March 2, 2014

Navigating the Internet With a Luddite Heart. ~ Ola Weber

Monk with iPad

Making sense of hipster geishas and tweeting monks.

It’s automatic: the morning light seeps in under my curtains, I rise and fetch my morning tea, grab my iPad and head back into my cozy nest. I check my accounts, respond to what I can and mentally note what’s expected of me out in cyberspace during the coming day.

Shortly after, I find myself on my yoga mat: breathing deeply, bending, stretching, greeting my world with mindfulness and grace—aware of the goose bumps on my uncovered flesh, the tightness in my calves from yesterday’s run, the distant grumbles of passing cars, the smell of my neighbors burnt toast and my hot blood surging through my veins as I complete my final savasana.

And then I shut off the video stream that has delivered my morning practice.

I flick on the live radio feed brought to me from halfway around the world, or peruse the BBC app on my iPad for updates on the Ukrainian crisis while I cook my steel-cut oats. If I’m missing home, I’ll hang out with my mom on Skype between bites of my morning meal. Maybe I’ll upload some photos to iCloud and use them in a  smartboard presentation in the classroom later that day.

Without the internet and the conveniences it provides, my life would be very different. I could go on and on listing the luxuries that are available to me today that would be unheard of even a decade ago. Despite this awareness, every day, every time I check my Facebook feed, email, Twitter or Instagram account, a surge of vehement protest rises within me.

I feel enslaved by my expected engagement with the online world. I resent being bound to social media in a way I can’t control.

I grapple with the idea of updating my status even though I feel it’s an imposition on my privacy, but yet have no problem sharing my deepest musings in personal, indulgent writing. I scoff at how texting, tweeting, statusing and instagraming often replaces authentic human connection, yet I am tickled pink when I receive an instant message from a friend living several time zones away.

And then I get really stressed out thinking about how I’m going to negotiate my romantic desire for a Luddite existence with the constant proliferation of social media, and how I have no choice but to surrender myself to the cyber gods in order to remain relevant, educated and even employable. I understand that we live in a world where social media is pervasive and universal, and that denying this reality can limit the degree in which I will participate in, and contribute to our evolving world.

Contemplating this paradox is enough for me to vow to relocate to the Siberian tundra and live off freshwater fish and roots and nuts and berries with my only companions being a tattered second-hand copy of Walden and a hand-me-down compass.

But of course I won’t. I’ll remain where I am and curb my whimsical dreams of an archaic life.

Inevitably, my presence in the interworld will grow and I’ll continue to contemplate the paradoxes of reality vs. fantasy, honesty vs. oversharing and privacy vs. encroachment. I’ll watch Alone in the Wilderness on my laptop as I ponder ways of creatively contributing to contemporary culture while keeping my feet rooted in a world I know and understand and feel a part of.

Of course, I’m not the only one who faces this conundrum. Many of those who haven’t grown up with an iPod as their first toy struggle to incorporate social media into their lives in balanced way. So next time the Dalai Lama’s tweet pops up on my screen, I’ll try to harness my incredulity and instead embrace our changing world with a curious and dynamic mind.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s own

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Ola Weber