Buddhism and Smartphones

I appreciate modern technology; it’s conducive to what I do for a living, enabling me to meet with clients all over the globe via phone, FaceTime, and Skype.

My smartphone allows me to do several things at once if I want. I don’t.

I love that it’s intelligent enough to also accommodate the Buddhist philosophy of doing one thing at a time: talk on the phone, take a photograph or video, make a recording, send a text, listen to music, transfer money to/from my bank, check in at the airport, even read a book or watch a movie.

I appreciate the vivid artwork on my smartphone’s protective cover — it makes me smile every time I see it.

I also appreciate the Zen Temple Bell ringtone that Len purchased for me. It doesn’t startle. Rather, it’s a single, soft, low tone — a gentle reminder to ask myself, “What’s it like to be on the receiving end of me?” before I pick up.

I’m not a Zen monk, but I enjoy being present in everything I do. Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite Zen monks said, “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” Like single-tasking, that works well with my lifestyle.

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” — Zen proverb

By the way, the sassy digital assistant associated with my smartphone recently suggested that I change the spelling of my name from Laurie to Lori, informing me that the latter version is much more popular! No thanks, I’m good.

Do you find that modern technology improves or hinders your lifestyle?

© lauriebuchanan.com

78 thoughts on “Buddhism and Smartphones

  1. What a great question (and post): does technology improve or hinder life? Hmm… I honestly think, from a communication standpoint, technology has made us poorer communicators, as a whole. Texting means young people don’t know how to spell, and constant access to information means many walk around with spinning heads, or worse – are NEVER present when they’re in the company of others. So many times, at restaurants we see families, each on his/her smartphone, and no one interacting. Yikes!

    So this is a good reminder that unplugging occasionally – or as you indicate “being present in everything I do” is SO vitally important. Great post, “Lori.” 😉

    • Melissa – Excellent observation! Here in Illinois (at least in McHenry County) they removed learning how to write in cursive from the curriculum “because no one actually writes anymore.” I agree that unplugging occasionally is a great way to enhance balance.

  2. Re-submitting with minor correction 🙂

    I also love single-tasking…I also love Zen style of functioning….Doing one task at one point of time…Going slowly is a big achievement when in our times everyone is running fast with eyes closed..ha..ha..ha …By eyes closed I mean chasing futile ambitions… Technology is blessing only in hands of conscious souls like you. For majority, new inventions are like razor in hand of monkeys :p

    -Arvind K.Pandey

  3. What a lovely phone you have, Laurie! Sometimes wish it were possible to have a Smart Phone here in the woods, but no, no reliable service yet. Am grateful for my small traveling Tracfone. Mindfulness offers so many riches and realizations. It’s the one spiritual practice that many of us might want to cultivate. As for technology, sometimes it enriches and sometimes it depletes. It depends on the consciousness of the user.

    • Kathy – I’m pretty sure I’d trade technology for living waaaaaaay up in God’s Country in the middle of the woods — at least it sounds fun to say. (The actual doing of it with your well-below-zero temperatures might put a wee bit of a damper on the reality of it for me)…

  4. I am a fan of single-tasking. Even when “multi-tasking” (which of course our brains really cannot do) I focus on each piece fully. I love my phone because I can turn the ringer off when I need quiet space, knowing that it will retain any messages received during my “down” time. I can send texts to let someone know I’m thinking of her, even if I know I do not have time for a full conversation. “Wishing you a great day!”

  5. I enjoy my phone immensely. I must say that I’m going to try and get that Zen Temple Bell ringtone for my phone. It’s one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve experienced. Thanks for your post Laurie. By the way, your phone is an absolute work of art.

    • Don – Len purchased my ringtone through the iTunes store. The “artist” is Zen Monks, and the “album” Zen Temple Bell. We got the case through an online company called Zazzle. It’s called, “Bamboo Ladybug iPhone 5 Case” and as you saw in the photo, it can be personalized with your name 🙂

  6. Hi Laurie (oh no not Lori! :))
    What serendipity! I just got off the phone with a friend, who like me, does NOT have a Smart phone. She’s getting that longing to have one. What? Couldn’t believe it. Am I to be the only one with a dumb phone? OMG. I’m still in the 60’s I think. Just having a cell phone is enough. It lives in my purse. I know how to text but hate it. Like just call if you have a question for me cuz I will probably screw up a long text answer and end up calling you anyway!

    So I’m chewing on this now. Why do I feel like I’m “giving in” and joining in if I get one? Do I really NEED it? Why am I so anti-tech, anti-establishment? Is there any hope I’ll be “normal”?

    My friend said she felt she was being left behind – all her family/friends have one. Except me. Gulp.

    So I think back. We had a computer in the house for years before I finally said ok, how do I turn this thing on? Hmmm. Do I need counseling?

    • SuZen – As a regular reader of your blog, clearly you do not need counseling 🙂 I think it’s a case of you being on the outside of the bars, looking at many us on the inside of the bars (if we let ourselves be held hostage by our technology)…

      • Always on the outside looking in! 🙂 Story of my life. Thanks for pointing this out though because putting “it” in language will help my book! 🙂

  7. I love that Len bought you a gift that doesn’t take up space, brings peace when it alerts you and will be appreciated and full of purpose for many moons. A ringtone. So simple and inexpensive. That is a plus of technology. A visual pic, a song, a video to brighten up a moment at a touch of a button. Pretty nifty. It’s like going to a virtual five and dime or dollar store. 👳

  8. I like that – smile, breathe and go slow. It definitely fits my today as it is the first day I am out a of bed and dressed since Saturday when a cold flu settled in for a visit. I recently got an iPad and I had something in mind for how I would use it. However, I have found other uses that a most fun and helpful. Easy to watch movie in bed when sick. Easy to use Internet recipe when cooking. Easy to Skype with grandchildren. And it leaves me with much less time sitting at my computer desk. So far so good Laurie.

    • Terrill – I’m so glad to hear that you’re on the mend. That flu bug was nasty! Unfortunately, I know from first-hand experience. Len keeps the iPad in the kitchen where he blatantly pursues his mistress – Cook’s Illustrated 🙂

  9. I don’t understand it, I’m not very good at it but I’d never want to live my life without it. Through it I’ve made connections with so many wonderful people. People like you Lori…um…er…Laurie. : )

  10. With a special needs child, I have found a cellphone to be invaluable and now I find the smart phone to be something I do not think I could live without. I love the dictation so I do not have to text and text all night long to have a 5 minute conversation with a daughter! I paid my credit card off before I got out of bed! and read the 2 papers I peruse before I finished my water. My husband has an ipad and he uses it more than any phone or computer he has ever had. His brothers are in the dark ages and hardly have any time with their children or grand children because they cut themselves off. My hubs plays Draw with friends with the kids and several young kids he has assisted along the way – in turn they keep coming out to bike ride and train with him…I play word games with my kids and several other brain exercises.

    I also have an app which helps me identify GMO free foods in a unfamiliar store! And whether or not the restaurants in a location have any gluten free entrees. The maps have saved my skin several times…and wow I wish I had had it when I was going to folks homes for counseling appointments – having kids pull out knives/guns and other weapons during a session was never fun – their parents were often worse….I could have looked up on the State registry….

    I do only one thing at a time…walking is my second meditation of the day – I do not answer the phone or check it out. But when I fell down and could not get up – I could call for assistance. I have called for an ambulance for a homeless fellow on my walk and got the state patrol to an accident quickly.

    I do talk to one child while she cooks her Sunday food on her blue tooth….I use it as a chance to sit and focus on her. My partner’s new hearing aid answers his phone, or he can listen to his mp3 player while running? or driving…it runs through his new smart phone and keeps his brain reading what he needs to hear…and his balance…

    SuZen’s statement just put me into a tizzy – I do not want to be left behind at all…and this makes my life so much better….but I love you Apple Buddhism words….I do not want it to take over my life…just enhance and help it be better.

  11. Laurie this is such a great question. I know from a work standpoint it is so very useful for me as well. I also have to admit I will appreciate (as a new android owner) the ability to open some of the videos and other messages my old dear Tracfone couldn’t open. Then, I will fess up to just enjoying having so much at my finger tips … including the camera and video.
    I do resonate with Kathy’s comment “As for technology, sometimes it enriches and sometimes it depletes. It depends on the consciousness of the user.” I was priviledged to learn circle council practices with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea does what I heard you say you do … before the call she lights a candle to bring the spiritual / universal into the space; she focuses briefly (or longer if the call can use this support) and then makes the phone call; practicing being present in the moment. I primarily coach in person (on leadership, etc.), however when necessity requires a call I have adopted a similar process.

    • Audrey – Like you, I resonate with Kathy’s comment: “As for technology, sometimes it enriches and sometimes it depletes. It depends on the consciousness of the user.” Oh how fortunate you are to have learned circle council practices with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. Wow!

      • Yes, it was an amazing experience. I actually went through 2 levels of circle council practice. I also learned more about kayaking from Ann Linea (who kayaked the entire way around Lake Superior; much of it solo) on Whidbey Island off Washington State … and then went with a group led by Ann and Christina to the Big Island of Hawaii and kayaked. Extraordinary experience. … By the way Christina and Ann published an updated book “The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair” with a forward by Margaret Wheatley in 2010. The books can be purchased via http://www.peerspirit.com/

  12. Modern technology IS my lifestyle!!!

    While I appreciate a great deal of Buddhist teachings, I do so mostly while driving. Right now I am up to lecture 21 of The Teaching Company’s introduction to Buddhist thought.

    I find that I can have the body doing one thing (like driving) while most of my intellectual attention is doing something else (like delving deeply into Buddhist thought).
    Providing what my body is doing does not require the use of language, this works very well – part of why I enjoyed fishing as an occupation.

    Golf is one thing I do that requires total attention, mind and body as one, and the secret seems to be to use mind to give body a target, then to keep mind out of the way and let body deliver, without interference.
    On the odd occasion that I achieve that, it works well.

    • Ted – Based on your response, I think you would truly enjoy reading Roland Merullo’s book “Golfing With God.” He’s the same author who wrote “Breakfast with Buddha” that I enjoyed so much. As an aside, I can clearly see why you make the perfect fisherman!

  13. Gee, that’s a poser….I can thread a needle, hammer a nail, lay out a good garden and can the produce, raise a flock of hens. All things that have been common enough for the last several centuries. I didn’t even want or have a cell phone until my children forced one upon me, “just in case”. I didn’t have a computer until 2007 and this was after spending the better part of a year at the local tech. school in a course called ‘Integrated Computer Systems’ that taxed every fiber of my being. I still refuse to text operating under the premise that “a well-placed word at the right time” still works best. I still haven’t learned to transfer the photos from my phone to my laptop, with my camera I pop out the memory card. I have feet and yards of USB cords that I have no idea what to do with but am afraid to throw away. I have a tangle of chargers on my kitchen counter that was driving me around the bend until I dumped them all in a mixing bowl. In the plainest of terms, I own the most basic of sort of technology, no youngster would willingly live in my house with the scarcity of items I have to play with, no video games, no tablets, no pads. I only own two remote control devices, one for the Dig. HD T.V., the other for my air conditioner. Every thing I have to learn to operate is a challenge to me, but there is nothing I would give up. It’s still all magic to me.

    • Sandi – You sure wouldn’t want me to lay out your garden, but I’m the person to call for help with the weeding — for some odd reason I find that task strangely therapeutic. As for taking care of the Chicken Ladies, I’d probably be a good “hen sitter” for a weekend, but I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes to do it on a full-time basis. You made me (and Len!) laugh with the description of those pesky USB cords now behaving solemnly in your mixing bowl! They have remote controls for air conditioners? Clearly, we live under a rock!

  14. I have a smart phone but rarely use it for anything I couldn’t have used my older model for, but as this was free and the plan is so cheap (on my son’s work plan) I have it. I have to say I don’t like having a phone with me all the time. I do for emergencies if I get in a jam, but knowing people can reach me all the time bothers me. I want to live my life, not have to stop what I’m doing to answer a phone for something that could have waited.

    • LivingSimplyFree – A FREE phone and a CHEAP plan are two pretty good reasons to have a smartphone 🙂 Like you, however, we don’t want our phones to feel like a leash that we’re attached to. (Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone, but I rarely pick up my phone when it rings. Partly because I enjoy the ringtone so much, and partly because if the caller really wants to speak with me, they’ll leave a message. This method tends to weed out the non-important calls).

  15. Terrific post Laurie!

    Well, I’d say it does both for me. First off I am in complete accord that doing things one at a time puts the breaks on stress, while allowing for a more acute focus. It also cuts down on the risks. I know some people who play with fire, like texting and/or talking on their cell phones while driving. I am very slow at adapting to the new technological refinements, and tend to be set in my ways. I have not for example ventured onto Facebook nor Twitter, and was very late setting up a blog. I still don’t have my own cell phone, opting instead to share Lucille’s. I find as I get older I have less patience than I did years back. But I do applaud your pared back approach. It does allow for more resonant immersion in whatever project or task you are involved with.

    • Sam – I love your take on single-tasking: “…doing things one at a time puts the breaks on stress, while allowing for a more acute focus.” You brought up a vital topic: texting while driving. I’ve heard many fatal stories — sometimes the person who’s texting gets killed, other times it’s an innocent bystander.

  16. I like my gadgets Laurie. I used to have a record collection in a huge box that took two people to carry it. Now I have all the same music, and a lot more, in something the size of a matchbox in my coat pocket. Whoever invented the MP3 player and the USB memory stick should get a Nobel prize and a medal the size of a frying pan (for cooking vegetarian food of course).

    • Kevin – You provided the perfect example of one of the many positive things modern technology does. In a relatively quick and effortless manner, it can dwindle a hefty box full of music into an almost weightless, matchbook-size device that slips right into your coat pocket. Yes!

  17. Being the failed multi-tasker that I am, I love the Zen proverb! I barely manage to walk when a walk, tripping all over myself. LOL

    Sara and I recently downgraded from our smartphones in preparation for our move to Ecuador. I was saddened to discover this morning, however, that I had failed to turn the ringer on. I had foolishly wondered why no one was calling! Who’s the dumb one now? LOL


  18. It invades. People expect and at times demand that you respond to them immediately, just because you can. As a child, there was an unwritten rule, amongst my friends and their family’s, that you did not call each other during dinner time. That was time, set aside for the family to be together. I think today’s technology hinders because the expectations, of instant gratification, have erased all lines of respect and decorum.

  19. I prefer Laurie. It presents its elf as being more elegant rather than the shortened version. I like my devices because it is so much part of my professional and personal world. However, i also like to muck about in the garden in the mud, go for long walks in the park and cook a big pot of spaghetti. I guess balance is the key in everything we do. Your blog title was so intriguing! ~Thea

  20. Oh yes, modern technology definitely improves my lifestyle! Every time I hear the dishwasher or washing machine humming along my appreciation for their services is gratefully acknowledged and renewed. Living in a culture that seems to value multitasking, I agree that it is so much better to do one thing at a time. I don’t have a smart phone yet, but when our current contract is up I will be getting one and I’ll have to ask Tim to get me a Zen Temple Bell ring-tone, too!

  21. I like to take the bits that help and leave the bits that distract when it comes to super Smart smartphones. I am still pretty much a phone to call and text person though there are moments when I enjoy having WordPress as an app.

    Pick and mix is the spice of life…or something along those lines as I sit here at night browsing favourite blogs….

  22. I have a love/hate relationship with my technology. I love to teach people how to use technology to help them be more efficient, but my own phone and computer break down regularly. I think they are affected by my own strong energy field.

    The one thing that I would have a hard time doing without is texting. I have numerous people who I text regularly to stay in touch. We need to know there is someone out there who cares and this is a great way to send a quick note to say that. Often times this is happening at a time when a phone call or visit would not be possible. (during another boring meeting)

    I have ruined, lost, flushed or otherwise destroyed many smart phones. It has reduced since I stopped saying “I hate my phone” all the time. 🙂 Each time I lost one I was without it for about a week. Sprint’s business phone replacement plan requires that they drop ship one to you, not pick one up at a store. The one thing I did notice was that after I got over my tizzy of not being able to communicate, I noticed the peace that came from not being in constant contact and having some quiet time alone. It was really nice and apparently I really needed it! 🙂 KMC

  23. If I think of technology the way you explain it in this post, it doesn’t hinder. But too often I let it get in my way (SO many things to do at the same time, SO many people to respond to, SO many things to learn about). I love the Zen way, and am trying to take it more slowly, and enjoy every (single) thing in my life – one at a time.

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  25. I love this philosophy. Do one thing at a time. I also love how you use it to describe your smartphone which many see as the instrument of doing two things- texting while eating, talking while driving. People could learn a thing or two from just that one philosophy.

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  27. That certainly works well for me too, Laurie (not Lori.. 😉 )
    One thing at a time..!
    I remember a time when I did many things at once, thinking myself very clever…!
    Ha ha; life has a way of showing us our foibles…. 😉
    As for the smartphone: I haven’t one. My partner has, as does my daughter; as do many of my friends and acquaintances. However, I’m not ready for one… yet..! I haven’t the need… yet…! One day…. maybe…! 😉
    Technology; such as this computer at which I write; the phone that rings; the TV that sits patiently waiting; bells and whistles in my kitchen; the washing machine that musically alerts me to its finished cycle; the electronic toys and gadgets that make up much of today’s music are wonderful time saving gadgets, and often loved. However, the smartphone will have to wait. It will catch me soon enough though, of that I am sure… 😉

  28. Oh my! Where do I begin? 🙂 I love technology, but I wasn’t born with one in my hands, as some are today. So it’s been a constant learning process. First, I love your cellphone cover! It represents you. The thought that came to me was: for something we use each and every day, and sometimes numerous times per day, something (some would say) as small as a cellphone cover should be chosen and sought out carefully to bring that positive energy back in at all times! Seriously! It’s like listening to better, more positive music because your inner brain is constantly hearing it. I will be looking for something more positive for my cellphone cover.

    When I really need to relax, technology must go – at least temporarily. But it’s a necessary tool for my business, so in that, it does make things easier and more accessible. It also makes it great for connecting with others and learning from others. Twitter? I’m still a baby at that one. And I thought it was so easy…not so much! Still learning that medium.

    I laughed about the comment about changing the spelling of your name…! It’s funny to me because I get that ALL the time: “Use Debra (most people spell it that way, and that’s fine, but that’s not my name!), not Deborah.” “Deborah” – it’s old-fashioned and too long! Tough cookies, I say, that’s my name! 🙂

    Keep up the good work. Thank you for all your support on my site. It really means a lot to me. There are some days (and you don’t know it, but now you do), I think to myself – “Wow. Laurie is coming back again!” and you may be one of a very few who have since the beginning. Peace, Deborah

  29. Good morning! I very much enjoyed the post. You are a great example of how to maximize the benefits of a smartphone without allowing them to control your life. If I ever do switch to a smartphone, I hope I can use it as judiciously as you!

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