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The game of Facebook

In one of my rare Facebook appearances, I mumbled about the absurdity of spending more than an hour to carefully read (as it should be with people we care about) a friend’s updates of the last hour.

The last comment I received on my note (in Italian) was, “If you don’t like the game, just don’t play it.”  This friend is very active on Facebook, sharing words, videos, links, and whatever.  He is an artist and a spiritual researcher, a real friend with whom I have shared deep talks, meditation practices and fun, not a typical “friend” the way Facebook has redefined this word.  I feel he has a big heart.

After a few days, I realized that I had often heard people who are in spiritual work say that Facebook is just a game, and you can play it, enjoy it, but you can keep detached, knowing that it is a game of the mind that can be enjoyed, but we do not have to become attached to it, much as an enlightened being who could see the activity of his mind just as ripples on the surface of his consciousness.  Under this line of reasoning, consciousness is unaffected by those ripples.

I think there’s a deep misunderstanding under this assumption.  As long as is true that an enlightened being is beyond the hiccups of the mind and can observe them as a witness rather than a participant, for the rest of us, being involved repetitively with a tool is going to affect our relationship to the tool itself, as well as to the people on the other side of the screen.

Despite the confidence that we can be stronger than whatever activity we do for many hours a day, the reality is that we can and often actually do become attached to the tool and to the repetitive tasks connected.  Even spiritual researchers do.  If we feed the body continuously with unhealthy food or chemicals, chances are that we are going to feel the consequences.  This applies even to spiritually advanced people, since the body responds at least as much to mechanical stimuli as to a higher awareness.  A higher consciousness is not a guarantee of long life or health on the physical level.

Many spiritual teachers say that the mind also is a mechanism, and that the body and mind are actually a body-mind pair, in which the mind isn’t any less mechanical than the body.  Every spiritual researcher knows how the mind can be heavily conditioned by early experiences, external messages received, and even by the thoughts we produce.  Those conditionings cloud our awareness and don’t allow our lives to flow freely.
One of the classic teachings for the liberation of the mind is not to be dragged by the never-ending chatter of the mind, which is a source of distraction, a barrier to inner exploration, and the silence from which insights and depth come.

Why shouldn’t the mind also be conditioned by Facebook, not only in terms of the content seen there, but especially by the way we interact, by the interface itself?  While I have heard some people say that they look at Facebook’s messages in a “meditative way,” looking at the flow without becoming attached (and I wonder, anyway, if that is the non-attached view of a meditative mind or just plain indifference and boredom?), the interface and the way we communicate through Facebook is going to affect us more deeply than the actual content posted.  We know since McLuhan’s time that “the medium is the message.”

The very way we communicate, through scrolling and clicking the mouse (or the touch screen), by having windows on the screen, by associating friends with small icons, and communicating basically on a mental level with no embodied presence while being distracted by other events on the same screen, is going to morph our inner meaning of friendship and communication.  For younger people, this modality could even represent an inner imprinting.

Sites like Facebook tend to suck out our time and attention; they feed on our user-generated content, analyzing our words, messages, links, profiles, and friends for the sake of selling our data and attention to advertisers.  We can for sure play such a  “game,” but I would check first if I am the player or the one being played.

See also Resisting Facebook

After a Few Months on Facebook

The Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet is on Amazon

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This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0.