The Fifth Precept in the Age of Facebook and Trump [Tricycle]

"Thanks to evolution, we are wired to watch vigilantly for threats and reward, and to enjoy that reward when it comes. Thanks to social media, that happens every time your phone beeps.

What is that? Anticipation. Did I get a new like? Hope for validation. I did! Dopamine reward. This cycle activates the same parts of the brain as heroin and cocaine. Indeed, a 2011 study showed that heavy Internet users suffered physical and mental withdrawal symptoms after unplugging for a day. 
And then there’s the converse: the feelings of envy or loneliness that can arise from viewing other people’s life updates. Researchers have dubbed this “Facebook depression.” Another study showed that the reward centers in young people’s brains were activated more by the “likes” a photo gets than by the content of the photo itself. We are, after all, social animals.

Again, none of this is an accident. As technology folks readily admit, they’ve designed products to exploit your brain chemistry as effectively and efficiently as possible. There’s no hidden agenda here: it’s right out in the open. Each time you scroll down, you see another ad. 
[If] Internet use has been shown to function neurologically like other intoxicants, what’s the difference between it and beer and marijuana? Obviously, moderate use of all these substances doesn’t cause heedlessness. Equally obviously, excessive use does. The precept isn’t about vodka as opposed to gin; it’s about how intoxicants lead to un-mindfulness. And anyone who’s lost an hour (or two) on Facebook can tell you about that."


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  1. Very good considerations, thanks for sharing.

    However, I would add a different view point.
    First I must 'confess' I play two games on my phone which are using the very same mechanisms. I set up one rule for myself, no real money should be spent. This rule, of course, leads to frustration. "Just one more turn, for only $5...", etc.

    But this helped me to experience more and more how my ego is stimulated. So what is viewed as 'evil' from one point can be the source of revealing the manipulations of ego and as such a step towards awakening.

    Zsolt Toth again.

    1. Hello, Zsolt, always a treat hearing from you!

      I agree; I think it's possible to use any situation as an opportunity to wake up. In fact, there is a very funny story about Chögyam Trungpa in which one of his students had just come in out of the rain. The student was talking to Rinpoche while reaching for the closet door to hang up his raincoat. The student opened the door to the basement instead of the closet, and instead of hanging up his coat, he tumbled down the stairs.

      The student staggered back up the stairs and asked, "Rinpoche, why didn't you say something?"

      Rinpoche replied, "I was hoping you would achieve enlightenment on the way down."

    2. Dear Catie,

      I enjoy reading your thoughts also. I just recently read Adyashanti (Zen tradition), saying "We have to be careful how much suffering we take away from somebody. We might prevent an awakening." (quote based on memory)

      In your story it is very interesting for me that Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was not sure whether enlightenment will occur during the way down. Even such a highly trained and charismatic lama cannot enlighten us. We ourselves have to go there.

      But here comes the biggest puzzle for me: how much decision do we have? Can we decide to go there? I strongly suspect that the free-will of humans is as much an illusion as the ego.

      Take care

    3. Couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks, Zsolt.


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