I undertake the training rule to refrain from idle chatter.
We are surrounded by idle chatter, not only from live human beings in our presence, but from billboards, television, and whatever electronic media we plug in to. Often, it takes energy to separate the useful information from the background noise.
With Facebook and Twitter, the information flow has accelerated in recent years, to the point where many people are addicted to the constant flow of not-particularly-important information. You might call it “mind-candy”; things that give us a little jolt of titillation and then disappear. The aftertaste may leave us with a craving for more excitement, or it might just make us a bit sick to our stomachs if we consume too much.
For the record, I’m an abstainer from all (electronic) social network media, with the obvious exception of this blog. When social networks first came around, I decided that I wanted to control what came to my in-box as much as I could, and so have missed out on some connections, but have not been overwhelmed or seduced. My “need to know” is perhaps not as great as some others’.
Even before recent developments, Bhikkhu Bodhi, a well-respected monk, and translator and scholar of Buddhist texts, wrote on the subject:
The traditional exegesis of abstaining from idle chatter refers only to avoiding engagement in such talk oneself. But today it might be of value to give this factor a different slant, made imperative by certain developments peculiar to our own time, unknown in the days of the Buddha and the ancient commentators. This is avoiding exposure to the idle chatter constantly bombarding us through the new media of communication created by modern technology. An incredible array of devices — television, radio, newspapers, pulp journals, the cinema — turns out a continuous stream of needless information and distracting entertainment the net effect of which is to leave the mind passive, vacant, and sterile. All these developments, naively accepted as “progress,” threaten to blunt our aesthetic and spiritual sensitivities and deafen us to the higher call of the contemplative life. Serious aspirants on the path to liberation have to be extremely discerning in what they allow themselves to be exposed to. They would greatly serve their aspirations by including these sources of amusement and needless information in the category of idle chatter and making an effort to avoid them.
(from The Noble Eightfold Path, The Way to the End of Suffering by Bhikkhu Bodhi, available here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html)
As Bhikkhu Bodhi points out, it is up to us to investigate this category of useless speech, not only as it comes from our own mouths, but also as we choose to consume it.