A Bell Directs our Attention

When a group of meditators in the Zen tradition meet at a temple to practice together, the meditation usually starts by the leader hitting a gong or a bell of some kind.

This is not only a signal that the group will start meditating soon, but it is also a way of directing attention.

Attention, the most important part of meditation, wanders away quite quickly. Using the five senses, we can channel our attention back to the present moment. It’s why we use incense, or why powerpoint is engaging. The bell is another way to activate the senses and bring us back to the present.

Facebook uses a bell icon to notify us that we have new messages. Most of the social apps also use the striking color red to show us when we have new notifications, because red creates a sense of urgency (it’s a color that’s frequently used for emergencies).

If the bell in meditation brings us into the present moment with nothing to do be with ourselves, then the bell on Facebook directs our attention to all of the stories of the friends we follow.

In a way, these two bells are polar opposites: one restricts our attention, the other allows it to wander.