Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

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

By on February 20, 2010

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!