Wagging the Tail at Digital Dilemmas


Kelvin River. From Panoramio
Kelvin River. From Panoramio

Last week I had a Skype call with Raymond Lam, Buddhistdoor’s senior writer, to discuss my new blogging venture. At some point I mentioned that I have trouble attracting interest for some of my courses. He replied that Facebook is now what the telephone and email have been in previous decades: if you don’t use it you are off the radar. He wasn’t the first person to stress the importance of social media for promoting one’s work, but something about his youthful, calm and confident presence, sitting there with this headphones in his sun-filled office in Hong Kong, tipped me into action.

Someone actually had already set up a Facebook page for me about a year ago, but I lacked confidence and conviction to use it. I mentioned the issue to my peer-coaching partner in Bangkok, Kanya Likanasudh, and she, bless her, taught me how to use Facebook via screen sharing in zoom. “And you need more friends!” she said.

So I put a little effort into getting more friends (being quite unceremonious about it, as seems to be the custom), and this morning when I log on—oh my God—this influx of interesting photos, tips, and films come rolling in on my ‘timeline’ and leave me reeling. This is all so terribly alluring and I could spend all my time just sitting at my computer absorbing all this info and still feel I haven’t done justice to it, or to these people, my newly confirmed friends. I see how addictive and stress-inducing this could easily become. I could be tempted to spend even more of this precious life sitting in front of a screen than I do already. People come to my mindfulness courses to regain more sane, sense-based, present-moment perspectives on life, and here I am, engaging in the very activities I tell my students to resist the lure of!

I have become all eyes and brain, with hardly any awareness of the body or breath. So I put the computer to sleep and go for a walk along the river Kelvin, just down from our doorstep in Glasgow. It’s a bright autumnal Saturday morning with lots of people out and about, many of them with mobile phones in their hands. There is also the sniffing presence of lots of dogs. Everywhere photos are being taken: a baby carried in a sling on mum’s belly in front of a red-leaved acacia tree. A group of mum and dad with toddler, kneeling in fallen leaves, trying to get the child to smile.

Now I understand: these photos are ending up on Facebook! My mind is faltering, witnessing this parade of communities, digital and analogue. Disorientation is taking place: what is real (Not a bad question to ask)? I am reminded of a cartoon I saw in the paper of a woman with 2 kids, picking blackberries, their outfits and baskets matching the berries. The bubble text says: “‘Isn’t it fun, kids? It’s like being on someone’s lifestyle blog.”

Repeatedly I am drawn to watching the dogs, bouncing along the path, gazing up attentively at their owners, racing after balls. There is something reassuringly straightforward about these wagging tails, these noses close to the ground. My spine comes alive in old-brain resonance with nature, wagging a phantom tail. There is a simple joy in being alive—and to also know this. I trust the momentum of all those years of mindfulness practice and I’ll probably be alright with social media. But I wonder about those kids…

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