Levy suggests meditation through e-mail
University of Washington Professor David Levy gave a talk on Tuesday, Sept. 11 about the mindful use of technology, especially in terms of student life. Levy emphasized that students rarely pay active attention to the experience of technology use and that they can learn about their experience by actively thinking about what they are doing.
Levy asserted that while technology has made lives more efficient, it has also created a sense of imbalance. The advanced technologies have a potential to overload people’s minds and create stress. Levy said that this leads people to feel as if they live robotic lives without as much meaning. By being mindful at the same time, one can keep the humanity in our lives.
“The question that I have been posing for about the last decade is.…How can we find contemplative balance in a world marked by acceleration, overload, fragmentation and distraction?” Levy said.
Levy began his talk by analyzing an IBM ad in which a man was using a laptop in the library. He said that this ad displayed an ideal in which one can have both technology and a sense of contemplation.
Levy has done considerable research of undergraduate and graduate students’ experiences with technology and also teaches a course on this subject titled “Information and Contemplation.” This course particularly analyzes the finite resource of attention and how much is paid when people use technology.
“In a world in which we have a million things…that only becomes real when you pay attention to it,” Levy said. He shared some of his students’ responses to becoming more aware of their experience with technology, specifically e-mail.
Jack Lynch ’16 said that, as a first year student, he gets a flood of General Announcements. “I look at my watch after I look at my e-mails and almost an hour has gone by,” he said.
“Students don’t realize how emotional it is to do e-mail,” Levy said. His students had expressed anxiety, dissatisfaction, anger, stress and annoyance associated with checking their e-mail. Some felt the urge to e-mail because there was something they expected or because it was a distraction from something less pleasant. Others said that they simply checked their e-mail automatically.
Levy said he was surprised that many of his students used food as metaphor for this behavior, likening the urge to check their e-mail to repeatedly searching the fridge for food.
“E-mail and our online information lives is a form of consumption,” Levy said, asserting that one has to consider whether what they are consuming is healthy whether it is food or information.
Instructor of French and Italian Aurore Mroz said in the discussion after the talk that she has been interested in how one can stay efficient without having the bad aspects of rapid consumption, similar to fast food.
Levy encouraged the audience to be “mindful in” rather than “mindful of” because the latter is passive observation and the former is when one is actively involved in the task. In this way, he said that technology use can be a form of meditation.
To become more active in this process, Levy said, “We can learn how to use our powerful information technologies more effectively through observation, reflection and sharing.”