Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wisdom 2.0 From the Inside Out

A Frank Look at the Shadow of the Hyper Connected Self in a Technology Wired Society.

Mind overstimulated from the electric atmosphere at Wisdom 2.0, I could not wait to get home and finally get a chance to sit in silence. It was that intense. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Jack Kornfield's contemplative presence was dwarfed by the pernicious effects of all out technology.  While attempting to be different, this conference felt very much like so many of the Silicon Valley events I have attended in the past. Same actors, same greed, same ambitions, same driven-ness, same addictions, same delusions . . . a toxic mist that gets into one's system, real fast.

Taking place on my seat, I could finally feel the aftermath from the past two days. Inside, I found an overwhelming sensation of complete fragmentation and bruising from repeated assaults on one's natural inner tranquility. Sitting perfectly still, I watched . . . Body imploded, into a mass of energy gone mad, with millions of particles dancing around without any purpose. Head, aching from too much stimulation, yearning for a place of rest. Heart, bruised from violence done to myself, by me. Tears came, along with a deep sense of loss. I settled down a bit after 30', and went to bed yearning for some peace, at last. I woke up this morning, determined to not let myself down. I wanted to sit some more, and just be. Sitting in my seat, I felt the powerful impulse to grab my iPhone, and to check emails, and Twitter DMs. There was sadness, and disappointment at the realization of my powerlessness with electronics.

Consistent with the Dharma way, it is through such direct experience that I have come to understand the true meaning of Wisdom 2.0. The rise of the online world is both a beautiful and terrifying phenomenon, and we are at a point, collectively, where its shadow elements need to be acknowledged and dealt with, fully. I found it interesting that the conference was hosted at the Computer History Museum. History was indeed being made as we all gathered and explored the paradox of disconnectivity from hyperconnectivity. This was a clear shift from the first Wisdom 2.0 conference last year, when the awareness of the problem was still dim.

I was especially moved by Ben Fullerton's short presentation on 'Designing for Solitude'. Ben is at the forefront of intelligent interaction design and is working on creating new online tools that will help us disconnect, based on the following design principles:
  1. Don't require the network
  2. Make it okay to be away
  3. Aim for balance
  4. Ask "why" and "when" as well as "how"
Ben shared this wonderful quote from Alain de Botton, founder of the School of Life: "We have become such experts at being always in touch, informed, connected. Now we must relearn how to be silent, disconnected and alone.” The irony is, this quote came in the form of a tweet . . .

When Ben talked about the importance of alone moments, and the generative nature of solitude, I went straight to a recent talk from Gil, on solitude, the first one in his series on 'Solitude - Listening - Speaking - Meeting'. It is true, that in order for us to honor our innate need for relatedness, we need to first spend time alone, so that we can connect with ourselves. Only then, are we able to meet another person, heart to heart, mind to mind. Also, only in solitude, can we draw from the deep well of our creativity and have a chance to lead a rich and meaningful life. Right now, I am all to the joy of writing this post, thanks to no distractions. Nobody in the house, ringer off, emails not considered, Twitter and Facebook dismissed . . . Heart settling, the mind can play.


  1. As I read your post, I felt more and more empathy for you.

    Having experimented with disconnecting (which seems strange that connectedness is now the accepted default status) I've found that the electronica we mingle with is not only a distraction but also a craving which leads to suffering.

    Perhaps I'll write a more cogent comment later. My mind is too scattered from the exposure it got today of our "connected" world.

    By the way, it seems to me rather in-congruent with wisdom to put a version number to it.

    I feel calmer and more truly connected (to you, someone I don't know) from reading this post. Thank you for writing it and sharing your honest feelings.

    Matt C.

  2. Thank you Matt, for the gift of your empathic response. Kind of a paradox isn't it that we made this true connection of the mind and hearts, via cyberspace . . .

    I am about to sit quiet for 30' and invite you to join in if you can.

    With loving kindness,


  3. Similar to the teachings of the Buddha, I think there's a middle path we must find. Somewhere between complete solitude and detachment from the world and constantly being online and feeling the need to always check our twitter accounts, RSS feeds, the news, Facebook, etc.

    We think that we're experienced with all this technology, but we're merely infants fumbling....testing, failing, trying short, trying to find our way. The modern Internet as we know it is less than 20 years old, blogs are not much more than five years old and smart phones and social media tools are barely 3-4 years old.

    I'm very interested in the psychological aspects of the increase in technology, information associated with that technology as well as the connectedness to others related to that.

    It's especially interesting to study and observe my own behavior...e.g. feeling the 'need' to be connected or a feeling that I'm somehow missing out if I'm not keeping up to date with all the blogs.

    Even as it relates to the Dharma, I can get overwhelmed. There's so much information out there...blogs, dharma talks, books and sometimes I feel as if I can't keep up with it all...or rather that I want to listen to everything and read everything, but I can't.

    I think..and maybe this gets to what Ben Fullerton is trying to do..we need to consciously find ways to not only disconnect for periods of time, but also create systems to filter information and not worry about the rest or what we perceive we're 'missing out on.'

    Easier said than done, but certainly an interesting topic and one I'm interested in!


  4. Thank you, Nate. You and I, and millions or others are in the same boat now, searching, striving for a solution to this conundrum. There were talks about 'self-control' at the conference. I can only speak for myself, but I find it exceedingly difficult to not get pulled. I confess to my relative powerlessness, and see it as a step towards necessary action, both personally, but also more importantly collectively. Systems need to be put in place also, as you point out, to protect us and filter extraneous noise (Linda Stone gave a fabulous presentation on the topic during the conference). It is encouraging to see this discourse taking place within the bastions of technology of Silicon Valley.

    Now, may you and I enjoy a day navigating between island of relative solitude and times of rich connectivity!

  5. A comment from one of my Facebook friends, John S.:

    Thank you for your wonderful words, Marguerite. I look forward to each of your blogs. Living on the east coast, I didn't attend in Wisdom 2.0, however, found your reflections to resonate with my own feelings about technology. I've worked in hi tech all of my adult life and use iDevices to expand my knowledge, extend my capabilities and communicate much more broadly than otherwise. It is difficult to remember that it, too, is a mental formation to which one can become attached. A while ago, I installed a mindfulness bell on my iMac to ring every hour. I think I need to change it to every 10 minutes or so. In Peace, J

  6. This is indeed timely for me. Perhaps, there is a support group for high tech addicts, maybe called "i-Anon". Certainly, part of the antidote, while we're trying to find that middle ground, is a solid practice with recovery time on the cushion. Good think that I have the Meditation app for the timer and background ambiance... J

  7. John, thank you. I do believe in the power of technology to help us get over the unhealthy hold technology currently has on us. From the conference, it was very clear that this is where Silicon Valley is now heading. A healthy balance soon to be restored!

  8. Jack, congratulations for guarding your mind so well! And I too believe in the power of sangha or some other type of community so we can help each other be better stewards of our most precious possession, our minds.

    I wish you a measured day with technology!

  9. From Jodene E.

    (I tried to post this as a comment to your blog, but it failed each
    time...or perhaps you need to moderate the comment? Blogger didn't
    provide good feedback!)

    I'm sorry that we never did connect at W2.0! I find your words now
    quite interesting and meaningful. I'm wondering if part of your
    intense experience after the conference this year was due to it not
    being followed by a silent retreat like last year?

    My own experience of the conference was very FULL, and not so
    fragmented. I think this is partially because I flew into SF from
    Seattle and thus was in a traveler mind set, altered by my new
    surroundings. Saturday morning I took a sweet, mindful walk before the
    proceedings began, stopping to appreciate (and photograph) the
    blooming of spring. (Solitude!) This centered me for the second days
    onrush. Also, as an introvert, I am protective of my "space" at
    conferences, feeling more drawn to the wisdom of the speakers then to
    the desire to connect and network with others. Lastly, I only traveled
    with my iPhone, so had no computer or iPad for note-taking which
    seriously limited my electronic interactions. This helped me to stay a
    little more present.

    I did decide to skip the un-conference Sunday morning. The two days
    had been demanding and I found myself wanting to enjoy the sun and the
    rush of spring much more then wanting to interact with others.

    I had mentioned to Soren after the first conference that it would be
    cool to have a place set aside for sitting; for intentional time out
    from the "on" state of the event. Although the guided meditations were
    great, I think this would be a smart addition to W2.0 v3. Maybe next
    year we can meet and SIT together ;)

    May your disconnection from electronics bring peace and solitude.

  10. Thank you Jodene. As I told you in my separate email response, one's experience of such an event is of course very personal, and also a collective one as well. What I felt ought to be useful information, as it deals with the shadow that was so much a part of the talk at the conference. Not all is well in the 2.0 world, and as Linda Stone so brilliantly exposed in her talk, we are now moving into a new era, where protecting and filtering are going to be the focus. The more we can share the negative impact of the current hyperconnectivity, the more new solutions will come to the foreground. I firmly believe technology can be the best antidote to technology. And I dream of applications that will do just that.

    Some of us are better than others as exercising self-control. In a way, technology is very much like food. It is almost impossible now to avoid the computer and the Internet if one is to do work in the world. Just like with food, this presents a challenge.

    And I was very happy for you, that you had such a full, satisfying experience at the conference. Yes, let's sit together next year, providing the conference provides such a container, which I am sure it will, given Soren's wonderful intention and willingness to do benefits the greater good.

    Witht metta,


  11. I'm new to your blog and catching up a bit on your thoughts and commentary.

    In relation to this post, I thought I would include a thought that I often use when I feel overwhelmed by my online experience (or by any experience mind you): "My focus, thoughts and experience are derived from my consciousness and yet my consciousness is not derived from my focus, thoughts and experience."

    In short, through mindfulness you can decide what is and what is not the driver of your personal experience. If technology creates craving and therefore suffering in your life, then remember that this craving and suffering comes from your mind not from the technology. Look inwards and you will find your solution.

    With loving kindness and good fortune,


  12. Thank you Chris. I agree and I am also not so pure yet in my mind, that I can separate myself that easily from the environment especially when shadowy elements are involved. The great thing of course, is that it then becomes a teaching opportunity as was the case here.