I Am Not A Gadget: A Buddhist’s iPad Dilemma

Apple iPadNext month the iPad will be unleashed on the world and I want one. First question, how can I justify the cost against a household with a fixed budget. Second, balancing the desire to reduce consumption and the need to stay current with technology. Third, the balance of ubiquitous computing and family harmony. Finally, the environmental cost of technology.

When is enough enough?

Though I definitely don’t own a great deal of gadget technology compared to many others, it still feels like quite a bit. Specifically, I own a 2004 iPod Click Wheel, a 2008 iPhone 3G, a 2009 Flip HD, and a 2009 MacBook Pro. What does adding an iPad to the mix create?

Each piece of technology comes with its own environmental impact in the production, ongoing use, and ultimate disposal. Aware that I am only one consumer, collectively we consume and waste a great deal. It seems that we often consume without thought or awareness and we easily succumb to desire through marketing and possibly an underlying unhappiness.

My Buddhist practice asks me to be aware of my actions in body, speech, and mind. This action includes my consumption. I have taken the both Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings as my guides to living. These trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world.

In the training on Nourishment and Healing, I am to be “aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption” and “am committed to … practicing mindful … consuming.” In the training on Simple Healthy Living, we are “committed to living simply and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those in need. We will practice mindful consuming…”

Fully aware that these are not commandments, but rather ideals to aspire to, I don’t want to get too caught by the vows either. The idea is to bring awareness to my actions. The real “clincher” of these trainings are to “contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.”

Cost. My first question above regarding cost is the least important and easily remedied. I make a decent living and just received a retirement refund from another institution in the amount of a new iPad. Check!

Professionally. I work with technology. I teach technology. The impact of technology on my profession is significant, particularly if we consider the ongoing migration from print to electronic formats. It could even be that the library continues to shift dramatically in the next 20-years. Understanding and knowing technology enhances our profession’s ability to respond to these shifts and its impact should not be underestimated. Though I could easily digress into the mindfulness training on right livelihood, I will not muddy the water further. As a leader in my profession, I need to maintain currency and awareness. Check!

Family Harmony. For me, there are two issues with buying the iPad as it relates to the home. First, adding another device to home environment already cluttered with technology and secondly, the potential to continue to degrade interpersonal relationships in the household. The iPhone already has developed a central role in my daily activities both at home and at work. Finding a balance to provide harmony has been challenging and I am concerned the iPad may make it even more difficult. That said, there is the potential to draw us together at times using the technology. This is a great unknown. It could be that it is simply banned from the house as the television has been for the last decade. This obstacle is one that needs further consideration and an easy solution is not apparent aside from simply not buying the iPad. No check for this one.

Environment. From an environmental perspective, the iPad is designed with arsenic-free display glass, BFR-free, Mercury-free LCD display, PVC-free, and recyclable aluminium and glass enclosure. This is good. Nonetheless, no matter how environmentally sound a product is created, it is still another “thing” created and put into the universe. It will have an impact, particularly if millions of people purchase an iPad. This type of technology also has a certain level of planned obsolescence. For example, speculation already exists that the next version will include video. Why not now? Will I need to buy another iPad when v.2 is released? There is no way to truly wiggle around the environmental cost of the iPad. However, keeping technology operating and long lasting is one method to lessen the impact. Obviously it can’t be like a vehicle (I drive a 25-year old vehicle), but it could be designed to last 5-8 years. Not very long. No check for this one.

Ultimately, this is an exercise in deep looking; exactly what the Mindfulness Trainings and my Teacher asks us to do.  I will continue to ponder, consider, argue, reconcile, meditate, and discuss until the moment a decision is made.

What are you planning in regards to the iPad? How do you make decisions about technology consumption?

Note: The title of the blog post is a play on a new book by Jaron Lanier called “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto” – thanks Jaron!
  • Brandy

    Wonderful Kenley! Thanks for you thoughtful consideration. It is often tough to balance.

    I want an ipad. However, since I am a PC user (at home and at work) I can't justify purchasing one. Bummer!

  • Mitchell

    Kenley,

    Does it bring you joy?

    I thought you might enjoy this 1930s conversation between Gandhi and Richard Gregg:

    A Caution

    If simplicity of living is a valid principle, there is one
    important precaution and condition of its application. I can
    explain it best by something which Mahatma Gandhi said
    to me. We were talking about simple living and I said that it
    was easy for me to give up most things but that I had a
    greedy mind and wanted to keep my many books. He said,
    “Then don’t give them up. As long as you derive inner help
    and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were
    to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern
    sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that
    unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up
    a thing when you want some other condition so much that
    the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it
    seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.”
    It is interesting to note that this advice agrees with modern
    Western psychology of wishes and suppressed desires. This
    also substantiates what we said near the beginning of our
    discussion, that the application of the principle of simplicity
    is for each person or each family to work out sincerely for
    themselves.

    From: RICHARD B. GREGG, The Value Of Voluntary Simplicity

    Warm wishes, Mitchell

  • I love how you like to stir things up Mitchell. Thanks! And, as for Gandhi, based on my studies I'm not sure if he actually put this wisdom into practice himself.

    Considering Joy.

  • It could be your first foray into Macdom; well worth it.

  • karen hilsberg

    thank you for your honest and thoughtful reflections. i agree that this is a challenging topic, and i like everyone's reflections below. as soon as i heard about the ipad, i wanted one too, and i too am a pc user who really doesn't want an0ther piece of technology and shudders everytime my cell phone rings. i am trying to spend less time with technology. but the hype around the ipad alone just watered my seeds of craving….especially all the talk of reading books on it. however when i thought seriously about it, i realized that the books i tend to read probably would not be available in digital format for the ipad or the kindle for that matter. and what's wrong with a good ole book anyway?? (says the middle age parent.)
    a very similar issue came up for me recently. i have been taking african drumming classes with a nigerian master drummer and priest. i borrowed a friend's small drum to practice on. after a while, i wanted to purchase my own drum and went through a lot of similar questions that you mention above and reached many similar conclusions. yesterday, after researching, getting advice from my teacher and looking at a lot of drums, i made my purchase.
    i am very happy and spent a lot of time yesterday playing it. it was very enjoyable. as someone with little musical background, it is a great joy to be learning to play an instrument. i hope i stick with it. so what mitchell posted below seems to ring true…..wholesome enjoyment involving material items that nourish our souls seem as though they would support us in our practice.
    bowing in sisterhood,
    karen

  • Kyn Nuar

    DOn't buy the ipad its a desire not a need.. Part of apple's marketting technique.. its caters to make u feel desired to it.. not because you need it. trust me life will still go on without it… Its the latest trend not the latest technology.

  • Thank you Kyn for writing. You are correct, it is a marketing technique for sure. Still contemplating though. 🙂

  • Kyn Nuar

    DOn’t buy the ipad its a desire not a need.. Part of apple’s marketting technique.. its caters to make u feel desired to it.. not because you need it. trust me life will still go on without it… Its the latest trend not the latest technology.

  • Thank you Kyn for writing. You are correct, it is a marketing technique for sure. Still contemplating though. 🙂