Can you cultivate mindfulness while being active on social media?

In principle, social media is an amazing tool: it transcends time and space, allowing people from every crevice of the globe to connect. But what something is in principle, and what something ends up being in practice, are two very different things.

After spending even 5 minutes on social media (Instagram, Tiktok, etc.), I find my mind whirling in a haze, looking for the next interesting flash of pixels. And it’s not just me, nor is it some defect in how I use social media: the content on social media is strategically becoming shorter and more sensorily intense, and it is designed to vie for—and capture—every ounce of our attention.

So, I find myself wondering: can you even truly benefit from meditation, or cultivate a meditative practice whilst partaking in the manic frenzy of social media, even sparingly?

Well, the short answer, IMO, is no. I don’t think you can reap the rewards of a contemplative practice while spending your time scrolling through social media. And I’ll tell you why.

Meditation is like constructing a solid house: brick by brick, meditation session by meditation session, you build the solidity of your attentional capacities. You build your ability to sit still (in the case of sitting meditation), and focus on nothing but the present moment, depending of course on the type of meditation. The pathway to cultivating mindfulness is diametrically opposed to the effects of social media.

If mediation is like constructing a house (the house being the skill of mindfulness), social media is like a bulldozer that comes along and tears apart your attentional capacities.

Why?

Because it is designed to be that way, to overwhelm your senses with an onslaught of intensely titillating stimuli in the shortest timeframe possible. On the other hand, meditation is about becoming as satisfied and attentive as possible on either a single object, a mantra, or awareness itself, over a sustained period of time.

At the neurological level, it’s not too hard to deduce that these two forces are tapping into, and strengthening, different brain pathways. Social media trains attention deficits, vague dissatisfaction, and addiction. Meditation trains attentional stability, fulfillment, and wellbeing.

Social media hijacks the dompaminergic systems of the brain,  and causes activation in brain circuity implicated in reward, including the striatum and ventral tegmental areas. Meditation on the other hand, works on brain regions associated with attention, self-control, and emotion regulation, which synergistically work to strengthen the very best capacities of what make us human—our ability to direct our attention, create beautiful and innovative things, and delay gratification in the pursuit of loftier goals.


How do you feel about social media? Let us know your thoughts below ↓

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