Nowadays, most of our communication and exchange of information takes place on social networks, insofar as we now feel that we can no longer live without it. It is a very powerful medium with countless benefits, creating a virtual world beyond physical boundaries, almost like magic. Nowadays, we can communicate and share text, images and videos in real time, wherever we are. There are many platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., which we use in daily life to share information and connect with each other without leaving our chairs. Indeed, what we share can be distributed to an unlimited number of people at the same time.
The dark side of social media that needs to be acknowledged, however, is people's growing anxiety and depression due to the onslaught of negative news, unrealistic expectations of how we should look or stand in the society we should reach in order to be accepted. Additionally, too much screen time prevents us from connecting with the natural world and our physical bodies, which are important for the physical and mental well-being of everyone, young and old.
Perhaps one of the most damaging impacts of social media is that it serves as a virtual playground where all sorts of misleading and misleading information can be shared without any fact checking. We are already seeing the impact of this manifesto in society, leading to widespread conspiracy theories and violent political divisions.
The impact of social media has therefore been enormous, both positive and negative; we could go on with a litany of its ramifications. A concrete example is the creation of virtual sanghas and meditation retreats during the three-year COVID-19 lockdown. During the pandemic, many people were unable to meet, but much of the good activity was absorbed by virtual connections. I personally met some of my Dharma brothers, whom I had not spoken to for the past 20 years. Now they share their life in pictures and writing as if I were with them in Tibet. Once I even asked a lama to give me a transmission of reading a sacred text from Tibet while I was living in the West, which made me think that the smartphone in front of me also had a sacred aspect .
Social media isn't going away anytime soon, but it will become more and more integrated into our lives over time. As Buddhists, we need conscious guidance on how to use these tools. There are two practices that we can apply to have benefits and reduce negative effects: they are discipline and discernment.
First, social media is addictive. It can take a disproportionate amount of our time, and often the information we receive is trivial and unnecessary, like gossip or nonsense simply designed to kill time. We must therefore be aware of the time we spend, restrict our use and fight the urge to return to our screen.
The second practice is to know that there will be a lot of false information circulating; we have to keep that in mind. Every time we open our screen, we must remember to use our discernment to analyze the content to see if it is likely to be true or false. Some of the misinformation stems either from sheer ignorance or directed malice, which can have large-scale negative impacts on society. We shouldn't support that.
Because in ancient times social media was not an issue, the Buddha or early Buddhist masters did not specifically address such an issue. Yet each era has had its own specific issues to deal with. Our times are no different, and it will only accelerate as times change faster and faster due to emerging technologies. We can use Buddhist teachings and practices to deal with these new problems and develop skillful ways to use these challenges to our advantage.
This widespread use of social media will bring both chaos and positive change. In the XNUMXth century, when the printing press was invented and transformed society, its impact was similar in magnitude to the rise of the Internet. It has enabled a wide range of people to access knowledge that was previously restricted to a few. It also marked the end of the Catholic Church's monopoly on Christianity, allowing the emergence of new Christian denominations, such as the Protestant Church.
So let me end on a positive note. There is a particularly positive aspect to social media, which was probably not in the minds of the people who developed it. Originally, this technology was developed for military, commercial and other uses. No one ever imagined it becoming what it is today. Social media now gives a voice to people who have never had the opportunity to be heard, and it has the potential to make the world more just and equal. Social media empowers so many people that its reach is unprecedented. It may cause a revolution in consciousness that could take us to a better world than ever for everyone.