My fascination with human beings led me to pursue a career in psychiatry. At medical school I remember holding the brain of a cadaver in my hands and wondering how the multitude of human emotion and thought could be contained within a kilogram of white and grey matter. Recently, I was reminded of this while watching a short film Brain Power by Tiffany Shlain, who states that there are more synaptic connections in a babies brain than connections throughout the entire internet.
Connecting with ourselves, each other and the world, in a meaningful, compassionate way is key to our thriving. So when I discovered the Wisdom 2.0 conference, a tech-meets mindfulness conference that explores conscious connecting, I knew I had to be there.
At a time where invisible umbilical cords attach us to our smartphones, the question of where the boundaries of self-identity are in a super-connected world becomes fascinating. At a recent Creative Innovation Conference in Melbourne, Ray Kurzweil, controversial American futurist and inventor stated, “the biological you is no more you, than the technological you.” This idea was voiced decades ago in a more Buddhist light by philosopher Alan Watts who suggested “The ‘you’ who you think you are, does not exist”. It’s a paradigm shift, but as technology progresses and becomes embedded in our clothes, our retinas, our blood cells, and our brains, we will inevitably need to make sense of what it means to be human in a world where technology is part of us.
We are still locked into thinking that we are separate from our technology. My partner tells me I never put my phone down. In the not too distant future, that might become as ludicrous as telling me off for “always carrying those dam hands around with me”. Has the mobile phone become an appendage that is so inextricably linked to us, it actually is us? Ray Kurzweil recounted a conversation with a Parkinson’s patient who had a computer chip implanted in his brain to help alleviate his movement difficulties. He asked the man whether he considered the chip to be a part of himself. The man was stumped.
Technology and information are developing exponentially, and we need to shift our thinking from linear to exponential to imagine our future possibilities. With an infinite amount of information at the click of a button, our capacity to focus, discern and pay attention is becoming a survival necessity. As Ray Kurzweil describes we’re living in a time where “a child in Africa with a smartphone, has more access to information than the president of the United States did fifteen years ago”.
If we cultivate wisdom in the area of technology, there’ll be better odds that future technology will be infused with wisdom and support our thriving on the planet. As Kevin Kelly, founding editor of wired magazine states “Humans are the reproductive organs of technology”. Therefore, the wiser the human, the wiser the technology. We may be creating technology, but according to Ray Kurzweil, there will be a point in time when technology becomes smarter than its creator - he calls it the singularity. He predicts we will arrive at a point where technology becomes so sophisticated, it enables the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence.
I hope to expand my thinking this week at wisdom 2.0 and hear from some of the world’s leading thinkers about how as a species, we can ensure that we flourish rather than fade away in this age of technology.
Wisdom 2.0 conference livestreams on Feb 21st-24th http://www.wisdom2summit.com/
If you’ve been dreaming of launching that new business and living the location independent lifestyle, The 100$ Startup by New York Times bestselling author Chris Guillebeau is your perfect companion. Chris is an impressive entrepreneur who has spent the past five years writing about his quest to visit every country in the world before he turns thirty five. His popular blog, The Art of Non Conformity, has become a successful six figure online business and a vortex for freedom-seeking, socially conscious, community lovers from across the globe.
The $100 startup is like a lonely planet guidebook to entrepreneurialism. With both a collection of inspiring stories and specific roadmaps and warnings, it guides the reader in navigating from idea to business on a shoestring budget. There are discussions and clear pointers along the path of idea development, marketing, pricing, and product launch, including extra resources at the associated website www.100startup.com. Chris discusses the key to “the quest for personal freedom [as being] through the pursuit of value for others” emphasising the need for convergence between your passion and something that someone else would pay for. He flirtatiously warns his readers that “there is no rehab program for being addicted to freedom. Once you’ve seen what it’s like on the other side, good luck trying to follow someone else’s rules ever again.”
Throughout the book there are diverse stories of micro-entrepreneurs who have found their way to success through different routes. Whether choosing to leave a soul suffocating corporate job or being made redundant and forced to take steps to innovate, each story is inspiring in its trajectory. A particularly inspiring interview describes Brett Kelly, a man who was struggling to financially support his family and noticed an opportunity in the market place. He realised that there was no existing manual for the Apple Mac Evernote program. He took a few months to develop one himself, published it as an ebook and made $120,000 which was followed by a phone call from the CEO of Evernote offering him a lucrative position at the company. The book emphasises paying attention to opportunities that may exist in our rapidly changing environment and bringing ideas into action to allow serendipity to do it’s work.
The book is in many ways the manifestation of a movement, “the rise of the roaming entrepreneur”, evidenced by the annual World Domination Summit (WDS) hosted in Chris Guillebeau’s hometown, Portland. It is a conference founded by Chris and aimed at those who are interested in living “remarkable lives in a conventional world”. This year the key note speakers ranged from Jonathan Fields, writer-entrepreneur to Scott Harrison founder of Charity Water. In its second year, WDS was a sell out within hours of its online ticket sales with next years event sold out six months in advance.
Committed to contributing to the world and sharing the business lessons he has learned, Chris motivates people from all over the world to take a leap into life. After receiving an anonymous donation of $100,000 from someone who attended the conference, Chris decided to generously “invest” in each of the attendees by giving everyone one hundred dollars on departure and inviting them to spend it how they wished.
Leaving the conference with a free copy of the $100 Startup and a one hundred dollar bill in my hand I reflected on his gesture as both an ingenius marketing strategy and a brilliant way of conveying his underlying message:
There are no excuses for not starting. Take action now.
Mindfulness is the new black. It is an effective mental technique, borrowed from the two thousand year old Buddhist contemplative practice and adapted to suit non-religious contexts, including board rooms, corporations, hospitals, schools and sports teams.
It is a practice which supports the capacity to stay focussed on what you are doing as you are doing it, a powerful antidote to the distractible nature of the mind and the information-rich digital world. When practised regularly, it can bring more calm and effectiveness into everyday life, reducing stress and enhancing capacity.
Google has now trained over one thousand of its employees in mindfulness, recognising it’s capacity to improve wellbeing and innovation in the work place.
It is initially practiced through meditation, but can also be applied to daily activities such as eating, walking or working. It is simply the discipline of noticing what you are doing when you are doing it and becoming master rather than slave, to the impulses of the mind.
Five tips for using mindfulness to calm your day:
1. Tune in to the breath
It may sound like an irritating cliche, but there is scientific rationale for this advice. The breath is not only a powerful indicator of one’s state of mind but also a helpful modulator.
During a busy day, take a few moments to consciously tune in to the breath. Feel three breaths move in and out of the body. Then slow down the exhalation which helps to trigger the relaxation response. Extending the breath in this way sends a message to the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that opposes the stress response) to calm down the body.
2. Use your surroundings as a circuit breaker
Take moments in the day to disconnect from the flurry of to do lists and direct your attention externally by tuning in to your senses. Listen to the sounds in the room, feel your body in space, see the space you are in, notice the temperature and smells. By tuning in to your senses, just for a few moments, you give your mind a micro break from the stress of thinking.
3. Use technology with awareness
Sitting at a computer all day? Bring awareness to your posture and breath. It has been noted that email apnea, the temporary absence or suspension of breathing while doing email, means we are inadvertently creating stress in the body. When we breathe irregularly, the body becomes acidic through retention of excess carbon dioxide. This acidity may contribute to stress related diseases.
4. Simplify your to do list
Bring attention to the top three priorities of your day. Break your work time into smaller blocks for higher levels of efficiency, and take short breaks between blocks. (see the pomodoro technique for further details).
5. Use your lunch as a mindful practice
Rather than eating whilst working on the computer, or missing out on lunch altogether, use your lunch as a way of practicing mindfulness. This means, notice you are eating as you are eating, intentionally tasting your food, bringing awareness to the act of chewing. This will give your mind an opportunity to rest from the whirlwind of the day, allowing space for mind and body rejuvenation.