Jack and I recently led meditations for Tristan Harris’s Humane Technology conference. Tristan, a meditator and celebrated technology reformer, opened his talk with a quote from E.O.Wilson. When he was asked if we will be able to solve the crises of the next hundred years. Wilson said, “Yes if we are honest and smart. The real problem of humanity is: we have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”
Unfortunately, our use of technology has been driven by Paleolithic instincts. Tristan described the many ways we’ve all seen that social media has been dividing us through paranoia and fear, tilting the world in the direction of craziness. He showed clips of teens talking about how the pressures to appear perfect on social media and the automatic loading of next Netflix episodes dominate their consciousness, bringing increasing depression and unhappiness.
The radical answer Tristan posed is: looking in the mirror. Awareness. Mindfulness internally and externally is key in accelerating change in the way technology is designed and how we use it. It is key to creating a global climate change of culture to support human and planetary flourishing. To foster humane emotions, humane institutions, and humane technology, we have to understand ourselves, to wake up in a collective way, training awareness inwardly so we can perceive clearly, and outwardly to make smarter choices about how we use our attention and time.
Tristan, his co-founder Aza Raskin, and we encouraged the technology community to courageously look ‘inside the house’ for solutions. We humans can pair training in honest and comprehensive awareness of all of who we are, revisioning technology to align with our values. We need awareness of the dangers that downgrade humanity because whatever is outside of awareness is outside of our ability to make wise choices. This is a time on the planet when we need to work together to meet the dangerous planetary situations we face. Social media and technology could hugely facilitate this process, helping people find common ground instead of amplifying our conflicts and spreading ignorance and fear.
Can we be mindful and compassionate as we develop and use our technology? Personally and collectively we will need to bring the full strength of our practice, all we have learned, to build a world of humane values. This is possible! As Tristan pointed out, “Unlike global climate change, it only takes about 1000 people to change what technology is doing, and many of them are here in this room. As leaders, we can build products to compete for our trust and values, together creating a race to the top, technology that foster self-love, peace, and integrity, instead of a race to the bottom of the brain stem – a race to brilliance.”