Hello. My name is Adrienne. To understand why I am writing this blog, you need to know a little bit about me.
First of all, I love technology. I am one of those people who always gets the latest gadget, loves to figure out things, and have never found a computer or device that intimidates me. I play around until I understand it. Before children, my previous career started with designing and installing computer networks, and ended with designing, programming and creating artificial intelligence multimedia education systems (trust me, it’s not as hard as it sounds). I have two Master’s Degrees: an M.S. in Telecommunications (a combination of electrical engineering and computer science) and an M.A. in Learning Sciences (which is cognitive science/psychology as it relates to how people think, learn and organize information). I received my Learning Sciences degree while working at the Institute that created the afore mentioned AI computer systems, so I focused on Learning Sciences as it relates to technology use and interaction. I loved working on the whole user experience, from beginning to end, the design of the user requirements, the system, the interface and the final steps of user testing and rollout.
Now…with all that being said, you also need to know that I have meditated more than half my life. I first learned transcendental meditation as a junior in college (I was 19), and have practiced some form of meditation on a regular basis since…I’m 47. While TM is no longer my chosen form of meditation, it was my introduction, and I have enjoyed practicing many different types of meditation since my first exposure. I am also a certified meditation teacher. Meditation has always been that quiet center, that space I go to when the world feels like it’s too much. The calm in the storm, where I hear my soul and commune with God. It grounds me and centers me, opens me up, makes me pause, stop the endless stream of thoughts filling my head and take a step back, deeper into my life. My meditation removes me from the busyness of the world, while making me feel more connected and present, all at the same time. It’s part of who I am.
I don’t know how, or why, but these two seemingly polar opposites areas…mindfulness and technology…are the things I love most in all the world to explore. You will find me learning, studying, discussing, immersing myself and generally spending my days studying these amazing topics. I can’t imagine my life without either. But I also can’t imagine my life with technology, the way I see its presence in other’s lives. Technology occupies a space in my life, it is not my life. Technology is a tool to make my life better, not an addiction or distraction that keeps me from being in or avoiding my life. My Macbook, iPhone, and iPad add to my life, not take away from it. I love my life, and have no interest in abdicating it to a seemingly better one online. There is a space and boundary I keep for where and when technology enters my life, like any relationship healthy boundaries matter.
I observe too many people with unhealthy boundaries (or none at all) regarding technology. Too many friends, who can’t carry on a dinner conversation without checking their phones constantly. Friends who can’t experience a concert or walk in nature, without stopping to record or photograph every moment to add to their FB or Instagram accounts. Children who can’t problem solve questions for themselves, when they get stuck, they go online for a quick answer or YouTube “how to” videos. People who can’t mull over an idea or wait for a reply, they need an immediate answer to a less than life threatening question. Colleagues who call, text, email, then check your online accounts to hunt you down, trying every avenue to reach you…right now. Friends that define themselves by the witty comments they make to every post, without thinking if what they are saying is kind, or true or actually needs to be said. Students pondering questions in google search term formats. So much of life is now instantaneous, urgent, lived online, and has to be shared…leaving little room for something to be private, sacred or special.
Even with this all consumingness, the reach of technology can also be amazing. I have found long lost friends from high school on Facebook, and reconnected with them online and then in person. I communicate with more people every day than I would otherwise, if I had to sit down write a letter, find a stamp and mail it. More friends know about my life than would without technology and I have felt encouragement, support and yes, even love, via text messages, Facebook posts and emails, during difficult times in my life. I write more, each day, than I did before a computer and keyboard allowed me to quickly capture and express my thoughts, ideas and feelings. Technology allows me to self publish and reach people, easily, quickly and in far away places, and to create this blog. Technology also makes the world feel smaller. We see things happening in faraway places. We share our stories, come to understand our differences and fight for causes we would have been unaware of in days of old, or which wouldn’t have had a human face or story to capture us so easily.
So there is the crux.
Technology, just like everything can be used well or badly, and everywhere in between. Technology matters, it’s wonderful, and it’s not going away. But it’s use needs to be balanced and occupy a healthy space in our lives, not be the sole occupant. And that’s where mindfulness comes in. Meditation and mindfulness allow one to step back from their busy lives, observe, be present and make choices from a space of awareness, rather than habitually responding to each bing or alert from our devices, like Pavlov’s dog. I’m not saying turn off your phone and throw it away. I am saying find a balance of its presence in your life. A space that you and it both occupy. The gift of having both designed artificial intelligence systems and studied the human brain, is that while computers are amazing…there is a reason they call it “artificial” intelligence. Nothing compares to the depth, wonder, creativity, connections and general miraculousness of the human brain (yes, I know there are computers that have tricked people into thinking they were humans…the Turing test….but who do you think programmed and created those computers and software). I marvel at our capacity as humans each and every day, what our brains and hearts are capable of creating and sharing. I truly believe computers will never replicate or encompass all of what it means to be human. And they shouldn’t. It’s not an“either-or” equation, it’s a “both-and” …how can we be both human and present and enjoy the connections, ease of communication and information technology gives us. There is room for both…room to design a mindful life in the digital age.
So join me, as I start this process of examining what it means to pause and be present in a high tech world. I’ll write blog posts on observations and ideas on technology, mindfulness, neuroscience and anything intriguing overlapping these topics. I also plan on interviewing some of the interesting people I meet along the way, as well as post book notes and reviews.
I have specifically chosen the word “pause,” because it’s uniquely human. Computers run programs (a series of instructions), written in code that start and continue a process until it’s logical conclusion, or a certain state is met. In some cases, when coding a new piece of software you end up in an infinite loop…which is not a good thing (I still love that Apple Headquarter’s address is 1 Infinite Loop). An infinite loop means your program is stuck in a process and will continue that loop endlessly. You need to reboot to stop the program.
The gift of being human, is that we can pause at any point in the process of our life. While there are some people who seem to operate their lives in an infinite loop…as humans we always have the space to take a breath, pause, become aware. Use the human gift of consciousness to be present, living your life, instead of lost in a program of your own or the world’s choosing. I’m excited to elevate the conversation of what it means to be human in a digital world…to be a mindful human in the midst of technology that begs otherwise. I truly believe the combination of our humanness with the power of technology can change the world, for the better….if we consciously choose it.