At first glance I was disappointed that Tricycle should attempt to add to the glut of information about the information superhighway (Vol. III, No. 4). Between the likes of Wired and Time, it seemed that, at the very least, Tricycle could only be reductive and repetitive. Wrong. Once again, your approach to a contemporary issue shed its own unique light on a complicated phenomena. But what has really snared my attention (in particular, with regard to Mitchell Kapor,Michael Roach, and Jaron Lanier) was to learn, for the first time, the extent to which the cutting edge of this new technology is informed by people whose interest or involvement with Buddhism per se reflects a concern with how to render the technology beneficial to human and spiritual values. I was not swept away by Mitchell Kapor’s optimism. But I was thrilled to discover that a man with his success and his values was willing to lobby for Superhighway policies in Washington. And while I do not have much faith in the capacity of these idealists to stave off the monster media conglomerates, I found myself cheering them on and feeling a little less cynical about the way big things affect small people.
The Summer editorial, “Net Worth,” (Vol. III, No. 4), uses Shakyamuni’s teaching to a mother who loses her child to illuminate the limitations of the Internet. The implication is that old age, illness, death, and the suffering they cause remain immutable even in the face of ultra techno-media progress. But wait a sec: Shakyamuni’s response to the woman who comes clutching her dead child is to send her around the village to collect a mustard seed from every household that has never known death. As you say, “Only when the woman returns empty-handed, does she begin to find solace.”
How many households did the woman visit? Thirty? Maybe three hundred? Say this takes place in the United States, where it might not be “appropriate” for a woman clutching a dead child to go door to door through the Badlands or the Adirondacks asking if the family had ever experienced death. Rather, she goes on the Net and receives three thousand replies. The point about “the mustard seed” story is not the inevitability of death nor the suffering it causes, but the way in which self-centered preoccupation creates suffering—and how this can be alleviated by knowing that one’s predicament is not personal but universal. Lamenting the lack of “real” community in modern times doesn’t help much. With all its limitations, the Internet can provide a sense of community, and if there is a woman whose grieving is, in part, stemming from a sense of isolation or unjust punishment, she could do a lot worse than go on the Internet to seek solace. If we don’t use technology to address our needs at their most intimate and profound level, we will never know whether it can help us or not. But it sure seems worth a try.
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