Media asceticism — is a lifestyle characterized by the comprehension of the technologies and digital services operation, and their smart use (but not their abandonment). Media asceticism pursues the goal to shape your life as you see it the world of modern technologies.

Media asceticism emerged as a speculation over the potential application of the ascetic experience of various religious practices so as to help humans live and redeem humanity in the modern world. In 2011, the pilot website Mediascet was launched — the portal filled with tips for life in a strange new world. One young man shared his experience: “I set a blank picture as my profile photo, and it became easier to live”. An utterly anxious mother asked in bewilderment: “My five-year-old son has 5000 friends. What does this mean?” And Catholic monk explained how to tune the porn filter in your head.

It turned out that it is not the psychologists who are more likely to meet the challenges of the information environment, but the ascetics who have already been working with consciousness for several thousand years. In the first place it is the practice of Buddhist meditation and ascetic experience of the Christian Church. Tradition shelters the answers to modern challenges which lie in the way and meaning of monks’ life. These principles are formed in the practice of struggle with bad thoughts, of alertness, protection of sight and silence, and distinctly differ from the technophobic statements.

However, the media asceticism ideas are not limited to the techniques that allow a person to dodge advertising and avoid checking mail every five minutes. Media asceticism took shape of the idea which has its vision of human place in the modern world.

Digital world shapes our life

The cruel irony of today is that the external forces are aspiring to shape our lives. They have always been the circumstances of birth, government, and today the technologies have entered that list.

Digital technology is the new architecture of the present. Modernism architects dreamt that by transforming the environment, the course of history can be changed and the new man generated. The creators of the global digital services are going on with their undertaking. We must be aware that we are not just building technology to make life easier. We design devices and digital services which eventually change our behavior and our society. New economy and politics arise around them; they cultivate another way of thinking. After all they create the new man.

What is asceticism?

Asceticism is a way of life in which an “I” becomes the main object of human activity. Ascetic arranges his life within the chosen framework of certain habits and rules. Asceticism declares an individual to be ultimately responsible for their life and for the capacity to put it into the target shape.


Buddha asceticism

Two pillars of media asceticism

Media asceticism focuses on the impact of technology and digital services on the individual and society. Media asceticism is based on two pillars: comprehension and action.

People underestimate the extent to which digital algorithms affect their lives. Few people perceive new habits imposed by the technologies and still do not conceive of the networking principles of the new world. Technologies are brought by the man to the Olympus of today. Techno ideology is developed on the assumption that all technologies are created a priori to help people. Such set-ups as “Internet”, “applications” or “technological progress” are claimed to be an unconditional and pure good. One of the goals that media asceticism sets is bringing the technology back down to earth, and reviving the discussion of the connection between technology and the politics, economics and personality, while avoiding alarmism.

Media ascetic as a digital architect

Personal practice of media ascetic involve restraint with respect to the technology use, network behavior and information consumption. In the asceticism framework human life itself becomes an art. This creative work doesn’t produce a visible output, for instance, such as the theatre or dance. Nevertheless, social role of a media ascetic may be crucial: to develop a social architecture (most of all digital) according to the principles of freedom and responsibility. So, for example, the media ascetic principle of computer services construction is that the function is essential, without exploitation of users’ attention for personal purposes. Otherwise, if we change nothing, we risk to be left with scorched digital earth.

Media asceticism criticism

Media asceticism is often flayed for everything it is not. We’ll list the most significant points.

Hole up in the caves

Asceticism is not a rejection of the technology. When I voice publicly the term “media asceticism”, I constantly face misconception of the word ” ascesis” and “asceticism”. In modern language, “asceticism” is associated with a total abstention from the technology and pleasures. During the talks on asceticism listeners gingerly hide smartphones in their pockets, bewaring of their devices being seized immediately, and them being cast into the analog cave.

Let us recur to the original meaning of the word “asceticism”: it stems from the Greek and means “exercise” or “training”. People involved in asceticism train their will, mind and body to form themselves and transform the world around.

Occasional asceticism

The second misunderstanding of asceticism lies in the view that asceticism practice divides time into two types. The time when a person refrains, and periods when everything goes on as before. However, the purpose of media asceticism, unlike digital detox, not to disconnect for a while in order to return to the habitual lifestyle, but to develop a proper attitude to technology. Monastic practice covers the whole life of a monk, and not only during the fast.

Fake asceticism

Asceticism is a very powerful idea; it is the life at the limits of your capacity. History is studded with the examples when the idea of asceticism was taken to forward completely different interests. However, when there is only the exterior form, the shell of asceticism left, the “I” of the ascetic is boosting to the menacing volume; it becomes the most cherished thing in his life, and the chosen target is achieved by all means. The ascetic without love turns into an egocentric, ruthless towards others.

Thus, simplicity offers one great advantage for today: nothing draws you away from consumption. As stated by one brother of the Monastery of Nov? Dv?r in the Czech Republic, after his visiting the minimalistic Calvin Klein store in New York: “There was not the slightest distraction from the product. It was shopping, exalted to a religious level. It dawned on us: isn’t that brilliant for the monastery — if we replace the Fashion by God?”

The designers’ interest to asceticism roots in the comeback to the true values and struggle against information excess. You can observe the minimalistic design being shaped as a result of moral values transformation into recognizable aesthetics.

As the architect Pier Vittorio Aureli exactly notices in his work “Less is enough: on Architecture and Asceticism”:

“Less is enough: on Architecture and Asceticism” The architect Pier Vittorio Aureli exactly notices in his work

We see how asceticism is turning into hypocritical caricature. In such a way Steve Jobs’ dedication to simplicity directly reflected in the Apple ware, as well as in the business model of the company. Users of the flawless devices are virtually obsessed with them. The ultimate concentration and aspiration for the creator role built the world where users terribly lack attention.

Tradition wisdom

The asceticism practice is not necessarily associated with religion. Ancient Greek philosophers devoted to cognition can be called ascetics, as well as contemporary artists in search of the new ways of existing. However, the followers of the religious traditions have the very opportunity to share their experience by talking to people about information-driven civilization. One can retell the thousand-year experience of ascetics in plain language, explaining the gist of the mind-orientated practices and religious point of view on the man’s place and role in the world and society.

True believers don’t perceive technology and asceticism in this conversation as the objective in itself, but just as the discussion starter. As noted by Oleg Mumrikov, the priest, in his article “Orthodox view of media asceticism” “For a Christian there is no such concept as media asceticism, there is simply asceticism which helps people to achieve unity with God.”

The prospects of media asceticism

Генри Дэвид Торо

Henry David Thoreau — American writer, philosopher, naturalist, social activist, abolitionist. In the years 1845-1847 Thoreau lived in a hut built by him on the banks of Walden Pond (near Concord), independently providing themselves with everything necessary for life. This experiment in seclusion from society he described in his book “Walden” (1854).

Wikipedia

In 1845 Henry Thoreau spent two years away from civilization, in a cabin at Walden Pond. The ideas of Henry Thoreau did not meet strong support among his contemporaries. Robert Louis Stevenson even called that getaway from society cowardice. But the ideas framed in the Thoreau’s books became a cult in the 20th century. The reason behind this was sharpening of the environmental issues and the emergence of such environmental movements as conservation movement which seeks to protect natural resources. Similar fate may await the idea of media asceticism in the digital age. It’s high time we began trying them on. And not when we will have an in-cut connection to the Net in the backs of our heads, and when our bodies will turn into a trading platform for implants traffic. Even if this does not happen, we risk losing even what we own now.


Techno asceticism — the movement appealing to people to scrutinize the positive impact of the implants on the human nature.

Techno asceticism does not suggest a complete denial of the implants. Implantation of the mechanical arms to replace the injured one is a treatment procedure. But if the state adopts a law, which obligates every citizen to implant a new mechanical organ, it is the time to stop and wonder what is going on. Techno asceticism calls to be mindful of any artificial changes in the human body.

Legal platform

In addition to the medical aspects there are legal issues of bioimplantology. There’s where the questions of personal freedom and human dignity become especially burning. The experts of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) reckon that the implants themselves pose no hazard to human freedom and dignity. Still they leave open the possibility of individual or group supervision under certain circumstances. If that’s the case, the risk of personal restraint of each separate individual must be adequately assessed.

Electric current dependence

The proliferation of implants in our bodies creates a new type of dependency — dependence on the electric current, which will be vital for the life sustenance and healthy state of the body just as food and water. Electricity is not free and its output is under state control. The new necessity will strengthen the government influence and enable it to keep a closer watch on every move of their citizens. Personal electric power generator may become a new must-have for home, like a medical kit.

Public approval of the implants insertion into the body opens up a lucrative niche on the market. Many corporations will seize the opportunity to make a market for technologies out of a human body. Industrial use of implants enables to create freely the more effective bodies and brains for economic purposes. Five billion unconnected people from underdeveloped countries present very promising conditions for expansion with the help of the new technologies. But if there is a way to produce cheap interfaces for joining people into collective neural network, those societies that have been ousted out by the superpowers in competitive struggle, would be the first to grab such opportunity for gaining advantages.

Ethics

Religious organizations are also joining the discussion of bioethics issues. The Russian Orthodox Church proceeds from the Biblical Tradition ideas of the unalienable human right to liberty, divine dignity of the human nature and which treats life as a precious gift of God. The inner interrelation between the bodily processes and the mind forms the backbone of our personality.

The point to be emphasized is that there is no reliable scientific research into the long term effects of electric implants on health and human personality.

The prospects of techno asceticism

The ideas of techno asceticism may be expected to take effect as soon as there is reliable information on the detrimental effects that implants have on our body. Protest moods are expected to grow when the insertion of some kinds of implants is made compulsory.

Human dignity

American futurist Francis Fukuyama in his book “Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution” offers to invent the term “Factor X” which is some essential human quality, irrespective of the nonessential characteristics such as skin, color or place of birth. “But in the political realm we are required to respect people equally on the basis of their possession of Factor X. You can cook, eat, torture, enslave, or render the carcass of any creature lacking Factor X, but if you do the same thing to a human being, you are guilty of a “crime against humanity”, Fukuyama writes.

“Factor X” is the line of humanitarian research that can be revaluated in the future due to genetic changes and the insertion of implants. Such questions as whether the creation of a superior “race” is a new form of racism are utterly topical and desperately need to be answered immediately. In the future this need will disappear completely.


The Digital Vocabulary Project is a nuanced perspective to how we, digital media practitioners and theorists look at the digital landscape. The Internet of Things and Big Data have massively revolutionized our lives in profound ways. These technological and structurally changes to our personal and professional lives, has brought about social, cultural and political implications. This nuanced perspective is what project presents to its readers. As a marketing communications professional I have seen numerous studies and analyses written about how the digital revolution is and will continue to create tremendous economic opportunities for brands and marketers. I have also heard perspectives on how consumer behavior is greatly influenced through these advancements in technology. But what Alex and Dmitriy bring to the table is a psychological and sociological perspective to these changes. The Digital Vocabulary Project zeros in on the central theme of digital anthropology – which is increasingly important in this day and age, as we progress into an even more technologically advanced world.

Florent D’Souza
Consultant. Aspiring entrepreneur. Strategist. Marketing communications professional. Polymath.