Gathering 11: Exploring ways in which technology can support creating a better future

Even if you don't have a Facebook or twitter account, you can't hide from the Tsunami that is social media. In recent times, I have decided to move toward this phenomenon rather than resist it. I have embarked on this journey from the question: How can I make the most of social media and our hyperconnected reality, without losing my capacity to maintain balance and sustained attention. Coming from the world of Psychiatry I am especially aware of how our external environment plays such an important part in determining our internal state of mind. Alongside the information revolution, is a spiritual revolution which is merging with science to reveal that the way we choose to use our attention directly effects the sculpting of our brains and subsequently our levels of happiness. In his book The Attention Revolution, Alan Wallace, preeminent Buddhist scholar and scientist highlights the value of cultivating a capacity for sustained attention, "a focussed mind can help bring the creative spark to the surface of consciousness".

It was with this question and curiosity that I signed up to Gathering 11, a two day conference held at the Abbotsford convent, the brain child of David Hood, aimed at bringing together leading thinkers, change-makers and collaborators to explore the possibility within emerging technologies to develop ideas around how we can best solve today's most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Amongst the sea of participants and speakers with laptops and ipads at hand, tweeting prolifically, included a number of stand out inspiring people. John Hagel, a deeply authentic and brilliantly articulate business veteran and global innovator was the opening speaker. He discussed new ways of thinking about creating change both on a personal and global level. His book The Power of Pull: How small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion was being discussed excitedly by participants. He was generous in his personal sharing and I was struck by his capacity to reveal his own vulnerability. I approached him with my question and he replied that passion is the key to ensuring that one does not get sidetracked by the many internet distractions. I realised that this would only apply to mono-passionate people and that perhaps for poly-passionate people the internet may be more hazardous than beneficial. Tim Longhurst, futurist from Sydney inspired the audience with a compelling, simple model of moving from your passion to executing your ideas, emphasising the importance of having a tribe to support and encourage your ideas. He touched on the common obstacle of perfectionism as hindering the innovative process:"Don't be all rigor and no trigger". He highlighted the key to innovation in being a capacity to take risks, share your ideas and avoid the limitations of needing to be an expert. The day was a combination of presentations, group brainstorming, and self reflective guided exercises all conducted through a solution focused lens.

Another award winning social entrepreneur was Ehon Chan, whose curiosity led him to establish a "Free Chat" gathering in the city exploring the potential to create dialogue between people who would otherwise pass each other by in the street. His recent project "Soften the fck up" is a campaign aimed at reducing the suicide rate of males by encouraging a societal shift allowing men to feel more comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities. From my own experience of working with people suffering depression there is certainly a strong sense that shame is still a large factor which obstructs men in particular from getting the help they need at times of emotional difficulty.

One exercise led by Donnie Maclurcan, co-founder of the post growth institute, was called asset mapping. His premise was that we can move forward much more efficiently by addressing what we have to offer rather than what problems we need to solve. He proposed that amongst the participants there would be enough shared assets to create significant impact and change for the better. Nine post it notes were distributed to the participants who were directed to label them with three personal assets of the heart, mind and hands.

Individually, participants contemplated: What am I passionate about? In what areas do I have knowledge or experience? What practical skills do I have to offer? The hundreds of post it notes were pinned up on a colorful board which provided a rainbow of the collective assets at gathering 11 which participants could share with one another.

Gathering 11 inspired me to take another step towards the internet and explore the world of twitter. I was surprised to discover the Dalai Lama tweets too, and have deciphered that #deepdive is 'twitter' code for 'meditating'. The other night as I went to set my iphone alarm, I watched as my finger of its own accord, clicked on the twitter app. I knew it was a bad idea but internally reassured myself it would just be or a few minutes. Forty five minutes passed as I went on a labyrinthine escapade through other peoples' twitter links. I woke up in the morning having dreamt I was at a conference with fifteen monkeys scrambling around in my hair. A message from my subconscious depicting quite literally the Zen Buddhist concept of "monkey-mind", almost as if a warning to rebalance. I realised it was time to start #deepdiving again and perhaps reconsider the benefits of twitter for someone who is endlessly curious with polypassionate tendencies.

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