"Living like it's 99: No Social Media, No Smartphone"

Good article, and I appreciate people who are willing to try a social exercise, for a longer period of time, stepping out of their comfort zone:

Opening your phone every time you are bored kills your creativity and imagination.

I’ve been on both sides of the mirror, and this side is better. Don’t take my word for it, just try and see for yourself. After 3 years without social media and 2 years without a smartphone, I can tell you that I may go back to social media one day, however I will never have a smartphone again.

Like the author, I wish people would be willing to use Signal instead of WhatsApp ( :smirk: glances over at all the Malaysians still on WhatsApp, who haven’t switched to Signal). Note: It’s only when I travelled to Malaysia for the first time, back in 2017, where I begrudgingly got a smartphone for the first time, as you seriously needed one to survive as a Buddhist Monk there…


I don’t use social media and the smartphone is only for banking or incoming calls which may be one or two a month. There are short and long term strategies for getting rid of any addiction described in MN 20, “The removal of distracting thoughts.” These methods were used by the Budddha-to-be in the period before enlightenment:

‘Truly, these thoughts of mine are unskillful, these thoughts of mine are blameworthy, these thoughts of mine result in stress.’—MN 20

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’

“As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.”—MN 19

This method with its investigation of the effects of both wholesome and unwholesome thoughts leads to realization of the second and third noble truths.

"If anyone were to say, ‘Having broken through to the noble truth of stress as it actually is present, having broken through to the noble truth of the origination of stress… the cessation of stress… the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress, as it actually is present, I will bring about the right ending of stress,’ that would be a possibility. Just as if someone were to say, ‘Having built the lower story of a gabled building, I will put up the upper story,’ that would be a possibility; in the same way, if anyone were to say, ‘Having broken through to the noble truth of stress as it actually is present, having broken through to the noble truth of the origination of stress… the cessation of stress… the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress, as it actually is present, I will bring about the right ending of stress,’ that would be a possibility.

“Therefore, monks, your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress.’ Your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.’”—SN 56.44


Here’s another such social media fasting experiment, however just for six weeks. This one is interesting, because a clever means was used to count the enormous number of times social media apps still attempted to “phone home” to their respective “motherships”, even when completely unused:

Signal can be used without the smartphones? I got both.

Anyway, in sasanarakkha Buddhist sanctuary, the phones are kept locked and one can live as a monk in this monastery without smartphones. I am enjoying it a bit.

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Sasanarakkha is awesome! I’ve been there myself.

What is the advantage of Signal over WhatsApp?

(It was I n Malayasia that WhatsApp forced its way into my life.)

From here:

The major difference is how each app is funded. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, whose business model is based on advertising. Signal is privacy focused and has no desire to analyse, share or profit from users’ private information, says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET.

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When I first moved to Asia, mobile phones were very simple devices. They could only call and text. They didn’t have cameras, couldn’t play MP3s, and didn’t have GPS or the ability to browse the internet. People were still using PDAs at that time. In the West, mobile phones were only used by “early adopters,” which was a term that didn’t really exist at that time (at least, it didn’t have the same meaning that it does today). Ironically, mobile phone usage was already much higher in Asia at that time because the landline infrastructure was so poorly developed in many Asian countries. It was easier to throw up cell towers than build or improve landline infrastructure. I didn’t get a mobile phone until after living in Asia for a few years. Then when I went back to America for the first time, everyone had mobile phones.

I don’t use WhatsApp, but I use Line because that’s what everyone in Japan uses, including my girlfriend.

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Thanks for reply.
I seem to use a large number of different services: depending on the picky preferences of a large number of different friends.

Well, I will no doubt get chided for speaking more technically than most monks here do. (BTW: Just because you ordain, you can’t “unsee” your Computer Science Degree, especially considering Internet Culture has regrettably become culture itself, pretty much. All I can do is try to integrate my past in a way where it doesn’t overpower me, which I’ve actually gotten pretty good at. Meaning plenty of meditation, sutta reading, etc.

From MN 101:

Through active striving they become dispassionate towards that specific source of suffering,
Tassa tassa dukkhanidānassa saṅkhāraṁ padahato saṅkhārappadhānā virāgo hoti—
and so that suffering is worn away.
evampissa taṁ dukkhaṁ nijjiṇṇaṁ hoti.
Through developing equanimity they become dispassionate towards that other source of suffering,
Tassa tassa dukkhanidānassa ajjhupekkhato upekkhaṁ bhāvayato virāgo hoti—
and so that suffering is worn away.
evampissa taṁ dukkhaṁ nijjiṇṇaṁ hoti.
That’s how exertion and striving is fruitful.
Evampi, bhikkhave, saphalo upakkamo hoti, saphalaṁ padhānaṁ.

Alright? Disclaimer is hereby given.)

Firstly, the big-name computer security experts of the world should be heeded in their recommendations, when it comes to selecting such a crucial app. A very tough act to follow in this field is Bruce Schneier. He recommends Signal topmost. When you visit the website, this Titan (in his respective fiend) is right on the front page, and I invite you to take a good long look at his facial expression, letting it sink in. The unintelligent will scoff at this facial expression, and the intelligent will find accurate meaning there.

The way to cut through the muliplicity of choices is to humble yourself and listen to an expert. The expert Subharo? No, the expert Bruce. Let me give you an analogy. You have 10 friends. None of them are qualified Engineers. They all offer you their technically amateur advice, which sounds on the face pretty good, each in its own way. Your friends aren’t idiots, after all. But then along comes an actual Engineer, with an actual degree. His advice surpasses all 10 of your friends easily. Why? Because he’s actually trained for years in this area, and knows many subtleties and nuances which aren’t intuitive to any of your 10 friends. What all 10 of your friends suffer from is the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s an easy mistake to make.

Secondly, I’ve tried several apps myself, doing probably like 30x more research than the average person would. I couldn’t find any perfect app, providing everything I wanted. Signal was the best I could come up with. Even without Bruce’s recommendation, I would have arrived at Signal. It’s reassuring to know that Bruce Shneier and I happen to think alike when it comes to Signal.

Can I guarantee that Signal will be the best app forever? No. But it’s what I would recommend today, and its future seems pretty solid (for the forseeable future, as best I can tell). In fact Signal has one disadvantage, compared to WhatsApp, see here.

Thirdly, the Desktop client for Signal is good. Any app which works great on a smartphone, but poorly on the desktop doesn’t cut the mustard for me. WhatsApp has a poor desktop experience, last time I checked, BTW.

Fourthly, it has good Linux support, which I use. Yes, only 2-3% of Desktops on Earth are linux, but you’d be surprised how many Buddhists use Linux! It seems like way more than 2-3% to me (yes, this is anecdotal).

Note: I’ve got most of my friends, and all of my family on Signal now.

PS: I wish I could recommend Wire, but I think that people who use the free plan will find their service downgraded after about 6 months or so (where message delivery mysteriously gets very sluggish), and find themselves craftily being levered into paying for the monthly premium plan service. That’s exactly what happened to me. Any such “freemium” service should be similarly mistrusted.


I agree that it’s all about training and previous experience (or lack of it). The expertise of my friendship groups lies outside of IT, but this doesn’t lead us to overestimate our ability to do the types of anaysis you can do. Rather, with training in literature, fine arts, social science, or very little education at all, we focus on different things, like familiarity and ease of use. For me the best way of staying in touch with different people is by being flexible.

(So some examples of what this means for me are emailing with the old lady upstairs, exchanging emojis by sms with a granddaughter, doing WA with my camping group, and also with friends in SE Asia, Signal for another group, FaceTime for one lady who says nothing else will work for her) FB for some closed interest groups, Insta for artist friends, FBmessenger for another grandchild, my partner is uncomfortable away from iMessages … and so it goes. There’s no way I could pull all these disparate people onto a single social media platform if I tried. … And my main concern is keeping in touch with special people … tho there’d be a lot more contact if we were all on the same platform.)

Thanks for answering my question about Signal really fully, Bhante.

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Does ordaining mean you have to? Myself and a handful of others are helping Bhante Sujato with SuttaCentral, but Bhante always needs more software engineers. It’s quite a meritorious thing to do. I mean, it isn’t unusual for monks to apply skills from lay life to monastic life. It’s just that usually those skills end up being something like carpentry, and they are applied to building or maintaining kutis. I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to use software engineering skills in the name of Dhamma. However, I wouldn’t blame you if you were worried about your meditation time being coopted by your engineer’s mind trying solve a problem, ha-ha.


There’s a teaching from Taoism I love, called “When The Shoe Fits”, by Chuang Tzu. I think it nails where the fine dotted line is between making good use of skills of the past (once one has gone forth), but not letting them overpower one.


There are several other teachings of Chuang Tzu which exquisitely point where the dotted lines are. I’d suggest “The Way of Chuang Tzu”, translated by Thomas Merton.

BTW: Even though I could, in theory, program, I feel that the smartest way to use my skills, if and when the time is right (which is to say, in rare, very carefully-selected occasions), is in a more dev-ops sort of way. I feel that Dev-ops achieves far more bang for the buck, as it were.

And I agree with @Gillian above that the social aspects of the use of technology cannot and must not be taken off the table. In fact, they come first.

Since we’re a small team, we all wear a few hats. So we’re all kind of doing dev-ops as it is. Another person would be helpful, but it’s totally up to you, of course.

I’ve undertaken a totally different project than what you’re doing (and it has occupied my left-brain abilities about as far as is healthy for me). I’ve tried to come up with a “poor-man’s” video streaming platform of my own (which is my website,, where I don’t have to rely on any of the Big Social Media platforms (for giving online Dhamma Talks to an attending audience who can ask live, text-based questions). It’s Ad-free, and respects privacy as far as is humanly possible (given my circumstances). No Smartphone or active SIMcard is needed (which is to say, is friendly to Junior monastics like @NgXinZhao ), however mobile devices can participate decently enough.

The degree which those big Social Media platforms have powerful psychological control of people’s lives, is the “Elephant in the room”, and is, IMHO, the largest extant competitor and threat to Buddhism, at this time.

So in a sense we are already on the same team. Just hacking away at different “Elephants”. (Note: no violence towards real-life elephants in intended).

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Social media cleanse:

“The social media cleanse uncovered the deeper roots of my behavior.”

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I kind of find it ironic that people are using social media to claim they’re not on social media anymore. Isn’t operating a blog considered being involved in social media?

Personally, I use whatsapp to keep in contact with my family across the world, and I use youtube to watch dhamma talks, which are sometimes live streamed. I also occasionally discuss the dhamma on forums like these and ocasionally I read world news (but that’s mostly uninteresting), and that’s about it.

No. A blog is for the most part the opposite of commercial social media, although some blog platforms like Tumbler do blur the line. But I define social media as group interactions through a third party platform. If someone I’m interested in has a website (aka blog) then I either have to subscribe to the blog by email or rss, or just check it now and then. I don’t consider that social.

If there is a comment section, commenting can be a social activity, but I don’t consider it social media because it’s not mediated through a third party that connects people outside of that specific website. It’s just a high tech magazine with a more interactive letters to the editor section. :grin:

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Blogs are really just fancy BBSes. For those of us old enough to remember the internet back in those days, it’s a world apart from the internet of Facebook and Twitter. I do think people can and do develop the same mentality towards blogs as they do social media, though.