Are you always your best self when you’re online or otherwise using your computer / tablet / phone? No, I’m not either. Given how much of life is moderated by a screen, and how imperfect a window to the world that screen can be, is it any wonder? This imperfect window hides from us important information such as body language and tone of voice, and yet we try to use it to form communities, to debate, to learn from others, and so on. Emoji only go so far, so it’s no wonder that we often make a mess of things.
Hard as it might sometimes be to imagine, computers aren’t the only important thing in life. If you look at another important thing – food – you notice that there is the tradition in many religions of saying a prayer of thanks before eating (sometimes known as saying grace). Among other things, this helps to get you in the right frame of mind where it comes to food and the people involved in growing and making it, and how fairly food is distributed around the world.
Part of the novel Canticle for Leibowitz is set in a religious community after an apocalypse. They have been entrusted to look after the few books that survived the apocalypse, and so reading is very important and precious to them. As a result, the members of this community say grace before reading.
Even people with no religious faith can find it helpful to meditate – to take a step back from the immediate and everyday, so that when you re-engage with the world you do so in a way that you think is healthy.
So, with all this in mind, it struck me that maybe it would help to have some kind of meditation or prayer to say or think before going online. Whether you think this is directed at a deity, or to your best self, I hope it’s useful. I don’t expect anyone to say or think something as long as this every time! If it were a grace before eating, then the food would be cold by the time it was over. But I invite you to try taking a moment before you go online, to make sure that your attitude is what you’d like it to be. If you think I’ve missed anything out, or got anything wrong, I would be very interested to know.
Thank you for this computer, for the people who designed it, made it and who will eventually dispose of or recycle it. Let me use this tool safely, without damaging my eyes, wrists, neck, attention span or ability to think deeply.
When someone challenges me, or when I disagree with something someone says, let me feel secure so that my response is proportionate and pointed at the correct target. Help me to read what someone actually wrote, rather than what I think they wrote. Give me humility to know that, just as other people misunderstand me, I sometimes misunderstand them. Give me humility to realise that sometimes I am wrong. Help me to see the people behind the words and avatars.
Help me to stay in control of the hamster wheel of dopamine and distraction, so that I can spend my time wisely.
Help me to be wise to people who are trying to provoke me, or mislead or lie to me. Help me to be in control of the flow of my emotions. Help me to propagate only what is honourable and decent.
If I am buying something using my computer, help me to think of the people who made it, people in warehouses who have packed and unpacked it, and people who have moved it from where it was made to me. Help me to think of the natural resources used from its creation to eventual destruction.
If I am creating something using this computer for other people to use via theirs, give me imagination to think of all the people I could be creating it for, and then humility to put myself in their shoes.