SLSA 2019, Talk 1 — Now: A Kit for Digital Mindfulness

[1] For my kit, I wanted to engage in some meaningful way with meditation — which has become an increasingly meaningful practice for me. In general, I’ve used it to process a lot of the difficulty involving the 2016 election, the intensity of social media, and my own struggles with the legacies of toxic masculinity and white supremacy.

[2] I’ve also become alarmed with danah boyd’s research on red-pilling, that is the radicalization of white males on the internet by white supremacist groups like The Council for Conservative Citizens. I see social media not only engaging in the spread of so-called “fake news,” but accelerating that spread so that our rational faculties are overwhelmed by the immediacy of our affectual responses, and these more dangerous processes can occur more easily. Tero Karppi calls this the “affective flow of scrolling through Facebook.” For me, turning towards more contemplative traditions and their focus on affect has allowed me to (sometimes) interrupt this process and shift my relationship with social media.

[3] So, I’ll cut off for now and get on to the mediation. To be sure, there are ways to critique the way Jeff Warren engages in this process. And I’ll outline just two of many criticisms in the conclusion. But I’d like for you to experience this without my own commentary. So, he begins talking about how everyone is anxious about the election, how he finds that getting a broader perspective helps, and how the Charles and Ray Eames film Powers of Ten helps him do that. If you want to participate, please do, but if you just want to sit and listen – that’s cool too.

2:52:00 – 13:00

[4] It’s important to point out how 10% Happier like Headspace and many apps that teach mindfulness ultimately subscribe to Buddhist modernism, the notion — in the words of Ann Gleig — that the benefits from mindfulness are scientific and objective and can be appropriated from their religious and cultural context without any consequence. Of course, mindfulness is not the only tradition of meditation. For instance, teachers like Aaron Lee, angel Kyodo williams, and Funie Hsu see the critique of capitalism and white supremacy as a core part of their practice — and argue that that there is no difference between Buddhist liberation and the goals of social justice. 

[5] To complicate this picture, my kit adds Nicholas Mirzeoff’s reflections on Blue Marble from the introduction of How to See the World — suggesting that multiplicity and struggle can construct a different approach to meditation practice. There, Mirzeoff discusses how these feelings of wholeness emerged after Jack Schmitt took the picture as part of the Apollo 17 crew – suggesting that it inspired The Whole Earth Catalog. Yet these feelings ignore that the Apollo 17 crew were the only people to actually see this image in real life, and the idea of the planet as unified ignores the complicated assemblages, political struggles, and painful suffering caused by climate change that make up the world. Jack Schmitt, himself, ended up becoming a climate denier, and associating the American environmental movement with communism.

In all, I see my kit calling for an understanding of meditation as a media practice — treating our senses, our mind, and our selves as one would treat technologies, ecologies, and institutions. In the words of John Durham Peters, media are “vessels and environments, containers of possibility that anchor our existence and make what we are doing possible.” Guy Armstrong speaks in similar terms when discussing what meditation teachers call “emptiness,” that is “the things of this world, including me, are not truly solid or substantial.” They are containers. They make certain experiences possible, but we can relate to them in a radically different way.  


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