When we did manual labour and did not have labour-saving devices, we worked from morning to night creating the same output that we can now deliver in a fraction of that time. By manual labour, I do not mean physical labour, it could also be accounting, computing, research, even reading (dare I call it studying?)…
There was an element of Zen mindfulness (being fully in the present), as mistakes would require a great deal of redoing.
Think about writing a letter. An MS Word document can be automatically spell-checked and mistakes can be corrected. No one would know and appreciate, by looking at the final document, how much labour has gone into it. Compare that to the pain of writing a letter by hand, and the final sense of accomplishment we had of finishing a product that was created with minimal corrections. We were more aware of ourselves, what we were doing, what the world around us was doing, and we appreciated the fruits of our labour.
Consider food. Our moms take time to cook and be mindful of the final product with all its nuances of taste as determined by the preferences of the family members. When we eat, we are mindful of that love and we appreciate the subtlety. Compare that to a fast food, even instant noodles, which we mindlessly eat in front of the TV. We are, in general, no longer aware of, let alone appreciate, what we eat. No wonder, we need to go to a five-star restaurant to appreciate food, maybe because we pay so much for it that we have to extract all we can from the meagre morsel. The five-star chef put salt and pepper in front of you, which our moms never needed to. Maybe the love compensates.
This is the virtue of ‘Karma-yoga’ or the sense of fulfilment that comes out of mindfully executing work. Some persons do ‘Jnana- yoga’ where the sense of fulfilment comes from mindfully thinking about knowledge, its acquisition, its uses and its relevance. It is a desire of most young adults to move from ‘Karma-yoga’ (execution) to ‘Jnana-yoga’ (strategy). Often, they wish to skip the execution part.
With the advent of technology and labour-saving devices, the mind has become free. We no longer need to focus on the job at hand, because much of what our mind would earlier do has now been programmed into the device. Therefore the mind is unoccupied and looks for other ways to occupy itself. Instead of evolving from Karma Yoga to Jnana Yoga, taking time to ponder over various short term and long term strategies, we tend to keep the mind busy by entertainment.
Entertainment is a funny thing (no pun intended). Our mind gets used to a novelty and then craves newer and better sources. The need to keep the mind occupied and the addiction to entertainment leads to a craving for more time to get entertained. This creates a need to obtain more labour saving – or shall we say, time saving devices – faster and stronger cars and machines. This creates a vicious cycle of dependency. Entertainment devices is not just about TVs and such electronics, it also about ambience – from lazy-boys (the uber-comfortable armchairs) to sound-proof rooms.
If we look at peer comparisons about our possessions, it is primarily about the labour saving devices or entertainment devices or the means to purchase them. It is rarely about knowledge – when was the last time someone said, “I have a better dictionary than yours,” it was more like, “I can afford a more expensive dictionary than yours!”
These devices leads to less physical activity and a lazy mindset. This leads to lifestyle diseases. We compensate by buying faster and stronger gym equipment and devices for injecting chemicals and measuring bodily functions. We create a dependency on these chemicals and measuring devices. Because these chemicals help alleviate our problems, we are free to revert to our craving for entertainment.
Would it be fair to say, therefore, that technology has actually helped in reducing awareness of our actions and their consequences; which, in turn, has led to lifestyle diseases – a contamination of the purpose of life itself?