May 3, 2010

Wisdom 2.0: Living purposefully in a connected world

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Soren Gordhamer

Beth KanterI am filled with gratitude to Soren Gordhamer for his vision of bringing together an amazing group of people who work in the area of mindfulness and technology for Wisdom 2.0, a three-day event in Mountain View, Calif., this past weekend aimed at addressing a compelling issue: “The question for most of us is not if we will use the technologies of our age, from cell phones to social media, the question is how can we do so with mindfulness, meaning and wisdom?”

Soren is the author of the book “Wisdom 2.0” and writes about mindfulness and technology use for the Huffington Post and on Mashable. If you want to explore the intersection of technology use and mindfulness, follow Soren’s work.

Technology stress and information overload have been around for decades. I’ve been looking for ways to reduce techno stress since I first started working in the nonprofit technology field in 1992. During training or coaching, I’d hear people complain about information overload, anxiety, etc. and started to incorporate techniques for reducing it.

The new framing for this familiar issue is one of balance. Being online or living a connected lifestyle is something many of us do – and as smart phones, Facebook, iPads and other technology tools become part of lives, we have to examine our relationship with them and find balance.

Here are my notes (and live tweets):

Managing the Stream: Living Consciously and Effectively in a Connected World

The first panel discussion was called “Managing the Stream: Living Consciously and Effectively in a Connected World” and featured Bradley Horowitz (VP, Google), Chris Sacca (Advisor Twitter), Greg Pass (CTO, Twitter) and Roshi Joan Halifax (Upaya Zen Center). The question was really how do you say yes to a connected yes and an inner life as well?

Don’t react all day to email

Chris Sacca made some good points about being proactive with your email, as opposed to reacting all day. “Your in-box is your publicly displayed to-do list. If the first thing you do when you get up is check your email: Don’t live that way.” He said that there are only 24 hours in a day and you have to make choices about your time. He did this by teaching himself to be selfish and not respond. He also talked about changing his brain chemistry. “Every time we see new email in our box, it produces a positive feeling. I had to reteach my body not to respond in this way.”

Chris offered this advice: “Don’t just pick the low hanging fruit in your in box. Think about how you can make a difference. Try ignoring your email.”

Bradley Horowitz from Google said, “You have to learn how to turn Gmail off and live in it, in my case I can turn all of email off.” What he was saying was that you have to integrate periods of time where you can step way from the computer and distraction and reconnect with yourself and the environment.

Understand the \two Different Types of Attention

Roshi Joan Halifax pointed out that there are two types of attention: receptive and focused. One is about being on Twitter, which she called a “Karma accelerator,” and meditation, which she practices daily. She said that her attention and presence in a world of hyper-connectivity is the most precious thing she has. Her approach is to balance connection and disconnection and understand when and how to use the different types of attention.

Sacca quipped that he usually attends technology conference where most people in the audience are buried in their smart phones or laptops and that this conference was the one where he felt that mostly everyone was paying attention to him.

The importance of organizational culture of balance

Sacca, Horowitz and Pass talked about the importance of creating an organizational culture that honors balance. They talked about how Google has “no meetings Thursdays” and the audience applauded. Google recognizes that most people’s work days are filled with distractions and that there is perhaps one hour a day when people are at their peak productivity. By removing the distractions, they hope to increase it two hours a day. Greg Pass, CTO of Twitter, teaches new employees something called “Twittokinetics” and advises them to pay attention to what they’re doing, understand and own the problem and realize learning opportunities.

A second discussion panel looked at Awareness and Wisdom in the Age of Technology and included Kaitlin Quistgaard (Yoga Journal), Tami Simon (Sounds True), Gopi Kallayil (Google) and Leah Perlman (Facebook). This was quite an interesting mix of perspectives.

Be Self Aware of How/Why You Stay Connected

Tami Simon offered a self-reflection on her technology use; she’s a Blackberry user and shared her feelings on why she grabs her Blackberry on a Friday evening. She talked about how it made her feel and her motivations underneath. She made an insightful observation – that before we had this connected lifestyle what distracted us was our inner thoughts or “thinking.” She said reaching for her Blackberry facilitated “hyperthinking” with others.

As Tami Simon noted, “The most important connection with technology is the one with yourself.” That you have really look inward to your own patterns and use before you can be mindful. I’m inspired to start doing this.

Take Care of Yourself First

Gopi Kallayil from Google advised the audience that if you do nothing else every day, do these three things: 1) Sleep 2) Meditate 3) Exercise. He went to admit that he isn’t always successful, but has learned to make these a priority over the temptation to answer every email.

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Playfulness

Leah Perlman talked about her journey from being burned out by technology to finding happiness and fulfillment from balanced technology use. I just loved her approach to making a game out of not being always on. For example, she does “haiku email day” where she answers each email in a haiku in the hopes that people won’t send long-winded reply emails.

She also plays another game with the battery life of her phone at the end of the day. She said that by the end of the day she’d be racing to an electrical outlet. So, now she tries to limit her phone use and end the day with more and more battery power.

The best question from the audience was “Is there an app for that?” or an app that can help you with meditation or mindfulness or keep you out of your email. I was sitting next to Robert Jackson, who does the Quiet Mind Podcasts and had an iPad with his meditation app on it!

The day ended with a conversational keynote by Tony Hsieh on the Zappos culture of happiness. I’ve heard Tony’s speeches and presentations and he is fantastic. I enjoyed the conversational approach. He gave a review copy of his forthcoming book to everyone at the conference! One of the interesting questions came from the audience about how they create happiness in their community. It strikes me that Zappos might be a great example of lethal generosity.

Conclusion

We’re all struggling with balance of technology and a purposeful life. We need to reflect inward and examine our motivations, patterns and use of technology – understanding when we’re mindful and not. Then we need to integrate ways of finding the right balance. That balance is not a simple on and off switch – it is understanding how to integrate focused and receptive attentions into our online and offline lives. And, there is also the issue of organization culture – how is your organization honoring a balanced use of technology and incorporating that into your working style?

Questions: How are you mindful about your online technology use both personally and professionally? How does your organization honor balance in the use?Beth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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4 thoughts on “Wisdom 2.0: Living purposefully in a connected world

  1. I have learned to take care of work projects in the morning and respond to e-mails in the afternoon. I find that my work projects get done on time more often if I don't get sucked into the vacuum of responding to e-mails. I also limit my checking Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to about 15 minutes a day during work hours. I could probably be better about it at home!

  2. Our colleague John Haydon has an auto-responder telling people he sets aside an hour in the morning and the late afternoon to respond to emails. I try to follow the same pattern: answer only time-sensitive emails first thing, then put off everything else till 9 pm or later. – jd

  3. Hey,
    This is a really thoughtful recap of the Wisdom 2.0 conference! Having attended, I really enjoyed reading it. Our company did a really awesome recap of the conference, if you’re interested: http://ow.ly/i8z6L