I am just back from a wonderful holiday on Italy’s Amalfi coast. Which gives me a great excuse to share some holiday snaps on this blog! Apart from enjoying the mesmerising views from Villa Cimbrone’s famous Infinity Terrace in Ravello (“the most beautiful place in the world” according to Gore Vidal), absorbing the unique beauty of the mountainside town of Positano, and generally enjoying the lush, established gardens, stunning architecture and delicious food and wine, there was something else I couldn’t help but notice: the number of tourists stuck to their smart phones.
I’m not talking here about using phones to take photos. I’m talking about people in some of the most spectacularly beautiful locations in the world, staring down at their phones and texting messages, while ignoring the view which they’ve travelled so far, and spent so much money, to see.
I have nothing against social media. Nor against updating Facebook with the latest travel pics. But there’s a time and place. And looking around at all the bent heads and twitching thumbs, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that I was looking at a tribe of social media victims. People who are way beyond the point of using technology as a convenience, or even for entertainment, but who are gripped by a compulsion so strong that they can’t be free of it, even in the face of the most transcendental beauty, amid scenes that have inspired artists, writers and leaders since the time of Roman emperor Tiberius.
Heavy social media use is eroding many people’s ability to abide in the here and now. And it goes way beyond the ability to take pleasure in a wonderful view. A Stanford University study from 2009 provided definitive evidence that heavy media multi-taskers were more distracted by irrelevant details, had poorer memory recall and were slower to switch from one activity to another. In short, not only are heavy social media users less able to enjoy the world around them, they are also less effective operating in it.
All of which presents meditators with a dilemma: how consistent is it to use social media – which in itself seems to promote mental agitation – to advocate peace of mind? Isn’t this rather like going to war to promote peace? Will I be contributing to the sum of human happiness if I tweet about peace of mind at least five times a day, as recommended by the experts? Update Facebook pages twice a day? Publish blogs several times a week?
Of course there are arguments in favour of using social media. The first being, if you don’t advocate mindfulness in the marketplace of ideas, who will? It may also be argued that not all social media users are hopeless addicts. ‘The only difference between poison and medicine is the dosage,’ runs an old adage. Maybe social media in itself, isn’t the problem. It’s the degree to which it is used.
All the same, I can’t help wondering … would the world be a better place if I blogged more regularly? Or would everyone be better off if we all spent more time on our meditation cushions?
What do you think?
(Both images on this blog are of Villa Cimbrone, Ravello)