Life Without Modern Technology

Last month I spent about a week at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, San Francisco Zen Center’s monastery. I was there during work period. It was a fantastic experience.

Growing up in modern society, I never experienced being an adult without modern technology like computers and cell phones. Sure I could very easily hide my laptop and cell phone under my bed for a week but everyone else would still be functioning with their technology. In the long run, it would appear as though such a move would remove me from standard ways people communicate. Though that doesn’t stop some.

I want to make a special classification for social technology. By this I mean computers, phones or any device that can be used as a means of communication. Social technology does not include a digital camera or a power drill. What was unique about the monastery experience was that no one had their social technology.

The question arose, is anything missing? What value does social technology add? In my experience and in my conversation with others, nothing felt lacking and there was trouble defining the value add.

The argument as I understand it is that social technology gives us greater reach. Like capitalism, it allows us to connect the world and gain access to resources we would not otherwise have in our backyard. The loss aversion principle is in play here: people do not want to lose value they currently feel they have regardless of wether is actually creates value. What I mean is, I would not want to lose having a device that allows me to communicate with anyone I know at any time. In modern society, it doesn’t matter whether that actually improves my life, it is a perceived value I would feel loss over.

This all drops when no one has the social technology. I am not at a loss if the value I perceive is not actionable – if my device doesn’t let me call anyone because I have no signal.

What made the monastery socially successful was that everyone there was part of a community. I had no choice but to interact and build relationships with the people around me. Unlike a city block in San Francisco where not a single person on that street knows their neighbor, I met everyone. There was no outside reach, no importing satisfaction from elsewhere. Anything I wanted to learn, I had to ask people about – I couldn’t Google it. Any social interaction required I talk to people – I couldn’t scroll through Facebook.

Importing satisfaction. Outsourcing social needs. How does one build a physical community in a world where people are constantly reaching outside the physical community?

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