Social media has the power to connect us like never before, but the constant buzz of new messages, tweets and information can also fragment focus, induce a frenzied pace and produce overwhelm. Perhaps we need a new name for this state of constant information consumption -- Attention Excess Disorder?
Yet what are the actual up- and downsides of social media's impact on spiritual awareness, compassion, authentic interconnection and social transformation? To explore these questions, Wisdom 2.0 host Soren Gordhamer and Huffington Post Living, Health and Religion editor Alana B. Elias Kornfeld co-hosted a panel on empowering wisdom through social media and technology at Urban Zen last weekend. They convened two panels of social media mavens, the first comprising creative entrepreneurs crafting new technologies and finding powerful ways to use existing ones to potentiate social change, the second consisting of reporters, teachers and on-air personalities who appear in the media where they face the challenge of embodying health and spiritual understanding while in the bright limelight of public notice.
ABC news correspondent Dan Harris began reporting on spirituality because it was an assignment. Growing up in a family of atheists, he had no intrinsic interest in this area of life -- or so he thought. But then while covering a story, he first heard of the work of Eckhart Tolle. He began reading about spirituality and then adopted a simple meditation practice that he claims has shifted him in subtle ways. "It's not that you never feel the craziness anymore, it's just that how you experience it is different," he told Elias Kornfeld.
Says Gordhamer, "Wisdom and media are two things you never think of together, but in forming Wisdom 2.0, we wanted to say 'yes' to both worlds, say 'yes' to our inner world. We don't have to live bifurcated lives. Let's see if we can live constantly connected. There is new arising vision -- what does it mean to use social media consciously and in the service of the greater good?"
Andrew Rasiej, a futurist, social entrepreneur and the founder of Personal Democracy Forum, which promotes the intersection of politics and technology, also founded www.MOUSE.org (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education), which connects over 100 public schools to the internet and trains students to provide technology support for their schools, giving students skills for careers in technology and media. He reported that recently, after helping him with a problem on his MacAir, a MAC genius (the most highly skilled MAC technical support staff) told him she was trained by MOUSE and thanked him.
Michael Skolnik, Political Director to Russell Simmons, pointed out that when a white person dies, like Natalee Holloway, the media reports on their death by name, but when a person of color is killed, they report on the fact, but not on the person. "So with some friends, we decided this has to change. We began to tweet the name of Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old Chicago teen who was brutally beaten to death, not only to support the Albert family but to represent a symbol of America caring about youth today. On Twitter, we created something called 'He Has a Name,' so that each time a kid is killed by another kid, we cover it and give that person a name."
Now there is proposed legislation, called the Youth Promise Act, which will provide resources to communities to engage in comprehensive prevention and intervention strategies to decrease juvenile delinquency and criminal street gang activity.
Dan Mitchell, the Campaign Manager for TED, recounted how Ocean conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle drew attention through her compelling TED presentation that ultimately resulted in Mission Blue, a special voyage and initiative to protect the ocean, which raised $19 million and helped protect a substantive piece of the Sargasso Sea.
Soren Gordhamer asked panel members, "As personalities, reporters and teachers, how do we show ourselves to the world in a way that feels aligned and authentic?"
Said Yoga teacher and Huffington Post blogger Elena Brower, "I don't pander -- and if it attracts less people because it has more meaning and value and purpose, that's fine with me."
OM Yoga teacher and Buddhist practitioner Cyndi Lee agreed, "Being authentic for me is more about undoing, and by undoing you attract the students that need what you have to say."
Beth Grossman, a book publicist who works with Buddhist teacher Matthieu Ricard and many others, quoted writer John O'Donohue, who said that "the space between is where all the action is."
Attorney Jonathan Granoff, a disarmament activist who is also President of the Global Security Institute and a Senior Advisor to the American Bar Association, called mainstream media "toll roads," asserting that they cover stories that generate income and exclude stories that don't fit their defined worldview, suit their advertisers or reinforce existing belief systems and structures. The new media he likened to the back roads, the places where stories that don't fit the "sold model" can be reported and shared. This is where both personal and social transformation through technology can occur, he affirmed.
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