What is a Digital World?
We are living in a digital world. Technology is all around and our life is completely mechanised. We have witnessed several revolutions such as the industrial revolution, the green revolution, the white revolution, and so on. The Information Technology revolution is what we are facing with its serious implications. The world is becoming more and more digital. Today we can do many things without human assistance, sitting at home which we could not have dreamt of a few years ago. ‘Work from home’, ‘learn from home’, and ‘online examinations at home’ have become norms of the day. The influence of digital technology is overwhelming and inescapable.
We are ruling the world through ideologies and fighting wars for supremacy. But technology is ruling imperceptibly both the world and us. No nation can afford to ignore it and no society can survive without it. Similarly, there is no human area that is not affected by technology. Even art, literature, and music are inescapably in the grip of technology. The danger of it is that our actual intellectual faculty is replaced by artificial intelligence. In this way, a human can be reduced, controlled, and manipulated into a human-machine. Those who oppose it have to do so through technology. It has become an integral part of our lives. It is imperceptibly expanding its regime entrapping everyone. It is increasingly becoming impossible for us to escape from its fold. It is the rule of technology, called ‘technocracy’, coined by Theodore Roszak, an American academic. The horrific danger of it encompassing all human life has been beautifully captured by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory who observed: “And there will be nobody left almost to remind them that there was once a species called a human being, with feelings and thoughts. And that history and memory are right now being erased, and that soon no one will really remember that life existed on the planet” (Rosak xi).
What is a digital world or society? A society that uses digital methods increasingly in their daily life, i.e., online communications, is called a digital society. The users are called digital citizens. Digital technology includes common technologies such as a smartphone or computers but also encompasses a large range of other products or services such as home security or home automation. The digital world is about fast connections between us and the world. We get more easily connected with our families wherever they are on the globe, our communities, our nation, and the rest of the world. Every big city, medium-sized city, or smaller town is increasingly adopting technologies like Big Data, the Internet of Things and sensors. More devices are connected to the internet than humans. Approximately three billion people now use the internet. About five billion people use mobile phones. This number may go up as the population increases. According to a survey conducted in America, on average, a mobile user spends five hundred hours sending messages and using the net per month. It is estimated that 26 billion “things” are connected to the internet. This number is expected to increase by 125 billion just by 2030. These internet things have transformed the operations of many industries, both consumer and enterprise including that energy, transportation, healthcare, etc., in addition to shaping every sphere of human life. There is no doubt, therefore, that digital technologies probably are seriously affecting more aspects of our lives than we are aware of…
Positive Consequences of Digital Technology
Digital technologies are playing such a large part in our lives. They have advanced more rapidly than any innovation in our history – reaching the developing world’s large population in only two decades and transforming societies. It promises to provide everything for the fulfilment of desires except feelings and emotions. By enhancing connectivity, financial inclusion, access to trade and public services, technology has become a great equaliser. These visible changes are welcome because no one can stop the probing human mind. As universities and colleges in the world are multiplied, knowledge coming from the hands of professors and researchers also increases astronomically.
New digital tools have allowed us to write, compose, draw, to communicate in ways we could never have dreamed of doing before. With 3D printing, we can print houses more creatively. Prosthetic limbs are printed making them cheaper and therefore more accessible, more colourful, and more personalized. The Internet of Things can connect anything from the soil on a farmer’s land to a space station and can share information.
We can use our digital connectedness against us. As the global population is becoming much more digitally connected, most firms have adjusted their marketing strategies to maximize their consumer engagement. These new media and communication technologies have made a significant impact on the advertising industry with the rapid advancement in technology such as mobile phones and the internet. In the past, companies relied on traditional media outlets such as radio and print in order to attract customers and build a reputation for themselves. They can now use digital technology to achieve this instantly, target customers, and can easily exploit them. Sometimes, this targeted advertising is found intrusive and quite creepy.
Maia Haworth, a fellow writer for the Digital Society publication, has discussed “programmatic” advertising in the business world and it has become a buzzword that many people use but few really understand. According to her, it uses the data to develop algorithms and automate the buying, placement, and optimization of advertising. (https://medium.com/digital-society/programmatic-advertising-131556a79174) Since the rise of the internet in the early 2000s, there has been a great shift from traditional advertising media (television, newspaper, and radio) to digital media (computers, mobile phones, etc.). Television commercials are extremely competitive, expensive, and dominated by big companies. With the growing use of the internet, new doors have opened for advertisers to reach smaller, niche markets and appeal to consumers through online cyberspace. This has helped to disperse ads across multiple platforms, thus lowering the costs of traditional media outlets. Programmatic advertising has helped create a sense of trust by utilizing consumer behaviour data to predict which audiences are most likely to be interested in a product.
Negative Consequences of Digital Delusion
So, what are the catastrophic consequences of using these digital technologies? Apart from the wasted money spent on unsuccessful or unnecessary products, even using ‘successful’ technologies can have far-reaching implications. These can be positive when they enable us to manage our life more efficiently, but how smart technologies we use in the home can also lead to much more sinister side effects. Someone can easily hack our emails and the data stored in WhatsApp and other Apps without our knowledge. The information can be easily passed off to third parties for processing before responding with natural language responses. Technology has ushered in a new service called Artificial Intelligence (AI). Talking about it, Shoshana Zuboff says, “We thought that we search google, but now we understand that google searches us. We assumed that we used social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us… we have begun to understand that ‘Privacy’ policies are actually surveillance policies” (Malhotra xxii).
Human is losing the sense of originality so much that we have integrated new media into our daily life and our agenda and our goals are shaping, shifting, and transforming every moment. The notions of relationship, connection, and friendship are changing rapidly. The digital world is transforming homo sapiens into mere living robots, connecting always with digital media and technology. As mentioned in The Routledge Companion to Digital Consumption, “…Our flesh and blood are now mixed with circuits and devices. We have become wired and wireless selves, homo connectus, always logged on.” (4) Greengard states, “We’re seeing people so absorbed in digital media that I’s becoming their primary reference point for life” (17-19). Hunter prophesies, “Credible predictions suggest that within a generation, we may have computers a million times more intelligent than every human combined. Artificial intelligence will far surpass human beings as the most capable lie forms on the earth: ‘machines’ will calculate, communicate and act so quickly that humans would not even comprehend what they are achieving. Integrated with advances in non-biological intelligence, we will surely witness revolutionary changes in energy sources, nano-technology, bio-technology and robotics” (Prabuddha Bharata. May 2021).
Digital technology is a tool and we can use it both for constructive and destructive purposes. Using technology depends on the user. If he uses it with heart, it is for the betterment of society. The real worth of technology lies in its proper use. Its widespread misuse results in more harm than help. While narrating a woman with a smartphone being knocked down in the middle of the road, which was shocking, Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, author, and public speaker observes: “Technology is the powerful tool for the communication and yet the way we are using and the authority we are awarding it are also making it into a powerful impediment to our sense of presence and awareness” (xiv).
When we become slaves to technology, human life becomes absurd and irrelevant. As a result, one loses love and respect for life and looks upon everything and every creature with contempt and cynicism. The lack of respect, love, and warmth are the root cause of many mental maladies prevalent in society at present. Though we are close physically we are distanced emotionally. We are closer to the persons behind the screen than to the ones beside us. If we are separated from one another by spending hours with technology, where else we are supposed to learn to be humans? “Biophilia hypothesis,” as developed by Emrys Westacott, suggests that “human beings have a deep-seated impulse to affiliate with other life forms” (131).
The Absurdity of the Spiritualists’ Concerns
No doubt digital technology has made our lives easier, or more efficient. There are, however, many side effects of digital technology such as technology addiction, time loss, isolation, lower academic performance with students, depression, stress, loss of creativity, physical diseases such as hypertension, back pain, spondylitis, low sugar level, and neurotic disorders. Against the backdrop of these ill effects, spiritualists raise the following pertinent questions: isn’t it time we consider to what extent its use of it is ethical? What is more astonishing and shocking is that we as digital consumers develop a self that is distinctly different from our real nature, resulting in chaos and misery in our lives. So, how to make our lives meaningful in a digital society?
These questions may sound meaningful to the people, particularly the people who claim themselves as spiritualists. But certainly, look absurd. The spiritualists always voice their deepest concerns as they see that society is moving in one direction of self-destruction. The materialists who are wedded to the pleasure principle will see no such dangers in the vicinity. Both people are wrong in their perceptions. The spiritualists’ perceptions are sided with the esoteric knowledge they have gained by reading books and listening to their gurus who always guided them.
The solution does not lie in blaming the technology nor in the values the spiritualists preach, mostly taken from the Vedas and scriptural texts as defence mechanism. The author of this discourse, however, is not questioning the credibility and authenticity of such values. He is questioning about parroting blindly such values without facing the actual ground realities. Seeking instant solutions by following such values and ideals will create hiatus between the situation, the created values, and us resulting in conflict. The problem is with their asserting that a solution lies in following and upholding Vedic values. To say that these values are ideal for society to create harmony and peace among people is wrong.
How to Create a Meaningful Life?
Keep these values and ideals aside for a while and consider the following discussion. It is important to recognize that we can’t stop human progress and the development of technology. Change is inevitable and we can hardly stop it. There is an inherent will in us to know, invent, and develop. Without it, we would not have witnessed the enormous development in science and technology, the benefits of it the human world is now reaping. Digital technology has united the world and made it into a global village. It has brought the entire world to everyone’s doorsteps. It has yielded innumerable benefits which provided a comfortable and well-informed living. Without it, our life will be miserable.
We need to face this change. Fighting against the inherent human will and tendencies to know, invent, and develop as some conservative spiritualists and religious forces have been trying does not work. First, accept this change. It is a reality. It is not a fantasy or a virtual reality. The so-called spiritualists have invented all these fanciful words for their own convenience and for the sake of their own survival. In this world, each group of people is teaching and preaching their own philosophy, not born out of their own experiences, but parroting that which has already been codified and documented in the scriptural texts. To say the digital world is only digital, not real, is totally absurd. This specious argument is much more dangerous than talking about values and ideals. The awareness of this helps us deal with the digital society as it is. Without facing the reality, talking about values and ideals is like putting the cart before the bullock.
As we first accept the reality that is right before us, we will notice the benefits and the ill effects. This act of seeing both will bring a slow transformation into us. This transformation happens within us with no volition and outside forces. Values follow automatically, but these values are not from outside. Anything that comes from outside, we strongly resist. They will not stay with us long. We may follow such values because we do not know what actually they are. But values that spring within will stay longer with us because they happen naturally, and certainly, they are in consonance and not in conflict with the values codified in the Vedas and the other scriptural texts.
This act of seeing is called awareness. Awareness of what the machine is doing, what we are looking for, true happiness or falsified pleasures, our uncontrolled desires, our feelings, and our emotions. This awareness is a big presence. We can say that it belongs to the spiritual realm, though it is simply awareness without naming it. It cannot be simulated or inherited but has to be cultivated. It is this awareness that is unique in a human, which distinguishes us from the other creatures. Because of this awareness, we can check every malfunctioning of our body and mind, everything that happens in our being. Whereas in technology, every happening is a process without having awareness, however, is endowed with Artificial Intelligence. So, to be human, we need to cultivate this awareness, this big presence in us.
Yoga and Digital Society
How does Yoga help us face the fast-changing world? We have already noticed the ill effects of the digital society, particularly the ill effects that manifest in physical diseases such as stress, strain, depression, hypertension, backpain, spondylitis, arthritis, and rheumatism. What we require here is wellness of our body and mind to get along with the digital changes that affect our lifestyles. The fact that body is with us when we are alone cannot be denied. Unless this body is made fit and viable, nothing can be done in the world. Therefore, our next priority is to make our body a fit vehicle to survive and face any number of challenges. First, we must make the body fit to withstand the pressure of the work, technology, and the mindboggling changes.
In Yoga, we strive to achieve a uniform state of body and mind regardless of any challenges or hurdles that engulf us. Simple asanas such as vajrasana, sastanganamaskarasana, balasana, and parvathasana in sitting forming one cycle; and saptavajrasana, dandasana, garudasana, adhomukha svanasana, and urdhva mukha svanasana forming the second cycle can be repeated three times. Similarly, in standing, asanas such as tadasana, ardhvakrasana, vrikshasana, padahastha asana, and trikonasana can be practiced repeating three times. We can combine these sitting and standing asanas with Surya Namasakaras in nine or twelve cycles. Simple Pranayama comprising anuloma and pratiloma, deep breathing, and kapalabhati can be followed at the end of performing the asanas.
An uninterrupted practice will yield maximum results, rectifying abnormal tensions, stress, and many diseases such as obesity, headache, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and heart ailments caused by digital society. Yoga is an ancient way of life. Though the sages of India gave it, it became universal as it has viability and adaptability in any geographical condition. Through Yoga, we can develop awareness (the big presence) and keep the body and mind healthy and energetic, maintaining beauty, peace and balance in the digital world.
In the preceding paragraphs, I have discussed what a digital world or society is, and its positive and negative implications. In addition, I have shown through this discussion that as technologies are becoming more commonplace in our lives, the lines between the physical world and the digital world are blurred, and differentiating between the two is becoming more difficult. It becomes hard to distinguish between what is human and digital. We have also noticed that we are as much ‘united’ as ‘divided’ in the digital society and that we need to balance the two to lead a harmonious life. Complete awareness of our body and mind teaches us to face the challenges and problems of digital society. Yoga helps us realize and develop this awareness. Half an hour of the everyday practice of Yoga does not come in conflict with our everyday duties. Instead, it elevates our minds and increases our consciousness. It will lead us to a peaceful life free from stress and strain, even amid our many commitments and responsibilities. However, it is increasingly crucial for digital citizens to be self-aware and take responsibility for their own actions in order to stay safe online.
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Hunter, Alan. “New Era, New Dimensions”. Prabuddha Bharata, May 2021.
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April 27, 2022.
Malhotra, Rajiv (2021). Artificial Intelligence and Future of Power. New Delhi: Rupa
Rosak, Theodore (1995). The Meaning of a Counter Culture. Oakland: University of
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Westacott, Emrys (2016). The Wisdom Frugality. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
- Dr. K.V. Raghupathi is an ardent Yoga Sadhaka in Patanjali’s tradition, having over four decades of sadhana. He has been writing and transmitting his experiences born out of his uninterrupted sadhana in books and articles. He has so far published five books on Yoga that include, Yoga for Peace (2006/2019), Yoga and Zen (2007), My Tryst with Yoga and Other Essays (2018), Hastha Yoga: Theory and Practice (2018), and Dispersing Clouds: Discourses on Yoga (2022) and many articles both online and print journals. An outspoken speaker, he holds radical views on life and spirituality. In addition, he is a creative writer, having twelve books in poetry, two novels, two short story collections, and eight critical/edited books to his credit.