By now you may have heard about the Yoga instructor who got fired for telling a Facebook employee to stop using her cell phone during one of the weekly classes she was teaching on the company’s campus.
No, this is not an urban myth, although it sure sounds like it.
For years, yoga instructor Alice Van Ness has started her classes with a simple request – that students turn their cell phones off.
She brought that policy with her to Facebook, where she began teaching a weekly class at the company’s Menlo Park campus in March. But it proved to be a hard policy to follow for at least one employee, who began tapping away on her phone in the middle of class. And after Van Ness shot her a disapproving look, the instructor found herself out of a job.
The 35-year-old San Carlos resident was fired last month after managers at the fitness contractor she worked for explained that saying “no” to Facebook employees is a no-no.
Aside from the rather curious notion that saying “no” to a Facebook employee would simply not be considered an option (take the test: what kind of
order request from a Facebook employee would it take for you to go against company policy and stop saying yes?), what might even be more baffling to me is that anyone could possibly consider pulling out their smart phone during a yoga class, other than to turn it off.
No matter where on the technology spectrum you find yourself, I think it raises interesting questions worth exploring.
I personally grapple with the issue of information technology. On one hand, I appreciate much of what it enables us to do. In my personal work, it has created the tools to bring ecocitizens from all over the world together. Just last night, it helped to organize a real life meeting of Bay Area representatives of various major groups and NGOs who participated in Rio+20. And not to forget, it allows the words I’m typing right here to magically be dispersed to anyone in the world with access to the internet.
It’s perhaps because I live in San Francisco though, the hotbed of the latest greatest tech companies and home to many of the information wunderkinds who get bussed down to the Apple, Google, and Facebook campuses in Silicon Valley every day, that my gadget threshold is pushed to the limits on a regular basis. Over the last few years, my neighborhood has turned into a world within the world where it is often hard to tell whether people’s bodies are just parked here while their minds are randomly wandering distant lands.
It’s not just the future Steve Jobs’ and Mark Zuckerbergs who get to work long before they get to work…
There are hardly any places or situations left where people aren’t also somewhere else at the same time.
Most of the cafes have turned into virtual offices,
and what may have started as a conversation often ends in cyber gazing.
Whether it’s during lunch,
play time with Junior,
or on the way to music practice,
there are hardly any more limits as to where you can be and not be at the same time.
In some ways then it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Facebook employee thought nothing of sending a text or checking her facebook status during a Yoga class. After all, it was just another place to park herself while getting on with life.
But at a yoga class on a corporate campus, setting aside job responsibilities entirely, even for a few minutes during the work day, can be a stretch.
“Sometimes if you’re in the tech industry, or have a serious attachment to your phone, you can’t let Facebook go for an hour,” said Michelle Michael, who owns Balance Yoga Studio in Woodinville, Wash., near Microsoft and other tech companies.
While some of these boundaries are still being explored and pushed, most of us have pretty much surrendered to the new realities of constant multitasking, and accepted the gadgets as part of life. For example, listening to your iPod at the gym or making a phone call while walking down the street has pretty much become common practice, to the point where people would find it strange if one had any reservations about it.
What makes this occurrence different and fascinating is that the ancient practice of Yoga aims toward attaining spiritual insight and tranquility, a goal that seems to stand in direct juxtaposition to the ever growing speed and distractions of information technology. Even those of us who don’t practice Yoga and aren’t well versed in its deepest roots and traditions know that it’s not the same as simply stretching or doing gymnastics. Deep down we understand that Yoga is about introspection, a sacred quest for calming the mind, practicing stillness, and becoming conscious of ourselves beyond the chatterings of the mind. In other words, the exact opposite of Twitter, Facebook, and iPhones.
I’ve often wondered if there would ever be any kind of boundary as to how far we will saturate our lives with these sleek but toxic electronics, and I think we just bumped into it. While you can go pretty far in making the point that these things enrich our lives, when it comes to the matter of connecting with our higher selves and digging into the deep mysteries and simple truths of our human existence, there is no number you can dial or keyword you can use. As the reaction to this story shows, I think we all understand on a subconscious level that all the information often stands in the way of knowledge and self awareness.
I am reminded of Roshi Joan Halifax’s response to Zynga Co-Founder Eric Schiermeyer, who — during a recent talk at the Wisdom 2.0 conference — insisted that people want and need more information technology in order to further the evolution of human consciousness.
She said: “What you call need, I call suffering.”