"There must be an antidote to this proliferation. There must be a way out of the constructed self that has been birthed through a field of never-ending consumer desires nestled among prodigious and useless information. There has to be a way to circumvent the nasty effects and the not-so-desirable self that now has been born. It will require some work. I'm not discounting the difficulties of swimming upstream in a culture addicted to speed and greed, but we have to start somewhere.
"We might try a few guidelines for support. We could limit the time we spend on the Web and do our best to stick to it. I like to ask myself, do I really need to read the thirty-fifth analysis of the Patriot Act, or could I live without it? Or we might decide that for every hour we spend online, we spend two hours in nature or with friends. A one-to-two ratio, while arbitrary, seems appropriate, or at least a place to start. Another practice would be to pay close attention to how our mind feels upon unplugging. For me the aftermath is increasingly unpleasant and the groggy spaced-out feeling is becoming less and less desirable. Sometimes after a protracted, riveting session on eBay, I log off only to find I can barely tie my shoes. Oh, right, I have a body. A neighbor stops by and it takes about fifteen minutes before I connect with the actual experience of talking. I am stumbling as if I'm drunk, and my eyes are itchy, as if I've been in a sandstorm. Ultimately I normalize, but the transition period is definitely not fun. I now ask myself on a regular basis, would I rather take a walk or surf the Web? (Don't get me wrong, sometimes the Web wins.)
"There is a host of potential practices we could try. We can program our computer so a 'mindfulness bell rings randomly, and the monitor goes blank temporarily, helping us stop in that moment, breathe, and sense the body. We can put little awareness reminders stickered to our computer. We could answer e-mails only on alternate days. If we work in an office, we could invite friends to stop by to remind us to breathe while we are on the computer. In that dreadful endless space between Web pages being loaded, we could perceive it not as a tragedy but as a moment for coming back to ourselves.
"As for the consumer end, we might agree with ourselves that we will make no impulse buys on the Internet everything must be considered within a day. Or if we're really addicted, no Internet shopping, period. But I'm skeptical of the cold-turkey approach. If we really want to get radical and work at it, developing mindfulness will go a long way toward subverting the greed-inducing effects of the Internet. Learn to meditate, attend retreats, practice, practice, practice seeing the mind getting caught in craving, and learn to let go. Observe dependent origination at work in your life as frequently as you can. Notice pleasant sensations. Notice wanting. Notice clinging, notice self. Ultimately, develop mindfulness that's sharp and subtle enough to catch the pleasant sensations while online. That's the advanced practice, of course. . .
"On the ethical level, we have to ask ourselves what kind of person we want to be. Greedy and addicted, or generous and free? It is possible to cultivate the second set of qualities. We actually have the capability to develop our character through practice. We can generate the self we want to be. Who we become depends on each little action we take, one choice or one mouse click at a time. Whenever I fall in love with something I just have to buy a new sweater, a fancy toaster, or even a doorstop I ask myself this question: Ten minutes ago, did you even know the item existed? Somehow this simple reminder helps me to let go of the wanting.
"In the end it may come down to that Buddhist value of contentment. Being with things exactly as they are and being perfectly content. Not needing anything other than what you already possess within you to be happy. Contentment isn't valued in this high-speed and high-greed culture. If people were content with what they have and who they are, why would they go shopping? Learning to cultivate and acknowledge your own contentment is a revolutionary act in these times. Every time you feel content in a conversation, a meal, a sunset really sense the contentment. What do your body and mind feel like? For me contentment holds a subtle quality of well-being, a peace or quiet happiness. My body feels fully present, relaxed. I could be smiling, but I don't have to be. Everything is simply enough. Nothing more is needed to be happy. We can train our minds to settle for less. Just this.
"To address the systemic impacts of cyberspace, I thought it might be useful to start an advertising campaign called 'Go Reality.' It would remind people through television spots, print media, and flashing Internet ads that ordinary life, exactly as it is, is actually better than the virtual world. Posters would display zoned-out kids staring glassy-eyed at computer screens contrasted with other kids romping cheerfully through the woods. Celebrity spots could broadcast: 'When was the last time you spoke to your child?' or 'Real sex is better' or 'Try nature, it's the real thing.'
"The Go Reality campaign could invade the Internet and promote disruption. Those horrible hijacking ads the ones for dating and for loans that pop onto your screen when you hit the Web could be rivaled with hijacking ads of our own. Whenever you go on a shopping Web site, a message could pop up: 'Do you really need that?' 'Save for your kids' education.' 'C'mon, you're wasting your money.' We could buy banner ads on all the major commerce sites shouting the criminality of excessive shopping. Reality, we could proudly display, means being okay with things as they are!
"It's a great idea. And I promise to get to work on it right away. But I just heard about a new discount Web site, and, well, sitting back and shopping is a heck of a lot easier than changing the world."