Can Technology Benefit From Spirituality?
Like the title of one of my favorite Alan Watts books suggested, we live in an age of anxiety. Lots and lots of wonderful information and people who are genuinely interested in promoting this information but not enough importance on what the information does to us. How do we take in these new discoveries? What should we actually be worrying about? Sometimes we learn things that can either make us appreciative of life, or feel lonesome in a vast universe if not expressed correctly.
Other times people focus so much on acquiring data and recognition from the communities at large that they lose themselves, lose their sense of identity and how much good they can do in the world without this way of thinking. When the world seems so fast paced, so rushed, there’s this looming feeling over our heads that makes us feel confused and sometimes even makes it difficult to enjoy momentary happiness, ‘the little things’, or as they say; stopping to smell the roses. We are constantly worrying either about what’s in store for us next or how we acted in the past without ever really living in the present.
Enter Wisdom 2.0 a panel discussion bringing ideas of mixing technology and spirituality as expressed among leading members of the technological world like Google VP Bradley Horowitz, Ford CEO Bill Ford, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington and members of US congress Tulsi Gabbard and Tim Ryan to name a few. Their main concerns voice these very troubles that come with an ever expanding, fast paced society relying on technology while ignoring key aspects of making humanity more bearable. These are very important topics we really should be discussing if we’re to wash away these feelings of emptiness and separation as we march into a new age of technological advances:
For many people the question, “what can technology learn from spirituality?” will meet with the flat out answer, “nothing”. Our secular society has learned to question spiritual teaching with the same skepticism we might bring to discussions of the supernatural and mysticism. But the success of Wisdom 2.0 suggests that its mission — to explore how we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age — is relevant to a growing audience. Technology confronts all of us with many challenges to our well being, from dealing with the “always on” work patterns facilitated by mobile technology, to managing the fragmented global communities of social media. As Wisdom 2.0 conference organiser Soren Gordhammer wrote in his 2009 book of the same title; technology is not the answer, but neither is it the problem. What matters instead is awareness, engagement and wisdom.
For spiritual teachings to become relevant to our modern lives, we first have to separate them from the supernatural and mystical baggage that makes them difficult for us to accept. In his 2007 talk at Google, Wisdom 2.0 speaker Jon Kabat-Zinn outlines the technique of mindfulness and its value in modern life. As Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts he talks from a wealth of experience. Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment”. Mindfulness training helps patients connect directly to their present, and in turn reduces stress and suffering caused by dysfunctional thought processes. In the schema of mindfulness, pain is not the problem, but our response to pain is.
The medical benefits of mindfulness training are now widely acknowledged. Kabat-Zinn’s early work on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme helped patients suffering from severe and enduring pain and even terminal illness. The programme also forms the basis of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, a leading treatment for anxiety disorders and depression. Mindfulness training is now widely employed in education, as a technique for calming and improving the concentration of students. Perhaps more surprisingly mindfulness training is also being actively employed in business to improve productivity, in sports to improve performance, and even in the military with both frontline and recovering combatants.
(Recommended full read: Technology and spirituality: can they be happy bedfellows?)
So will we continue to blindly progress with technology as our humanity is lost? Or will we begin to think of the now and merely think of the past as a point of reference and the future as promises of things that could be and not what should be. We are only beginning to realize as a society that science and technology is of great importance to us, but will we abandon the wisdom of spirituality and its helpful aspects all in the name of blind skepticism? There is a negative and positive to almost everything, and in order to succeed I think we need to combine these tools of life or at least learn how to make them co-exist with one another. What do you think?