Living as Buddhists in an age of 'Information Overload'

A place to bring a contemplative / Dharmic perspective and opinions to current events, politics and economics.
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Dharmasherab
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Living as Buddhists in an age of 'Information Overload'

Post by Dharmasherab »

We live in an age where information is highly abundant. But we need to ask ourselves whether that is always a good thing? It can depend on what type of information we are talking about.

The most common type of information we can come by are news items especially the ones that focus on global politics and current affairs. The political situations around the globe are on-going and highly dynamic and this means the news items focused on those issues will keep changing. There is so much happening around the world in a political sense that it would be impossible to be aware of everything going on even for a single day. But the news channels and newspapers will try to cater to quench the thirst of the society on what is the latest even though their value may not last for a long time.

Soon as we switch on the television, radio or pick up a newspaper we are bombarded with information from different directions that it just ends up clogging up the mind. Our brains can only process a limited amount of information at a given time but the amount of exposure to current affairs means that active processing of information is left behind where information just enters our minds and influences our thinking without us even noticing. It just occupies the space in our minds. This has been happening for such a long time where most of us unquestioningly assume that the most relevant information to our lives is what is just happening immediately around us which occupies our minds at near full capacity to the extent where we don't see anything beyond that. Our minds are occupied with the news as the most relevant information and because of this, we neglect the ancient wisdom that was written in texts for centuries. I feel we need to let go of this idea which is prevalent in our societies that the most relevant information we have at hand is in the news.

I remember having a discussion with a friend of mine who was into current affairs and politics. I told him to imagine himself reading Dharma content for an hour. Then I told him to imagine himself looking at the news for an hour. Then I told him to contemplate the value of the information obtained from the news over intervals of time - a week, a month, a year, 10 years and so on. He agreed that what we learn from current affairs over a specific time period diminishes in value with time. Most of these things we hear in the news become useless junk information in about a month or two. But that hour spent learning Dhamma, not only it will be of value in a month but it will be valuable for years and years and maybe even future lifetimes - the value of the Dhamma cannot be measured. It is priceless.

What we need to realize is that news items are mostly about change. It's about a change from one thing to another. When we agree that change is in the air we don't need to indulge in the specific examples of change. We don't need to be involved with them even at a mental level. Most of these political problems are things which are beyond our control anyway. The most we can do is to cast a vote and after this, if we are not happy with something the only options left are to sign petitions or maybe even go out in the streets and protests but outside of this, there is very little we can do. The key is to notice that most of these things going around the world are beyond our control and trying to fill up our minds with all these issues will only close down that peaceful space that would not allow meditation or Dhamma to grow within us.

2500 years ago in Ancient India, there was no CNN, Fox News or BBC. There was no Times magazine or The Independent. Yet the society back then was far more spiritually developed than we have ever seen. Because there was no junk information those days the mind of the average Indian back then was a lot more peaceful which allowed meditation to develop in their minds. They could easily let go of Samsara as they had less baggage of junk information. Even the information that was memorized and handed over were only essential information, Memorizing itself is a task, therefore, people were careful and selective about which information to keep and what sort of non-useful information to let go.

I say we can be more selective about what type of information which enters our minds. We don't have to develop the habit of considering current affairs as what is most relevant. We can still learn from the wisdom of ancient texts which can be far more useful than any current affair item. We can make our minds peaceful once we let go of this outside world so we are more prepared to look within for Enlightenment and realizations leading to this are things which arise from within.
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Dorje Shedrub
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Re: Living as Buddhists in an age of 'Information Overload'

Post by Dorje Shedrub »

The older we get, the more change we see; samsara becomes more vivid. In my experience, my mind is more easily overwhelmed the more I age, and the world seems to be moving increasingly faster. We can be instantly aware of the myriads of suffering people around the world, and that can be overwhelming.

I found an interesting article, but can only access the abstract and preview:
Philip Novak wrote:Information overload is one of the factors behind current alarming statistics on stress. Meditation helps the body-mind resist the deleterious effects of the information onslaught. Though meditation is well known as a relaxation technique, its noetic value is often overlooked. Its benefits extend well beyond superficial soothing: it trains attention; it increases pattern recognition; and it reconnects us to the whole of our intelligence, enhancing coordination between its complementary poles. Meditation is a potent high-touch resource in a high-tech world.

I remember a Zen master [Suzuki] once describing meditation as a general housecleaning of the mind.

The Buddha and the computer: Meditation in an age of information
DS
"As far as social economic theory is concerned, I am Marxist. " ~ HHDL
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Living as Buddhists in an age of 'Information Overload'

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Perhaps meditation is a "general housecleaning of the mind" but the more rubbish you bring home, the more housecleaning you need to do.
So ... this endless flood of information: how do we sort out how much of it to take in?
Some broad categories can be avoided with no risk of missing out on anything useful or important - or even enjoyable, depending on your tastes. So, for instance, I manage to avoid all commercial television, and nearly all sports, "comedy" and drama programmes on the non-commercial TV I do watch. I end up with maybe an hour of news and current affairs per day, with the occasional doco.
I also get by with effectively zero popular music. Top 40? I can't even forget it, because I never knew it. :smile:
Background music? Nope. If it deserves my attention, it gets my attention. If it doesn't, it's noise and gets switched off.

YMMV, of course, but learning to say "no" to the flood is worth the effort.

:coffee:
Kim
Cinnabar
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Re: Living as Buddhists in an age of 'Information Overload'

Post by Cinnabar »

In my experience,it's not as much the amount of information as it is the quality of the information and how it is presented.

Industries aimed at selling information need to hook us into consuming their products. Either for subscriptions or eyes on advertisement content. They can only do that if we are triggered in some way, and those triggers are generally through some form of attachment and aversion. More often than not fear, anger, and outrage. So even if the value of the information is positive or neutral, the hooks are problematic to the mind.

And the formatting of the content is problematic. TV and radio are horrible in that the formatting is very short segments with commercial advertisements. The short segments changes how information can be presented. Every story must be told in a few minutes, and very question posed and answered in the same time. This is not how reality works. And the formatting generally includes drastic changes in tone, tempo and volume, back and forth between programming and advertisement. And that's somewhat jarring to the mind.

Print media isn't much better. Like audio-visual media, it still has the faults of confirmation and story bias. People only consume media if they are given stories that confirm their beliefs, at least those which resonate with their values. And which tell a nice complete story from beginning to end. Nobody wants to read or hear something that goes against the grain of their fur, or leaves them hanging. That ends with just the statement of a question or "don't know".

Being constantly fed information is also problematic in that it really makes one lazy and stupid. One just takes what is put on one's plate instead of foraging. I can tell from my students that is more of a problem. Some years ago they would read a book. Now they want a YouTube video on a subject. And being constantly fed information really erodes our calibration of what is important and not important. What is a threat and not a threat. If we are fed it and it's on our plate-- of course it's important. One thing this seems to do for sure is cause us to focus less on the local and personal, the areas where we have the most control and most at stake, to topics that others have deemed important.

I really have to watch how these things impact me. I can see the changes sitting. Tension and distraction. More aggression, depression. A lack of focus. So I largely tune out from media boutiques and rely on other methods of gathering information.
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Living as Buddhists in an age of 'Information Overload'

Post by Kim O'Hara »

:goodpost:
Cinnabar wrote: Fri Feb 01, 2019 9:09 pm In my experience,it's not as much the amount of information as it is the quality of the information and how it is presented.

Industries aimed at selling information... [emphasis added]
Agreed.
And my main reason for choosing public broadcasters over the commercial media is that the quality and presentation are so much higher.
Getting rid of the ads is a huge step in itself; getting rid of the dumbing-down introduced by the need to maximisie the number of eyeballs the broadcaster is selling to the advertisers is a big step, too.

:namaste:
Kim
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fwiw
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Re: Living as Buddhists in an age of 'Information Overload'

Post by fwiw »

I think everyone should ponder this Malcolm X quote from time to time
This is the press, an irresponsible press. It will make the criminal look like he's the victim and make the victim look like he's the criminal. If you aren't careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.
... just my opinion, for what it's worth
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