By Shyamal Sinha
Buddhism is the most popular religion in Taiwan, with over 10 million followers or half of the island’s population.
Taiwanese technology manufacturer Acer, best known for its computers and consumer electronic devices, has announced its latest product; a digital upgrade of the traditional mala. Also dubbed “smart prayer beads,” Acer’s latest product is aimed at making it even easier to keep track of your mantra recitations.
It’s a beaded bracelet with an embedded chip that connects with an app on your phone to tally up how many prayer recitations you notch down each day. That info is then presumably beamed somewhere to Buddhist bean counters sitting at the gates of digital nirvana.
The smart prayer beads, which Lions Roar reports will be called “Leap Beads,” look just like regular prayer beads or mala (Skt.). The difference lies in the smat chip embedded in one of the beads, which can connect to your mobile device and automatically count the amount of times you recite a mantra as the beads pass through your fingers.
Mala have been used for centuries to keep track of recitations, and Acer’s digital upgrade of the traditional practice is touted as making reciting even easier. According to Acer, the smart prayer beads were developed to help users to focus on the mantras they are reciting, rather than be distracted by trying to keep count of the number of recitations.
“Acer is continually talking to customers and looking for ways to use technology to simplify everyday life,” said a representative of Acer Taiwan. “The intent is to help people concentrate on the mantra versus being distracted by counting the times the mantra is recited.” (Lions Roar)
In addition to keeping track of recitations, the smart chip sends information to an app on your smartphone, which, Acer claims, can translate the number of mantra recitations into digital “merit,” which you can share with your social media network, and even transfer merit to friends and family.
Acer plans to launch the beads in Taiwan, where more than 8 million people (a third of the population) identify as Buddhist. For now, they are limiting their marketing efforts to Buddhist organizations, to whom they plan to offer customization packages. Buddhist organizations interested in the mala can personalize both the functions and appearance of the beads. Acer is also researching whether the beads can contain other functionality, such as facilitating donations or electronic payments. According to EJ Insight, part of the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Acer has already received tens of thousands of advance orders.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the development, however, and some netizens are questioning Acer’s motives for producing the beads. Some argue that the smart beads are merely part of a marketing scheme by the tech giant to access the Buddhist consumer base.
Buddhist technology and gadgets, however, are nothing new. And while Buddhists teachers tell us that electronic interaction can and should never replace human interaction, they do admit that it can, at times, be helpful. Buddhists all around the world have entered the tech revolution, using websites and social media to reach their audience, while temples now often have electronic payment systems to facilitate donations, and there are numerous apps for your smart phone helping you meditate, or providing relevant Buddhist information, such as the mobile app launched last year by the Dalai Lama, and the Khyentse Foundation’s “Bodhgaya Finder” app.