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Amy Howell Ph.D.

Mindful Interactions in the Digital Age

It is possible to remain connected when we're so "connected."

At first, the idea of mindfulness--the state of mental integration through attention and awareness to our thoughts, sensations, and environment--and technology may seem like an oxymoron. For many of us, the constant presence of information and feedback through our various devices offers anything but respite in an overstimulated world. Yet, it is for this very reason that claiming space for mindfulness as a part of our online interactions is both possible and meaningful for our overall wellness in a digital world.

M. Howell, used with permission
Source: M. Howell, used with permission

When it comes to defining mindfulness there are various interpretations to consider. Mindful defines it as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley describes it as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” The Positive Psychology Program provides 20 definitions for this captivating but often elusive state of being. Perhaps most meaningful in my effort to increase awareness and positive action in my own life, Dr. Daniel Siegel notes that the opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness: “Instead of being on automatic and mindless, mindfulness helps us awaken, and by reflecting on the mind we are enabled to make choices and thus change becomes possible.”

Taken together, the pursuit of mindfulness involves awareness, reflection, and intentionality. When it comes to engaging in an online world, these key aspects offer signposts to guide our own online interactions and support the conscientious connectivity of our children. The challenge to engage our skills of awareness, reflection and intentionality relate well to current work addressing the ethical and responsible participation of youth in today’s networked world. Researchers, such as danah boyd , Carrie James , and Jennifer Casa-Todd call on adults and mentors in the lives of youth to engage with the complexities inherent in today’s world wherein development, culture, and technology intersect and to consider the often positive, creative, and transformative ways in which today’s youth are integrating technology into their drive to understand the world they live in and their role in society.

Mindfully engaging in a digital world begins with an a wareness of the social, emotional, and physical elements of our connection followed by reflection about who the intended audience is, and are we reaching that audience in the most appropriate manner, or is there another outlet that would be more effective? What is our emotional charge at the moment of our connection? Are we in a reactive, responsive, or receptive state? In terms of our physical space, how does the setting influence the context of our interaction? Finally, bringing intentionality to our networked lives means asking ourselves if our on and offline actions line up with our core values, attitudes and beliefs about privacy, property, and meaningful, ethical participation in an increasingly connected world.

Taken together, awareness, reflection, and intentionality are three considerations to help begin our efforts to be mindful about our on and offline behaviors, to remain connected to ourselves and those we care about, and to find space in a digitally crowded world.

Be well connected!