Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pioneers in bringing mindfulness into mainstream medicine, describes mindfulness as, “awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” “Cultivating awareness,” he says, “is simple but not easy.” As a frequent lecturer on cyber civic education, I know how technology can impede our progress to create a mindful life, yet it something we should strive for. The erosion of our reliable, authentic values has led to the misuse of social media. Prior generations had firm rules that shaped social behaviors. We were actively engaged, honing communication skills within our communities and society at large. In today’s modern age, people are socializing in a world that does not have clear-cut rules, like a cyber Wild West. There are few laws in place to protect us, where rules do not apply and respect is not valued. Of utmost concern is that the emotional barrier that the screen creates is weakening our empathic skills. By merging our old values with the new world of technology, we can create a cyber community where kindness and safety are valued and respected.

Social norms have drastically changed as technology entered our daily lives, and we went along with these changes without much reflection. We used to socialize solely face-to-face in our communities, chatting over cake and coffee, and placing the phone “off the hook” because it was dinnertime. Outside for much of the day, kids played in the neighborhood without adult supervision or involvement. If we hurt someone’s feelings, we said, “I’m sorry” in person. We were learning resilience, self-reliance, compassion, and all the other skills necessary for thoughtful communication. We learned that being present and engaged was not always pleasant, but our principles guided us and improved our character.

We must learn to adapt to the new world around us, but we do not have to abandon a solid foundation of ethical values. We can learn from our past, adapt by staying true to our beliefs, yet incorporate this structure within our use of ever-evolving technology. Doing so will help us strike a healthy balance and be a part of the solution of the misuse of social media.

Mindful habits that will help merge your authentic values in the digital age:

Value Your Time

Social media is not a mandated activity. Choose your time wisely. Set clear boundaries between work time and home/recreation time; this will help you be more productive in all areas. Mindfully engage in the here and now.

Value Your Surroundings

Create an atmosphere where technology does not play the major role. Your electronic device should not take precedence over the people in your presence. Stay actively engaged with your surroundings.

Value Empathy

Before sending an email or posting anything, know that you cannot rely on body language and that the screen creates an emotional barrier. Ask yourself the question, “How would this make me feel if I received this?”

Value Kindness and Respect

When answering a text or email, mindfully respond and don’t impulsively react. Take a breath and think about how you want to reply. Think before you click! Pause before you post!

Value Modesty

Share your accomplishments with close family members and friends. Curb the tendency to share everything with your entire contact list. When sending photos, keep in mind the Golden Rule. If others might feel bad they were excluded, don’t post it to the masses.

Value Privacy

Your privates are just that: private. Don’t post photos of yourself that can put you in harm’s way. Your safety is at risk. Reputations can suffer irreversible damage. This also pertains to many other dangerous practices on social media: Talking to strangers on anonymous sites, “checking in” so that everyone knows your exact location, as well letting people know you are on vacation (and the house is empty). Take notice of what you are sharing with the world and protect your privacy. Selectively choose who you allow to have access to you.

Value Family Time

Set a time to have all devices docked for the evening. Create cell- phone free zones to prevent over-attachment to your devices, and create an atmosphere for uninterrupted conversation.

Cultivating the practice of awareness takes practice, but it is worth it. The present moment is all we are guaranteed. Living mindfully can bridge the distance between the need for technological instant gratification, and how to use it in a careful, considerate way. We can model for our children how not to misuse it, and how to keep it from overriding every social interaction with each other. Learning balance will lead to a fulfilling life, both on and offline.

Written by Katie Duffy Schumacher, Author of Don’t Press Send: A Mindful Approach to Social Media; An Education in Cyber Civics. For more information, visit

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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