In a world where everyone is connected, there isn’t enough connection. You can ride your Facebook feed all day long and still go to bed feeling lonely and isolated. Even in-the-flesh face time with friends and family can leave us wanting, each of us caught up in our own internal drama, talking at each other about our stories, never truly sharing our experience or feeling completely understood. We need a way to feel more connected.
Social noting offers a window into another human’s moment-by-moment experience, sharing and receiving in a profoundly intimate but non-threatening way. Social noting builds on an ancient Buddhist mindfulness (satipatthana) technique, making it interactive. Two (or more) people can call out their experience together, back and forth, ping pong style (or around a circle), using simple, one-word labels for experience as it arises. “Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, thinking, fear, joy, loneliness, love, anger, connection, itching, tingling, burning, pressure, lightness, heaviness, anxiety, hope”… all of these experiences can be shared with another human being as they occur, two people becoming one, simultaneously witnessing and normalizing each others’ experience. Social noting is the closest thing we have to Mr. Spock’s Vulcan mind meld from the original Star Trek television show. But social noting doesn’t feel kooky or even invasive; it just feels great.
The Pop-noting Protocol
The pop-noting protocol is a way to make social noting between two people seamless. “Pop”-noting refers to the way you pop in and out of the session, giving it a clear beginning and ending. It goes like this:
1) Two people agree to spend a specific amount of time noting together, back and forth, ping pong style. This initial arrangement can be made by text chat. The time period can be whatever both people agree upon. Twenty minutes is a good number, but it could be ten or even five minutes.
2) The noting itself takes place by voice, either on the telephone, Skype, or some other voice chat platform. Video is optional, but not necessary. It is understood that this call is exclusively for the purpose of noting together; there will be no ordinary conversation, and when the agreed-upon time has ended, both people will say goodbye and hang up. This agreement to just note, without chitchat, and to promptly end the call when the timer ends, is what makes the pop-noting protocol work. If the call is open-ended, it may never happen. In other words, if I ask you for a telephone call but don’t specify a purpose or put a time limit on it, you may not be willing or able to take my call. You know that we will start talking, get carried away, and spend an hour together. But you don’t have an hour. You have a life, a job, a career, a family. So, you postpone the call. This is why for pop-noting to succeed it’s essential to agree upon a time limit, set a timer, and stick to it, ending the call promptly when the timer goes off. In this way, there will be many more opportunities for connection than there would be without such a disciplined structure. Nothing is lost here, we can always chitchat another time; remember, this is a connection we were not going to make otherwise.
My challenge to the pragmatic dharma community: I’d like to see some kind of realtime clearing house that each of us could could monitor to find partners for ad hoc pop-noting sessions. It might be a message board, a dedicated feed on a social site, or one of the new social apps. I can also imagine a way for people to post recordings of their sessions so newbies could more easily learn the techniques.
For several years, I’ve fantasized about some way to coordinate noting sessions with people from our community on a moment’s notice. This is something I would personally take advantage of because the deep human connection of social noting helps to keep me sane. I also think the benefit to individuals and society at large could be enormous if more people knew the social noting technique and could find noting partners in realtime.
-Kenneth Folk, March 2nd, 2013
(Note: Thanks to Abre Chen for coining the term “pop-noting” last week after I explained the protocol to her and we successfully tried it out over the telephone in a twenty-minute session.)