Marketing for Mindlessness?
If you wished to study marketing perhaps the place to go to learn the art of marketing for mindlessness is Bangkok. From a marketing perspective it is a city all wrapped up. Wrapped up in the sense that most surfaces are branded and packaged, and in bondage to product placement and thrall. Their only competitive screen is the mobile. I am standing on the Sky Train (Bangkok Transit System), with mobiles to the right of me. Mobiles to the left of me. Here I am, stuck in the middle with my book. Distracted by the eyes to the right; by the eyes to the left; the eyes looking up to the screen on the one side, and the eyes looking up to the screen on the other side. Multi-pairs of eyes on i-screens, mobile screens, television screens, popping with advertisements. Every advertisement seems codified, and choreographed with cavorting people, singles, couples, families, all cute, with similar expressions of surprise, satisfaction, stupefaction, promising agreement and concluding with an invitation to join their club, be it a phone, food, drink, or cosmetic product. Be like us. Eat like us. Switch on. Turn off your brain. Tune in. Selfie-self-satisfaction has taken grip. Eyes down. Log out. Disconnect.
Is Buddha out to lunch?
Did Buddha install a dimmer switch? Where did Buddha go? When did the art of distraction replace the art of presence? When did blank mind get replaced with screenfulness? Has Buddhism virtually left modern-day Bangkok? Perhaps it still lurks and lingers along the riverside in the depths of alleys and side streets – clinging to the banks of what is left of the undeveloped Chao Phraya river. There, one witnesses people who need to pay attention to each other and heed their slender lives.
Bangkok Sky Train life is another planet. Habitual patterns of behaviour like I have seen before. And never seen before. Let me say, not quite with the uniform, one step, two step, sense of military zest. Swipe up. Swipe right. Swipe Left. Swipe down. And Repeat. Flights of eyes are seemingly controlled. The mobile is master. Younger Thais, and indeed older Thais engage with the mobile and not with each other. Divulged lives uploaded, downloaded, and imploded.
Did Buddha get distracted?
How did a nation of Buddhists not comprehend the power of the mobile to distract? How did Thais fall asleep in the midst of a population with some ten percent monks, wearing bright orange? Bright orange for goodness sake! Constant iridescent reminders wander by. Monks are robed walking totems of Buddha, still (just about) in Bangkok’s wake. Now they are the great un-watched. Does the contagion spread to the previous generation too? Those who thoroughly knew the teachings of the awoke Buddha. Are they too sleeping like those seemingly reclining Buddhas, those resting Buddhas? Remember Buddha is assuming a posture. He is not asleep.
Wake up. Your trains are cling-film and package wrapped. The sliding hypnotic doors are subliminally programming you with their offerings. You stand in the holding-bay, with feet perfectly placed in the marketeer’s footsteps, a screen on either side of you. In line. In step. Two-steps. Eyes down. Swiping right. Swiping left. Swiping up. Swiping down. There’s a seeming disconnect with self, and an open-sliding-door-way to whatever ‘junk’ message wishes to slip in and anchor itself for purchase and consumption. Your environment is wired to screens. The dharma of distraction reigns supreme. You seem to be living in a world of flickering images, served up with MSG. You seem literally to be somehow screened off from your actual world. To an outsider, a Farang like me, it seems that the very foundations your culture taught you, has suddenly become a sucker for Zuckerberg. He may have hi-jacked your data but you gave it up on a platter of platitudes. Didn’t Buddha advocate responsibility? Personal responsibility is the arbiter of personal growth and transformation. The trains are shrink-wrapped: what of your mind—that too?
The wisdom of Buddha
Buddha spoke of expansion and interdependence. And there’s the rub: nothing happens in a vacuum. All beings are in this together. I ask you, Where did Buddhism in Bangkok go?