Phantom Vibrations: Technopathology and the Mindfulness Movement
Concurrent Session 5
Technology enables, but it can also cause harm. Online teachers have an ethical responsibility to be aware of harm reduction practices.
Have you ever experienced a phantom vibration? That's when you feel your phone vibrating, but it's not. Most students today report having experienced this. It's concrete proof of something most of us suspect: that technology is changing our brains and our bodies. Some of these changes are valuable; indeed, new modalities of consciousness, predicated upon a sophisticated technological infrastructure, are inherent to the very notion of online learning. Yet it would be naÔve to assume that all technological innovation represents an unqualified good.
Online teachers are well aware of the benefits of technology, but also have an ethical responsibility to be aware of the pathologies associated with highly mediated existence. Many negative effects of technology are fairly well-known, and include physical pathologies such as repetitive strain injury, increased rates of obesity, and sleep disorders; social pathologies such as isolation, degraded social skills, decreased empathy, and lack of privacy; environmental pathologies such as ecological degradation, increasing energy consumption, global unrest and resource depletion; and cognitive pathologies such as depression, attention deficits, distraction, and addiction.
Among the most common of these cognitive pathologies is the feeling of being overwhelmed and stressed, an experience which is closely linked to fragmented attention and what Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has termed "distraction addiction." Indeed, this complex of cognitive pathologies has become so widespread and so ubiquitous to 21st-century Western lifestyles that it has engendered a response in what might be called the mindfulness movement.
Evidence of the contemporary mindfulness movement is no longer relegated to the periphery of American culture but can be found in mass media headlines, in self-help book titles, in public school initiatives, even in a host of smartphone apps. Mindfulness is in the process of becoming mainstream.
The dynamic driving the mindfulness movement arises from the intense competition for each individual's attention. In this era of constant connectivity, individuals find themselves fielding more demands on their attention than ever before. In this context, practices which foster self-awareness become crucially important to the health and well-being of the individual. In essence, learning to pay attention to one's attention has become a vital survival skill.
This is why meditation in general, and mindfulness in particular, are the subject of so much current interest. The technology sector has been at the forefront of this movement, with Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Cisco making high profile commitments to mindfulness. On college campuses too, contemplative practices have found their way into the curriculum with support from global networks of concerned faculty.
The mindfulness movement offers much of value to online education, both for our own mental health and for the sake of our students. Researcher David Levy, for example, recommends that students make "mindful breaks" a regular part of their technology usage.
In this session, participants will be introduced to the concept of mindfulness, and invited to participate in a mindfulness meditation exercise. Techniques for incorporating mindful approaches into online courses will also be discussed.