My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

It's all so Zen

I'm not the first person to say this, certainly, but I'm far too lazy to Google for corroborating posts--strangely enough, if my ethical code ever collapses inward on itself,((Would this result in the formation of an ethical black hole?)) my laziness will always prevent me from plagiarizing. Writing my own stuff always seems easier than trying to find it, even with the miracle of the Internet.

But I digress.

Today's Internet phenomenon on the chopping block is Zen. The overuse of "zen" in product and website names throughout the Internet irks me--and I don't even practise Zen, so I can only imagine how those people who do feel about this.

Firstly, don't blame Zen. That's tantamount to blaming Santa Claus for Coca-Cola. Much like Santa, Zen can't fight back.((Although in Santa's case, it's contractual, whereas Zen is an abstract, intangible concept and not a real person--which Santa IS.)) Secondly, yes, it is our fault. And by "we", I mean, us, those darn "Westerners" who have once again decided to co-opt an "Eastern" idea and market it as our own.((Like spaghetti. And communism.)) For shame.

We stole Zen because we thought it was cool (and we are not). I understand that it's totally a marketing gimmick. Marketing is all about cool, and marketing Internet stuff in particular requires the slippery, evanescent sort of coolness that apparently only Zen or, if you're a teenager, smoking, can provide. Because after all, what is Zen? I certainly don't know--sure, I've read the Wikipedia article. But to claim I have an understanding of such a complex philosophical school of thought would be like saying I understand communism. Nobody understands communism!

NB: I have an adequate grasp of the gist of Western philosophy--enough to hold my own in daily conversation--but I've yet to actually read the treatises by Western philosophers that would firmly cement my comprehension of the thoughts that have shaped and guided our society for the past two thousand years. So take my opinions with a large tablespoon of salt: I don't know what I'm talking about after all. You have been warned.

We're attracted to "Zen" because of the ethereal, Eastern atmosphere it injects into our stodgy Western minds. This is the Internet equivalent to the "New Age" phenomenon. Zen is the poster-child of those who believe Eastern society possesses a vital quality missing from Western society. In actuality, both Eastern and Western society are completely, irrevoccably screwed up.

But that's OK.

I do think there are some aspects of Eastern society from which Western society could benefit. However, stamping the label "Zen" on products, especially technology products, is not one of them. So next time you consider naming your product "Zen Something or Other" or incorporating an enso into your logo, ask yourself: are you really espousing the concept of Zen, or are you just fuelling a fad?

In conclusion, I'd like to throw out a few disclaimers. I love the CSS Zen Garden and in no way am suggesting that it change its name to CSS Garden. The idea for this post was actually inspired by Twitter's adoption of a new support desk software, Zendesk.

I'm sure Twitter is just picking the tool it feels is right for the job. But Zendesk exhibits exactly the smarmy attitude I've suddenly realized irritates me. Take a look at what they've done to Buddha!

Buddha in a headset

They've gone and put Buddha to work in a call-centre! It's an eerily accurate metaphor for what Western society tends to do to Eastern philosophy. And I want no part of it.