I will preface this by saying that I’m definitely not a Guru, or anything close to the sort when it comes to the art of mindfulness. There exists many individuals around the world who dedicate months, years, and even their entire lives to the practice and discipline. So, what exactly is mindfulness? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mindfulness is defined as:
The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
A quick internet search of the term on Google Trends shows a fairly steady increase in interest of the subject between years 2004 and present (shown below):
It really makes one think; what exactly is it that has caused the word to gain such a steady amount of traction? It’s clear that the chart above shows a couple of downward trends throughout some periods, but overall it’s been on a reasonably progressive incline. My first assumption was that the term itself was just too recent of a term. However, with a few quick internet searches, and having stumbled across one interesting New York Times Magazine article, it looks as though the term (mindfulness) has been around for quite some time.
So what is causing the search trend?
One factor could simply be that Google’s user base has increased over the years. And a larger user base would certainly mean a higher chance of a particular word being searched for. But, if we include some additional factors, most notably: digital information, social media, and it’s rapid adoption, then we are presented with a much more interesting history.
Let’s take a brief trip back to the year 2004, as referenced in the Google Trends chart above. In 2004, I was still a student in high school (are you feeling old yet?). I hadn’t yet owned a mobile phone or laptop computer. The Apple iPhone had not yet been released, nor had social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram. Digital technology was still definitely alive and thriving (I mean, it’s not like this was the 1950’s), however, the avenues in which we consumed digital information weren’t nearly the same as that of present day. Back in 2004, the term “viral” was more closely related to a strand of bacteria rather than a digital video. You get the idea. Not everyone in my social circle owned a mobile device, and that was not uncommon. And at least for myself, computer use was generally done after class on my home desktop computer, or in-class for any courses that required the use of a desktop computer (which the school supplied).
Let’s fast forward to present day, where it has now become the norm for an individual to own not only one “smart” device, but multiple “smart” devices. What was once considered a “luxury” electronic device is now accessible to the masses; no matter what income bracket one might belong to. Similar to the year 2004, sharing information is still as easy as the click of a button. However, there are some key differences between then and now: the vast amount of social platforms that have become available to us, and the speed at which information is now being shared amongst hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people.
We’re living in the midst of the Information Age. We want information fast and we want it now. New digital content emerges at such a rapid pace, well before our brains have even finished the processing of “old” content. And I know this first hand, as I work in an industry that strives to provide as close as possible to a 100 percent up-time when it comes to digital information. Looking back at the Google Trends chart, it’s no wonder that the term “mindfulness” has made such gains in search popularity. In a society that has an expectation to be constantly interconnected, we are now yearning to regain what was once ours; quality time.
I believe that children have always had an affinity towards the art of mindfulness. I can vividly remember moments during my childhood where I could spend an entire recess admiring the snow on the ground, or observing grasshoppers jumping from leaf to leaf. That may all sound very melodramatic or nostalgic, but I truly believe that children just have a natural tendency to truly appreciate the present moment. I’m not saying that this does not occur in our adult lives, it just doesn’t occur as naturally as it once did. Technology is not all to blame. We age. We gain a multitude of responsibilities. We continuously plan for the well-being of ourselves, and for our loved ones. And we begin to appreciate less of the present and worry more of the future.
With that being said, we should not confuse mindfulness with slogans such as “Carpe diem”, which can be translated to “Seize the Day”. While both terms revolve around the central theme of “being aware of the present moment”, such sayings of that nature could sometimes be used to provoke idealizations of recklessness, and the dismissal of any notion of future consequences. Note that I used the word “sometimes”. I still do believe that the saying, “Carpe diem” has a positive connotation to it, I just wouldn’t be so quick to associate it too closely with the term of “mindfulness”.
With all that was said, I should emphasize that I do not believe that the adoption of digital technology is the enemy that we sometimes make it out to be. I believe that the Information Age has ushered in a great magnitude of benefits for humankind. Just think about it; we live in a world where we can create lifelong friendships with people who live an ocean away, or instantly raise funds for a humanitarian cause. I mean, my wife and I would’ve had a much harder time staying in touch during our long distance stint had it not been for digital technology. There really is an enormous list of benefits.
Humankind is still very much in the early stages of the 21st century. I think of this as a transitory period. It would be bigoted of me to say something along the lines of “getting rid” of digital technology altogether. I believe the correct way forward is to continue to find a harmony between what we feel and what we create. I’ll admit that when I initially saw the Google Trends chart for the search term “mindfulness”, I had a negative reaction. As I finish typing this post, I now see the chart as a glimmer of hope. An upwards trend for the search term can only mean that humans are doing more than ever to find a balance between the physical and the digital. And to reclaim our lost art of mindfulness.