‘Mindfulness’ and a bleeping liberty

British comedian David Mitchell,  in one of his online rants, gets stuck into the whole problem of “mindfulness” and “living in the moment” which I gather has taken over from liver cleansing diets as a fashionable nostrum to make folk feel a little less uncomfortable in the world in which we, somewhat bafflingly, find ourselves.

The problem, he points out, is that you can’t actually do it. 

By the time you stopped to work out whether you are living in the moment or not living in the moment, you no longer are living in that moment. 

You’re either living in the moment when you’ve stopped to check whether you are, in fact, living in that moment, or you are living in another moment anyway.

Mitchell mentions this as a paradox,  but an ancillary issue to the main problem with”mindfullness”.

I’m not sure what he thought the main problem was – I must have been thinking of something else at the time – but, personally, I think it’s the whole problem with it. That and the faddy aspect,  I suppose.

Clifford Stoll, one of the pioneers of the Internet, recalls being on a flight sometime in the late 1990s and talking to the woman in the next seat. An elderly lady, of some shrewdness, she asked what he did for a job. When he told her she looked at him sharply, and said “ah – you’re in the artificial urgency business.”

I was recalling this, ar some point during the holiday break, when one of the alarms set up on my mobile devices went off.

Now, these are needed when you are as chronically forgetful as I am. As I’ve written before, I’ve found these sorts of tools invaluable.

But….

The world is now full of bleeps.

Everywhere you go there is something bleeping at you. Our cars bleep at us. Our fridges bleep at us. We now read much more on mobile devices so now even our bloody books bleep at us.

We are surrounded by things which make us jump, demanding we stop what we’re doing and pay attention.

Now.

Urgently.

It’s no wonder pharmaceutical companies which specialise in anti anxiety potions are such a good option to invest one’s savings.  Those companies,  and the firms which make the devices which do the bleeping, of course.

It’s become, gradually, an incursion on our freedom, a bleeping Liberty, if you like.

And we didn’t have to be compelled into it, we’ve embraced it with enthusiasm, stroked the iPhones and iPads lovingly, and accepted the changed terms and conditions without having read them.

Now, I love this connected world as much as anyone with a – admittedly sporadic – blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page. And of course I actually work in the media.

Which is to say, I love it a lot.

But I’m picking a looming backlash. The ‘mindfulness’ fad is a symptom  of this backlash. It might be a wrongheaded one, if only because human beings are almost never fully ‘mindful’ or ‘in the moment’, if only because part of being human involves that self consciousness and duality written about by the ancients to Descartes and beyond.

But that’s whole other topic.

 

For now: off grid for a week.

Maybe a bit mindfully, mostly a bit walk-fully and write-fully.

 

 

 

Tweet Surrender

I’ve tended to steer clear of full blown arguments on the Twitter.

Initially skeptical about the whole medium- the name is silly, and 140 characters? what can you possibly say in that? – there’s an addictive aspect to it which I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on.

I treat it like a mix of – for professional reasons – a kind of informal wire service, notifying me of what is going on, especially economically and politically, as well as being a casual passing conversation.

It is, now I write it down like that, an odd mix.

NZ comedian Michelle A’Court recently described it as like being at a party: you can dip into or out of conversations as you like, move on when you find them boring or offensive or you spot something more interesting.

Oh, and there’s often someone starting a fight somewhere.

I’ve tended to steer clear of those. Firstly, my own rule for online arguments (which I know I haven’t always stuck to) is take whatever you would say to someone face to face, and try to tone it down by around 15% or so.

Face to face, a smile, a lift of the eyebrow, or just the tone of voice, can soften words which, on the screen, look stark and harsh.

Also, some people are just arseholes behind a keyboard.

The other reason is sheer time management. A ruthless application of the LTS Rule is necessary when dealing with social media.

There is this addictive, compelling quality to online arguments. It isn’t just Twitter – it happens on Facebook, it used to happen on usenet. The bullshit is still bullshit, it just goes by different names.

Not all participants get sucked into it, but those who do tend to make Robert Maxwell look like a piker when it comes to going overboard.

To adapt a Douglas Adams concept, Twitter becomes a kind of Total Lack Of Perspective Vortex and otherwise intelligent and charming people completely lose it.

There’s been a recent meltdown on the NZ Twitterzone: if you don’t know about it, don’t worry – the details are very boring and in any case there will probably be another one along shortly.

The dignified, as Paul Weller once warbled, don’t even enter into the game.

If you want to know, though, feel free to search “twitterarti”.

Go ahead. Block yourself out.

This particular meltdown was a bit more meta: it was triggered by a story by a journalist who wrote a piece a month or so back about the ‘Twitterarti’ – a piece which caused some deep resentments amongst folk who spend a lot of time on the medium. Somehow  – I have no idea how, I haven’t analysed it closely and I have no intention of doing so – it mutated into a row over gender politics and it all went horribly wrong.

The only observation I’d make is that if you’re taking any criticism of Twitter interactions as a personal attack, then perhaps you’re wrapping up way too much of your identity and self-worth in the medium.

As for arguments online generally: they work fine on less emotional topics. I’ve had some great, and often quite fiery, discussions over monetary policy and the like in various forums*.

Get into something with more emotional hot-buttons  – and anything relating to gender issues is guaranteed to have plenty of those – and it is Meltdown Ahoy. Any discussion is just not going to end well.

It is bad enough discussing such issues in real life. On the line?  Hoo Boy.

It does get like the piece quoted above about arguments online: the T-Rex-With-An-Erection mix of surreal fury.

There’s another aspect of online discussions which makes these things worse.

To return to Michelle A’Court’s analogy of a party, someone having a casual discussion at a social gathering can make a verbal statement, be challenged: the matter can be discussed and people are perhaps more inclined to modify their initial position.

Online, any initial position is written down. there’s something less movable about a written statement than a verbal one.

This is particularly so because there is always someone going “but you said […..fill in slightly loose or flippant or ill-thought comment here].”

Avoid, mostly. As written here a week or so back about the Rugby World Cup over-kill: perspective is all.

Anyway, here’s the Jam, for those who have picked up on the allusions to their final single during this post.

  • No, you get a life.