The importance of online mindfulness

One of the things I’ve been increasingly puzzling about recently is the disconnect between our online lives and our real ones; the personas if you like that we present to people in the real world and the ones that we forge for ourselves online.

There’s a tradition of this, of course. Back in the early days of the internet, it was possible to have an enormous amount of fun in the Usenet groups you frequented by pretending to be a 16 year old schoolgirl from Helsinki. Certainly fun when troll-baiting. But with the rise of social media and its interconnecting webs of likes and dislikes, follows and retweets, our online personalities are designed to be much more faithful extensions of ourselves. The problem is, we don’t treat them that way.

Maybe it’s because our online relationships are mediated via the keyboard, and even with the rich complexities of language – and the less subtle interventions of emoticons – we are always a step removed. But it seems that this is particularly the case when it comes to mindfulness. A quick quip, a sarcastic comment…it is all too easy for us to participate in conversations that we perhaps wouldn’t chose to in real life. I recently decided to bail on Twitter having foolishly even mentioned the subject of Gamergate and not liking the opprobrium that followed, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been within a button press of tweeting something or commenting on something on Facebook and then pulled back and run through the usual quick Buddhist mantra: is it kind? Is it necessary?

Often it’s not, and at least online there is a delete button (depending on how Facebook is running its privacy policy that week). But, again in Buddhist parlance, right thinking and right speech should also lead to right typing and our online relationships – ephemeral sometimes though they may be – are poorer when this isn’t so.

 

Photo credit: telmo32 via Foter.com / CC BY-ND