Driving through a busy road, I saw a huge billboard with a seductive promise – freedom from shopping in the heat. Order everything online. For a moment, I was tempted. I already paid utility bills online, bought books online, and had recently trusted omnipotent online retail to home-deliver an expensive electronic item. Surely buying aloo-pyaz was the next logical step?
But then, where does it end? The electronic bubble that began with hesitant, sputtering dial-up internet connections now engulfs every aspect of our lives. There is nothing we cannot do online – chatting, sharing, buying, selling, dating, loving, working, knowing, being. The digital-human interface sees revolutions every quarter, a recent one being when ‘smart devices’ began connecting us not only with others, but ourselves as well!
Strappable devices, often doubling up as phones, watches and whatnot, dutifully calculate the calories we eat and burn, the number of steps we walk, our sleep patterns, our heart rates, and so forth. They nag at us when we overeat, don’t exercise enough, or have a bad night’s sleep. A recently launched ‘smartwatch’ even pokes us to move when we have been sitting for too long. How did we ever manage to live in that pre-internet Paleolithic Era?
For many of us, our devices – phones, tablets, activity trackers, smartwatches – can become extensions of our selves. Not just literally, as in they are always at hand, but at a deeper level of being, in terms of their participation in our continuum of consciousness.
Soon, the individual self might come to include body, mind, spirit, and device. And the Universal Self might become another name for the omniscient Cloud, within which we all compute?
With our minds constantly hooked to digital interfaces, it is no wonder that we cannot seem to do or know anything about ourselves without e-intervention. What if we were to turn off device notifications, and gradually disengage our senses from external entanglements? And try a Vipassana technique known as the ‘body sweep’, which involves bringing awareness to each part of the body sequentially, and observing it without judgment or reaction. If a sensation becomes palpable, just watch it arise and dissipate. Observe, let go, and move on. If the mind wanders, bring it back gently. Move through the entire body, sweeping for sensations, with ever-present attention and non-attachment.
In this way, quality of awareness is deepened and the body-mind connection enlivened. Though the technique must be learned at a Vipassana retreat, it can be used as a tool for awakening awareness at any time. Sitting at our workstations, we might spend five minutes every couple of hours watching our bodies, perhaps focusing on points of contact, like feet on the ground, or arms pressed on to armrests. Simply watching, knowing, letting go. Provided we can get to them without smartwatch reminders, these moments of awareness could refresh our technology-glutted minds, and bring us back to our selves, in the here and now.