School bus with the name concioussness bus.

Why Does Surfing Instagram and Mediation Feel the Same:Who’s Driving my Consciousness Bus?

By James Razko

Lately, I’ve been considering what it means to be present.

When meditating, this answer seems clear. Being present is not being lost in thought, but being in the here and now. It’s a special kind of focus, where our brain’s default mode network shuts off, and we enter a state of flow. I do my best work in these moments, and often it brings a welcomed feeling of contentment.

Also, and oddly, when on social media and in particular Instagram, I often feel a very similar experience. I can get lost looking at just about anything oddly-satisfying, especially (for reasons unknown to me) people fishing. I don’t fish…

In these moments, I am entirely absorbed, watching person after person catch fish after fish. I usually feel bad for the fish, but my mind effortlessly quiets, and my thumb moves. This can easily last 10 minutes and often feels like 1 minute. Is this a state of flow? Probably.

Who’s Driving The Bus?

But, what is this? Where am I? I’m certainly not in my body or my environment. I’m in a digital ether, that is feeding me a series of posts and ads. The point is the ads.

My presence of mind, although fully present has been hijacked.
Instagram is in no small extent driving my conscious bus, and I ’m along for the ride. It’s intoxicating like any flow state, and it’s in my pocket.

Like many, I find myself riding the bus often, even when I’m on the toilet and especially when I’m waiting in line. More and more often, I’m jumping on the bus. I also find the bus driver calling my name throughout the day. Each notification, pulling me back onto the bus. And the fact that all my friends are with me, only makes me want to ride the bus more. The problem is, there is no destination.

I am having trouble reconciling the fact that the act of mediation (when going well) and watching fish videos feel so similar. Perhaps even under an MRI, they might look the same.

But are they? While lost looking at a fish video, I’m not attending to my dreams, desires, hopes, goals or even my safety. How many people have been hit by cars while absorbed on their phone? The bitter truth is, I’m not doing much of anything worthwhile, and the most ironic part is, I’m not even socializing.

What Can We Do?

IMO, we should drop the social from social-media. After all, how social is it? A more accurate name would be attention-media. Ultimately, that’s what we’re giving away.

Although meditating and scrolling though fish videos may feel the same, they are two very different acts. One is working to gain awareness, and the other is relinquishing it.

Perhaps with this in mind, we should let the bus pass us more often and take a walk. After all, we will see more.

Compliment this read with: Book Summary: Free Will by Sam Harris