I’m assuming social media is a familiar idea and you’ve not been a monk in a cave for the last ten years, but spirituality is a woolier idea because people tend to mix up a number of areas when discussing it. It can includes states of awareness (from just paying attention to drug induced altered states), a particular kind of intelligence that people may have, or people’s overall development along “structures of consciousness”.
The latter usually involving increasing perspective and self-awareness (“the man who knows himself is wise”) and a growing circle of concern for others (which is why it might be considered “spiritual” to give to strangers in need for example). Spirituality can also be defined simply as that which is meaningful to people.
Spirituality is and interior and behavioral concern and not the same as religion which involves external social structures and norms. Spirituality is also not just for new-age hippies but an increasingly accepted and discussed part of life, even in a technologically rich workplaces.
Why Social Media is Spiritual
The beauty of social media is that it expresses the universal mystical truth that we are all connected. It joins people up across space and time and allows us to keep loved-ones in heart and mind. It supports traditional media’s ever widening and quickening reach to encourage care for people far away. I have been able to stay connected to friends around the world I met traveling for example, using social media in a way which would have been very difficult otherwise.
Social media also enables groups of concerned people to bypass traditional power structures to enable change – this is why it is a great small business marketing-tool. This empowerment is not limited to running a business or Christmas number-ones, and there is a reason both Facebook and personal development courses are banned in China. Open social structures are supported by social media go hand-in-hand with spiritual growth in a society.
Collective intelligence is a phenomena where groups of people make better decisions than even well informed individuals. Another aspect of social media may be to promote this form of “wisdom 2.0”, though the most popular Youtube videos may be evidence to the contrary!
Why Social Media is Not Spiritual
There are some serious problems with social media from a spiritual point of view. For example, it could be said that it encourages breadth of connection but not depth (do you really have 12000 “friends” because Myspace says you do?). There is still no substitute for embodied communication with emotional depth, and social media can either support or try vainly to replace this. The latter is a recipe for emotional stuntedness, dissatisfaction and loneliness.
Another challenge that social media brings is discouraging people from staying present to the here and now. Being in the present moment or “mindfulness” is a key practice in many spiritual traditions. Social media can produce stress by constantly nagging you to look away from the present. If you’ve ever had a friend check their social media on an iPhone at the table in the pub you will know how destructive this can be for relationships. It can also have a highly addictive quality provoking attachment and an anxiety that one is missing out when not connected. This can lead to a very poor quality of connection with those right in front of you.
Added to all this is the egoic quality of social media – what are other people saying about ME? How many RT’s of MY posts has there been? How many friend on Facebook have I got? Is that really connection or just ego mania?
Social Media Spiritual Training Practices
If you’re interested in exploring thee ideas I would recommend not just thinking about it but trying a few training practices:
- Go cold-turkey from social media for a set time and see what thoughts and emotions come up. Does it stress you out?
- Ask yourself. “why am I connecting?” when you log-on. Log-on with conscious intent
- Ask yourself, “is this kind, beautiful and true?” when you post
- Try some firm SM boundaries – like never using social media in the dining room, bedroom or bathroom
- Measure what percentage of your social media time do you spend listening to others as opposed to broadcasting or doing ego-checks
- Notice if you hide your social media use or have other addictive patterns around it
- Prioritise the people in front of you, ask their permission if something is really urgent online
This article gives a number of others social media meditations which I enjoyed.