Meditation and Mediation

I read a book recently that has really fascinated me. It’s entitled ‘Mediated – How the Media Shape your World’, and it’s written by Thomas DeZengotita. It is a powerful demonstration of just how much the media influences our lives. One of the key points DeZengotita makes concerns authenticity. In a climate of ubiquitous mediation, nearly our entire identity is formulated out of snippets of representations which we have gathered through film, politics, reality television and more.

The premise of it all is this: everything around us, whether it be road signs, magazines, film, social media or advertising is all addressed at YOU. While you may be just one of millions, nearly everything you see is addressed at you directly – and me – and all of us. This is ultimately very flattering. The flattery becomes manifest when individuals are trying to decide which identity (or which collage of mediated identities) they intend to present to the world. In times past, such behaviour may have been reserved for royalty, or significant public figures. However now, everybody is trying to write out the story that is their life.

This is all well and good (well, maybe), until it hits crisis point. Until there are so many representations, so many identities, so many statements to be made, that an individual simply cannot handle it all. The tyrannous belief that one MUST be successful in this endeavour can throw many individuals in to a neurotic state. It becomes the source of a lot of anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness Meditation

It should therefore be no small wonder that mindfulness meditation seems to be the opposite of this carry-on in every way.

Mindfulness is a relatively new type of meditation, in which one seeks to become a passive observer of the situation around oneself. Thoughts, emotions and sensations are monitored by the individual so as to reach a state of detached awareness. A recent special edition of the New Scientist reviewed mindfulness and other meditation research, and talked about the way meditation trains people for improved emotional regulation.

Whereas all things mediated are addressed at you, meditation detaches you from that setting, and helps you inhibit the urge to pay homage to each stimulus you encounter. Considering that one of the approaches to cognitive therapy is to help clients stop processing the negative automatic thoughts, this helps piece together the picture of how mindfulness works.

It would be fascinating, with all the knowledge we have today, to go back to a pre-technological era and measure the relationship between psychological wellbeing and a far less ubiquitous media. However with DeZengogita’s ideas on media theory, and the principles of mindfulness based wellbeing converging together, it paints an ever clearer picture on the cognitive aspects of wellbeing.

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The Connectivist Riots

I’ve spent quite a lot of time recently thinking about things that aren’t real. I’ve realised, that actually, not a lot of things are real. Obviously there IS a lot of things that are real. The computer in front of me, and my car outside are both very real. However there is a vast array of things processed by the human mind, that have no physical form.

From a consumer perspective, consider the ‘Coca-cola’ brand. It has been said that if the entire infrastructure of Coca-cola’s operations were to be lost, it would be okay if the brand were preserved. Where does the Coca-cola brand exist? It is a representation in your mind.

The same can be said about psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioural therapists will help clients recognise that many of their beliefs and fantasies, and how stopping a certain thought can solve the problem.

Many of the thoughts we have concern the qualitative (attributes), quantitative (numbers) and connective factors of the things we interact with. For example, many things are red. You cannot create redness though, can you? You could produce red paint, or show me something red, however red only exists in your mind.

As you can see, the role of these thoughts is as a means to an end. The end is to buy Coca-cola, live more comfortably, or enjoy the knowledge that you own a red car. These ideas and norms only work because of social connections which tell us our ideas are in sync with the wider world, and thus, something more real is taking place.

This is the origin of connectivist theory, a new way to view learning, as a process which takes place across a network of people. It has come to light at this point in time, as we now live in a highly connected age, where we also have a lot of mediated-but-non-existant stuff to sift through. Connections are powerful, as they give us a new perspective on things like accountability and authority. Suddenly, large groups of people are able to communicate, unify, travel or effect change.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The rise of mediation and connection has improved access to education, living standards, democracy and freedom of speech. It has also made possible less desirable things, such as the London riots, and mass terror. I wish to dwell on this point for a moment, because I thing it really does put things in perspective. The London riots began with a small group of youths, discontented with a court decision relating to a member of their community shot by the police. As violence erupted, it was exacerbated as it was shared across twitter. There was no specific factor that unified all who rioted, other than their access to social media.

I’ve often thought that if the connected world has the power to do what it did in England in 2011, it should have the power to do enormous levels of good too. It is connectivism that has given much positive publicity to Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing. (I mean, you don’t think it came from the establishment do you?) The massive quantity of ALS ice bucket videos is another example of the power of networked activity.

There’s a lot of power here, which can be employed in problem solving or divergent creativity. The power of connectivism is decentralised, and virtually impossible to take away, And I don’t think that is a bad thing, because it empowers individuals. In fact, the only thing that could stop it, would be for the energy to run out.