get too attached.  Don’t get distracted.  Stay present.  Having a new shiny toy is no excuse to not be fully present to the person in front of you.

@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:
In the panel Managing the Stream: Living Consciously and Effectively in a Connected World, Roshi Joan Halifax stressed that the quality of presence emphasized in Zen is based on physical proximity.  While she loves social media and would feel impoverished without it, she said that you are fooling ourselves if you think you could play with your i-phone and look someone in the eye at the same time.  Only a Buddha could simultaneously perceive the relative and the absolute.  While celebrating these technologies, Roshi Joan was sure to keep their shadow side on the table for discussion.

2. Practice being present online

A major message that conference organizer Soren Gordhamer stresses in his book and articles is that when you are talking to someone, talk to them and when you are tweeting tweet.

@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:
While spiritual publisher Sounds True founder and owner Tami Simon affirmed that face-to-face interactions were more important than virtual ones, Soren confirmed that her heartfelt e-mails have warmed him.

Clinical neuroscientist Philippe Goldin, Ph.D. shared research that demonstrates the mental health benefits of mindfulness practice while Linda Stone explained a study that demonstrated that people who do breathing practices such as athletes, performers or meditators are less likely to exhibit “e-mail apnea”, the typical shortness of breath and quickening of heart-rate that happens when while we read e-mails.

Ben Parr, co-editor of Mashable Social Media Guide put it simply: social media has always been about people and connections between them.  If you get too wrapped up in the tools, then you are a tool.

3. Build Relationships

Online networks allow us to develop connections between people within our affinity groups.  These connections compliment face-to-face relations, build community and support action.

@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:
At the conference, I got to meet people in person with whom I had previously only interacted online, such as fellow Socially Engaged Buddhists, Maia Duerr and Roshi Joan Halifax.  Through Facebook, blogs and e-mail, we were able to get to know each other and support each other’s work before meeting in person.

Bob Debbas, of the weeklyinterview.com, explained that people facing repressive regimes cannot necessarily tweet to report shootings because doing so would compromise their location and make them targets of persecution.  However, if they are connected through a trust network, they can send a Direct Message to a trusted outsider, who can in turn retweet it to a larger audience.

4. Enforce accountability

Because new media allows individuals to become the media like never before, we can find a wide audience for comments or critiques holding others accountable.

@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:

newsletter

Executives and managers from Google, Twitter and Zappos expressed a vision of business based on happiness and world peace as opposed to just greed and profit. For example, Gopi Kallayil, Group Product Marketing Manager at Google, said that Google is a source of light and joy and not just technology and profits.  He teaches a weekly yoga class at Google and his staff awarded him a prize for working to bring out the best in them. Meng Tan is Head of Google University’s School of Personal Growth, where among other activities he oversees and teaches the mindfulness-based program.   His greatest aim is to create world peace by ending global poverty and spreading enlightenment.  Natalie Villalobos, Community Manager at Google, announced an initiative within the company to work with indigenous communities to preserve their culture. Instead of delivering advance copies to journalists, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gave to conference attendees copies of his new book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, which will be released this summer.

After Hsieh’s talk, Katie Loncke asked about the working conditions of the people who manufacture the technology we use, putting the question not only to him but to the whole conference. Chris Sacca, who was interviewing Hsieh, changed Katie’s question to ask about the exploited kids who make some of the shoes that Zappos sells.  Hsieh thought about the question and responded that even if Zappos were to complain to Nike, Zappos doesn’t represent a large enough portion of Nike’s sales to make a difference.  An example of another approach to selling shoes came up in the presentation of Bill Tolany from Whole Foods.  Tom’s Shoes, who gives a pair of shoes to a child in need every time a customer buys one of their shoes, has a blog on Whole Foods’ page.

Social enterprise means reflecting critically on every stage of the production cycle. It sounds great that Google’s ethos says ‘don’t do evil’ and that Twitter’s #1 rule is to ‘do good’, but how do we judge whether a company’s decisions reflect our values? CSRwire does a great job of sharing information about the impact of businesses on communities and the environment.  With social media, we have the opportunity to read, comment and blog about how corporations are doing and to align our purchasing decisions accordingly.

5. Raise money and spread petitions

The most common way that we hear about social media being used for social change is from the money raised through tweets and text messages for causes such as Haiti.  Through an online petition, Jamie Oliver’s food revolution has won over 500,000 signatures in support of better lunches in children’s schools.

@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:
Chris Sacca, venture investor and advisor to several companies, including Twitter, stated that over a dozen clean water wells were built through his tweets alone through charity:water, which was supported by an online event called Twestival.  Greg Pass, Chief Technology Officer of Twitter said that charity:water is so effective because of the authenticity of the platform.  People trust it because it feels natural.

6. Organize information & Study

As I reported in April, online teaching events and study are becoming more common in the dharma world every day.  One Socially Engaged Buddhist using his blog to educate people about sustainability and guide them through No Impact Weeks is Colin Beavan.

@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:
Mary Ann Brusat is the Co-Director with her husband Frederic of Spirituality & Practice, a multifaith website with a database of 9,000 book, audio, and film reviews and E-Courses that reach seekers around the world who discuss applying their spirituality to everyday life in online Practice Circles.  At the conference, she spoke about the risk with the salad bowl approach of picking elements of various traditions is that people may leave out the bitter greens.  Mary Ann would like to promote activism based on spirituality through E-Courses.

7. Coordinate Actions & Meetings

As demonstrated by the Obama Campaign and meetup.com, online media could be used to coordinate effective real life political actions and meetings.  Donating money and signing petitions is great, but bearing witness and taking action is essential.  While online tools can coordinate real life actions, alternatively, people taking action could use social media to share their activities with a broader audience and invite others to join.  When Fleet Maul recently went on the first Rwanda Bearing Witness retreat, he blogged (free account required to view) about the experience in real time.  Sharing the activities of the Montague Farm Zen House is one of my intentions with the Bearing Witness Blog.

@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:
At an unconference meeting on social justice online, Christine Egger explained socialactions.com, a website she helped found that makes it easier for people to find and share opportunities to make a difference.  They currently connect over 20,000 people and actions per month.  Christine is concerned with further designing communication tools that develop collective consciousness and social change.

About Ari Setsudo Pliskin

Ari Setsudo Pliskin is Zen Yogi who works to actualize the interconnectedness of life online and on the streets. While once addicted to school, Ari has balanced his geekiness with spiritual practice and time spent on society’s margins. As a staff member of the Zen Peacemakers, Ari assisted Zen Master Bernie Glassman in his teaching around the world. Ari studies Zen at the Green River Zen Center in Greenfield, MA and is an Iyengar-style yoga teacher. Ari loves comic books as well. Ari currently serves as the Executive Director of the Stone Soup Café . Connect with Ari on Facebook or Twitter: @AriPliskin.

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10 Responses to “7 ways to use the internet to reduce suffering.”

  1. I'd love to know how much time Roshi Halifax, for whom I have much respect, has spent on twitter, for example. Your quote:

    "@Wisdom 2.0 Conference:
    In the panel Managing the Stream: Living Consciously and Effectively in a Connected World, Roshi Joan Halifax stressed that the quality of presence emphasized in Zen is based on physical proximity. While she loves social media and would feel impoverished without it, she said that you are fooling ourselves if you think you could play with your i-phone and look someone in the eye at the same time. Only a Buddha could simultaneously perceive the relative and the absolute. While celebrating these technologies, Roshi Joan was sure to keep their shadow side on the table for discussion."

    I've made some of my closest (literally) connections with folks I haven't met. We help one another spread the Dharma (truth) on a daily basis–about petitions, news, whatev—and then, when we meet, finally, it's like we've known each other physically all along.

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