Thursday, December 18, 2014

ABC Legacy Launch: What's It All About?

Welcome… It's so nice to see so many people here to learn about ABC Legacy and TextLess Live More. Hartley and Reed will speak first, and I will follow with more information about ABC Legacy, but first I’d like to give you a little history about my relationship with TextLess Live More. Some of you may know that I began researching teens, technology and mindfulness last winter after I attended Wisdom 2.0, a conference that brought the technology worlds and the mindfulness worlds together. At first one might think that these are polar opposites, but in many ways the mindful use of technology is the best use of technology.

When I began to research the issues and problems with technology, and by this I mean digital or Internet technology, I felt as if I fell into a rabbit hole of information, vast with many studies by doctoral and post-doctoral students, professors and experts. Nomophobia, Digital Dementia, Email Apnea and Partial Continuous Attention were just some of the new terms to describe the many problematic side effects of the overuse of these digital devices. Did you know we are the first generation of Digital Immigrants who are parenting Digital Natives. We can almost think of it as being in a strange new world, just like the parents in New York City on the Lower East side in the 1880s during the Industrial Revolution.

I learned of TextLess Live More on Facebook, a positive use of social media, and I felt as if I’d found the ideal model for solving society’s problems with not just teens and technology, but other issues. After I attended the Kick Off Assembly for TextLess Live More this fall, I knew I had found the model. Here was a group of students passionately working toward solving the problem with not only texting and driving, but they are sending a much needed message to their peers, to us, that we need to put our phones down, text less, and live more, mindfully, face to face, fully engaged in life with each other, not with our digital devices. Teens solving the teen issue with technology. What could be better, and they are doing it with Presence. Passion. And Purpose. I’m so happy to introduce two of the Members of the TextLess Live More Team, a brother and sister team, please give a warm welcome to Hartley and Reed Bingham.


Hartley and Reed Bingham shared the TextLess Live More story by first showing a video and relaying their personal story with Merritt Levitan, TextLess Live More and Merritt's Way. It takes 4 seconds to read a text. What we may not know is that on July 2, 2013, it took one driver 4 seconds to take his eyes off the road, read a text and kill a young biker, Merritt Levitan. Merritt's closest friends from childhood and Milton Academy seniors developed TextLess Live More to encourage other teens to put down their phones, engage face to face, and avoid the temptations to text and drive. They began this with TextLess Live More days, one day a month, but they have extended it with a larger message.  Although the TextLess Live More campaign is designed to prevent texting and driving, Hartley and Reed claim they want this movement to be bigger than that: “our goal is to decrease excessive phone-use and encourage people to focus on the interactions taking place right in front of them.” In essence, they hope to shift the culture away from the technologically driven communications and relationships to the more humane ones. It's not the abolition of technology, texting and digital devices, but the integration of them for a more present and aware existence. 


And now ABC Legacy. 

How do they connect? Rich and Anna Levitan, Merritt’s parents and I met, after Milton’s Kick Off Assembly, and we talked about ways to extend the TextLess Live More mission? How can we create programs that raise awareness of the negative side effects of too much technology and promote the benefits of mindfulness practices that actually train us to quiet the mind, calm this distractibility addiction, enjoy life in the moment more as well as use technology purposefully and mindfully. This is so important. This is not about not using technology. This is about a healthy use of technology.

At first I began with Live More, Tech less, T – E – C - H and as I developed this process I began to see that if we tech less, we need to replace that loss with something else. What about passion? Bear with me as I make the connection here.

CCHS has a requirement for 40 hours of community service. In 2007 when Brittany, my daughter, was a freshman, I began to notice that some students had an intrinsic passion for the service they were doing and who will be the same teens on college campuses become catalysts for change? How can we connect our passions to service? I began working with some of my former Fenn students who were juniors and seniors at CCHS at the time as I created the concept for ABC Legacy. The Alliance for Building Connections to Change, thus Catalysts for Change. We worked together to find role models to illustrate this concept. Ideally the 40 hours of required community service becomes an intrinsic internal passion that no longer feels like a requirement.

I worked with the Interact Club, the service club, at CCHS for the past two years on this issue, and last spring we presented this concept to graduating eighth graders to prepare them for the High School community service program. We will do that again this year.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve connected this idea Passion for Service to the concept of Live More, Tech Less with a process I am currently calling: Power Down to Power Up for Presence. Passion. And Purpose. How do we identify our passions? In Howard Thurman’s words, “Don’t ask for what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” How do we access this information deep inside us? How do we know what makes us come alive? We need to get space in our brain. Quiet contemplative time away from the noise and distraction of a rapidly busy life filled with constant information and the distraction from our digital devices and social media.  If we switch gears and power down in order to power up internally for connection to ourselves in the present moment, we might be able to find the answers to these questions. Who am I? What are my passions? What makes me come alive? ABC Legacy is developing three programs to do just this.

During February and April break as well as in the summer, students will have a chance to put their technology away for a few hours a day, learn mindfulness tools including yoga and meditation and begin to identify those passions. Then connect them to an individual purpose that could involve an impact project and/or community service.

Mornings or afternoons during these week-long breaks will become a springboard for further exploration.

Similarly, ABC Legacy will provide a structure and a space for Seniors to work on their Senior Projects with mentorship and a communal workspace in our Millennial Incubator. The model of Power Down to Power Up will be taught as students create their vision for their projects, and then carry them out. This could almost be thought of as Rivers and Revolutions Extension.

And this fall we will be offering an In the Gap program for college students choosing to delay or take a break from college and learn more about themselves. Students embark on their own Hero's Quest and ask the bigger existential questions "Who Am I?” and “Why Am I Doing What I’m Doing?" as they work together with other students. By taking the time to get to know themselves and their interests, they may have clearer intentions and purpose when they move into the next stage of their lives. This will be combined with time and opportunity to explore, volunteer, and intern in their world beyond Concord.

In the Gap teaches the process for Presence, Passion and Purpose. Opportunities to shadow professionals and work on projects in the Bradford Mill Community will be an integral part of the program.

We are in development with a September 2015 launch date, and there will be more specific information later this winter. At this time we are seeking students currently delaying college or taking a break who would like to attend focus groups and help develop and pilot the program.

At this time we are all happy to answer any questions you may have...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Have Teens Become the Tool of their Tools?

As I pondered a talk on teens and technology, an article by Michael Mulligan, the headmaster of Thacher School in Ojai, CA came across my desk. In “The Three Most Important Questions you can ask Your Teenager” Mulligan sites William Deresiewicz book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, and claims the following of the millennials:

“A large-scale survey found self-reports of emotional well being have fallen to the lowest levels in a 25 year study… fifty percent of college students report feelings of hopelessness; one-third reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function in the last twelve months… They are stressed-out, over-pressured; [they exhibit] toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness, and isolation."

If this is true, what role does technology play? Have our teens become the tool of their tools?

It’s quite fitting, actually, that we are sitting here in the Emerson room reflecting on the transcendentalists’ philosophy of life 160 years later. Yes. Mr. Thoreau. I dare say some of us, myself included, have become the tool of our tools. We have let technology use us. So, how do we turn this around and take ownership back? How do we use technology and then model this use to others: our colleagues, friends and family members including our children? How do we use technology mindfully and purposefully? First we identify the issues with technology, and it’s not all bad. I often say that one’s relationship to technology is like one’s relationship to food. Let’s cut out the excess white sugar and eat more of the kale of technology.

When I talk about the Millennials, I am talking about teens and youth in their 20s. Some call the Millennials Generation Y, but why do I talk this way about the Generations? Because our generations matter in relationship to technology. Gen Xers, born after the Baby Boomers, are a cusp generation. The Gen Xers are the digital immigrants who are parenting the digital natives. What? Yes. This is part of the difficulty we have parenting right now. Everything is new, even the lingo, and it’s happening at an exponential rate. We don’t have time to catch up because it’s happening so fast. There’s a new language, especially when we talk about Technology. And the Millennials, with Generation Z following right behind, are our digital natives

When we talk about technology, I’m talking about Internet technology. What happened when we went from atoms to bits, in Nicholas Negroponte’s words in Being Digital. I’m going to hold up these books and site passages from them, in analog because we absorb and retain more from a physical book than the same words online.  In addition, if one is reading later at night close to bedtime, the blue light emitted by digital devices has been known to contribute to sleep disturbances and in more extreme forms sleep disorders. 

You can immediately see where the talk could go when we start talking about using your digital devices in bed with you, and then sleeping with digital devices, for example, your cell phone, but I’m going to ask to hold off on that topic for a moment. We will return to it.

Can you remember the first time you went online? I can. It was in 1997. I was 35 years old with a 5 year old and a 3 month old. I am a digital immigrant. My daughters are digital natives. We are parenting in a whole new world. We have been parenting as we’ve been learning, just as if we’d moved to the lower East side of NYC in the late 1880s during the Industrial Revolution.

For those of you who don’t know me, I taught at Fenn from 1986 to 2003, bridging the analog and digital age of not only parenting, but teaching, too. I trained at the Shady Hill School with their philosophy of interdisciplinary teaching and brought it to Fenn. One of my passions is creating new and innovative curriculum so I was one of the first teachers to include CD Roms as part of the course material. I was an early adopter of technology in the classroom, and because of this I became a defacto Director of Academic Technology. Fenn hired a Director of Technology, but the school was not wired, so while Michael Lyman was wiring the school, Jerry Ward asked me to research and create Fenn’s first 1, 5 and 10 year technology plans.

Why is this story important? I don’t believe we can talk about parenting our teens and children about technology without looking at our own relationship to it. When I found the Internet, I found my brain. I am a non-linear thinker who can connect almost anything, as those who know me will attest. In 1997, I became addicted to the Internet. I had a major task before me, so this addiction served not only me, but the Fenn School very well because I created those technology plans, and in the process I began a fascinating pursuit of looking at the promise and perils of technology.  What happens when we move from atoms to bits, from an analog to a digital life? In Growing Up Digital: the Rise of the Net Generation, Don Tapscott wrote in 1997: “You know that the new technology is important for children but you worry about the dark side. You see the promise but you read all the horror stories and you wonder what is true. This is something very new, very unprecedented. We worry about our children,” and we are facing the same dichotomy today.

"Never before has there been a time when reflection on human nature is so important, particularly because of the power of technology. Misused, technology can isolate us, numbing our social and human tendencies while keeping us continuously occupied. Used affirmatively, it can be a powerful vehicle for allowing each of us to participate in the global community of people who wish to shift the destiny of our planet,” is a recent quotation from the Shambala Principle.

In February I attended Wisdom 2.0 whose mission in their words is to address the great challenge of our age: to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world. I went for two reasons. I was interested in how Wisdom 2.0 applied to today’s youth culture, and they had their first Wisdom 2.0 NextGen conference this past fall, and the other was to understand my own attachment/addiction to technology.

Immediately after returning from this conference, our assignment in my yoga training was to choose to live by one of the Yamas, one of the 5 principles of yogic philosophy and I chose non-hoarding, only using what you need, and I applied this to technology. As I began to research and chronicle my journey, I realized I had plenty of information for a blog “Confessions of a Tech Addicted Yogi.” I eventually changed the name to Teens and Technology as I began to focus my research specifically to teens.

So what did I learn? What were some of the main issues with technology? How does one know if technology is having a negative impact? These are some of the questions.

  1. Do you experience angst and panic when you can’t find your phone? (This could be Nomophobia
  2. Do you feel physical anxiety when you haven’t checked your phone in awhile? (This could be due to dopamine decrease)
  3. Do you use it right before you go to sleep ?(Compromised sleep/Sleep deprivation)
  4. How often do you check your phone during the day? (Some teens check it up to 150 times)
  5. How many different windows and APPS do you open in an hour while doing homework? (Myth of Multi-Tasking)
  6. How often do you leave one task for another? How long does it take you to come back to original task? (Rapid Task Switching)
  7. Do you Feel an intimacy with your device —  for example do you sleep with it, or check it in the middle of the night or when you first get out of bed. 
What role is technology playing ? All of these will contribute to a decreased physical and emotional sense of well being.

Have we become the tool of our tools?  Yes. And technology addiction is on the rise. In a study at Baylor University this past year, 60% of the students self-diagnosed their cell phone addiction, and the study found that girls spent 10 hours a day on their phones and boys spent 8 hours. These are alarming statistics.

A little known physical fact is that 80% of us hold our breath when we check email. Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft Research coined the phrase email apnea when she researched and found that people inhale when they check email, but in the anticipation of what is to come, they neglect to exhale. Without the exhale our bodies shift into a high alert state of fight, flight or freeze. If one thinks about the Baylor Study findings, it means that college age Millennials are walking around in a state of non-breathing anticipation with an alert and frightened sympathetic nervous system for 8 to 10 hours a day. These physical conditions create anxiety and fear which is only augmented by Deresiewicz' findings.

Depression can be caused by Facebook and Instagram with a false reality that one's friends are happier and more popular than one based on the number of pictures tagged and posts liked. Aimlessness and lack of motivation can be blamed on the seductive and addictive nature of video games that are designed to entrap the user in a flood of dopamine hits, thus making it more difficult to put the game aside and complete schoolwork or go to a part time job.

Which leads us to Powering Down for Presence. Passion. And Purpose. 



When we power down or put our technology away we get some space. When we add a mindfulness practice to this we get even more time and space to think, synthesize, clarify and eventually listen to our intuition and create. Our creative voices come through so that we can identify our passions which can lead to purpose. With collaboration and planning we can go back to powering up to use the digital devices for good … until we get overloaded and jangly again.

Powering down is hard because we are so connected to our devices, so starting slowly with brief intervals of time is a good way to begin. It’s like building a muscle, but when one thinks about the cycle toward clarity, calm and reduced stress and anxiety, the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. How do we step away from the technology? Employ some strategies, but it requires mindfulness and a desire to change the reactivity. The first thing to do is recognize when you are having these addictive symptoms and apply a mindfulness practice such as STOP that I learned from Mary Ann Christie Burnside, a mindfulness meditation teacher sited on your handout.

Stop.
Take a breath.
Observe your physical sensations, your emotions and your thoughts.
Proceed with a calmer, more aware mindset.

There are other ways to power down either as an individual or as a family. Tech breaks were created by Larry Rosen who wrote iDisorder. He claims it is so traumatic that we need to schedule 15 minute tech free time with one minute tech breaks when we can check out phones. Others suggest digital free zones like the dinner table, the bedrooms, and specific times when there is no technology for anyone in the family. This is important. As an adult/parent/teacher you need to walk the talk. You need to understand your own technology habits first before instructing younger generations.

Presence includes mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga. These are essential. Taking a walk in nature, solo without your phone, and going for a run without headphones. Your brain needs time to be quiet, in order to synthesize and learn. Boredom is good because the brain actually works harder when there is no input. This is when the brain retains, memorizes and synthesizes. In a UC Santa Barbara study, students spent 45 minutes a day meditating 4 times a week for 2 weeks. At the end of this time period, their GRE scores went up 16%. The brain wants space.

But there is more. It’s not just about powering down for presence. What if these moments of anxiety and despair are actually signifying another one of Thoreau’s famous quotations: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

If today's teens are lost, then perhaps they need to go on a modern day Hero's Quest and ask the existential questions: Who am I? Why am I doing what I’m doing? What would happen if students ideally came to know themselves through intrinsic interest and experience? What if we taught passion to purpose as a curriculum, and then once they knew a purpose, they could begin to think creatively about that purpose and move from idea to impact? What if we asked them how do you want to serve your world? And we want to know how it connects to your authenticity, your desire, and your compassion for humanity. But first you need to put your cell phone down. You need to look up and see your world. Live in the present moment. Face to face with your peers in order to discover what you love.

Howard Thurman states it a little differently, "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive," and if one says, "I don't know what makes me come alive," then that is the first obstacle in the Homerian journey. The mission is to discover what you love to do. Or who you love. Julia Butterfly Hill joined a group to help save the Redwood trees, but when she climbed into Luna, she found her passion in Luna and began a brilliant career due to her love for Luna and the environment.

A recent slide show in the Huffington Post outlined 19 ways to unplug that could double as 19 ideas to test out what makes you come alive. The list is on your handout, but I’ll read a few. Get Lost in Your City. What do you discover about yourself? Where do you find yourself stopping and looking? Take an art class. Dig through childhood memorabilia and remember what you loved to do as a child. Write stream of consciousness and see what you say. Play a board game. Feed the ducks. All of these will bring a sense of presence and calm as you detach from technology, but what else can you learn? Was there an inkling of a passion? Can you test it out with purpose? Eventually you create a direction and a discipline to move from idea to impact, and ultimately you find meaning. And that meaning can be through using technology.

In the Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social ChangeJennifer Aaker writes, “In fact, the happiest people are those who have stopped chasing happiness and instead search for meaningfulness, a change in direction that leads to more sustainable happiness – the kind that enriches their lives, provides purpose, and creates impact.”

What if this is an opportunity to restructure the way we think about education and learning. What if it’s time we valued and promoted our teens’ quests to find themselves, to understand who they are, what they love, and why they do what they do?

What happens when depressed and anxious teens seek passion and purpose to make a difference in the world? Or in TS Eliot's words, "to Dare to Disturb their Universe?" I claim they find meaningfulness.   As a young man, the great philosopher William James went to Paris to study. He was extremely depressed and became suicidal, but he decided to make a wager suggested by a French philosopher. He would act every day for a moment as if the universe was full of purpose and meaning. At the end of this period, he had discovered so much meaning and purpose that he changed his life around. Thus, powering down for Presence + Passion + Purpose = Meaning.

Friday, November 28, 2014

PASSION. PURPOSE. MEANING.


In a recent Huffington Post article, "The Three Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Teenager," Thacher School Headmaster, Michael Mulligan relays the status of teens today. On the one hand he extols them as "confident, connected, and open to change." They are service oriented, embrace diversity, and seek solutions to environmental problems. By reporting these facts one could interpret Mulligan's views on the Millennial Generation as happy, fulfilled and purposeful, yet Mulligan reports the opposite. He says, "We have raised a generation that is plagued with insecurity, anxiety and despair." He reiterates his point with evidence from former Yale professor William Deresiewicz' book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life who claims, "They are so stressed out, over pressured; [they exhibit] toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness, and isolation." In reading such an alarming account of the emotional health of college students, one needs to ask why?


Deresiewicz points the finger at some parents and the way college age sons and daughters are raised with intense pressure to get into an elite college that will not only reflect well on the student's status, but the parents' status as well. Society plays a role in conditioning students to believe that everything they do is to look good in the eyes of admissions officers and employers. The pure joy of an intrinsic passion does not come into play if it does not serve the greater goal of getting into college or getting a job. Mulligan states, "You engage in community service not because you wish genuinely to make a positive difference in the lives of others but rather because that is how you burnish your resume -- service as check-off box," and this is just one example. There are many where intrinsic values are replaced by extrinsic ones. These points are all valid and true, but I’d like to elaborate further with the ways technology plays into these students’ emotional and mental states.

In a study at Baylor University, 60% of the students self-diagnosed themselves as addicted to their cell phones. Research shows that an overuse or addiction to technology can cause the same "stressed out, over pressured" student who may "exhibit toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness, and isolation." There are many specific ways the Internet, social media, and dependence on digital devices contribute to these unhealthy moods.

A little known physical fact is that 80% of us hold our breath when we check email. Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft Research coined the phrase email apnea when she researched and found that people inhale when they check email, but in the anticipation of what is to come, they neglect to exhale. Without the exhale our bodies shift into a high alert state of fight, flight or freeze. If one thinks about the Baylor Study findings that college women spend 10 hours a day on their cell phones and men 8 hours, it means that college age Millennials are walking around in a state of non-breathing anticipation with an alert and frightened sympathetic nervous system. These physical conditions create anxiety and fear which is only augmented by Deresiewicz' findings.

There are other reasons for anxiety including Nomophobia - No Mobile Phone Phobia. Depression can be caused by Facebook and Instagram with a false reality that one's friends are happier and more popular than one based on the number of pictures tagged and posts liked. Aimlessness and lack of motivation can be blamed on the seductive and addictive nature of video games that are designed to entrap the user in a flood of dopamine hits, thus making it more difficult to put the game aside and complete schoolwork or go to a part time job. There are more statistics found in other entries in this blog.

Now with the problem identified, what are the solutions? In essence we can go back to 1854 with Thoreau's words, "Men have become the tools of their tools." In today's world, "Don't be the tools of your tools," can be transformed to "Don't let technology distract you and use you to your detriment. Use technology mindfully for the good."Thoreau also said, "Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves," and today's youth is lost. Not only from what I've read in the article, but also from what I've personally seen with my own daughters and their classmates. Many of today's youth are either dissatisfied in college, or taking a break because it's not only unfulfilling, it's causing depression and anxiety in pandemic proportions.

Teens are unhappy, and we've identified some of the reasons why, so now what? If today's teens are lost, then perhaps they need to go on a modern Hero's Quest and ask the existential questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Michael Mulligan asks similar questions. The first one, "Who tells us who we are?" can be seen from the extrinsic with the college admission process, employers, Facebook, Instagram, and fashion designers to name a few. What would happen if students went on their own Odyssey and ideally came to know themselves through intrinsic interest and experience, similarly to T.S. Eliot's famous lines, "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time." What if we taught passion to purpose as a curriculum, and then once they knew a purpose, they could begin to think creatively about that purpose and move from idea to impact? What if we asked them how do you want to serve your world? And we want to know how it connects to your authenticity, your desire, and your compassion for humanity.

Howard Thurman states it a little differently, "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive," and if one says, "I don't know what makes me come alive," then that is the first obstacle in the Homerian journey. The mission is to discover what you love to do. Discover your desires and passions. Then you test it out with purpose. You create a direction and a discipline to move from idea to impact, and ultimately you find meaning.



ABC Legacy’s Mission is to prepare today's Millennials and eventually Generation Z for the promises and challenges of an increasingly interconnected technological world including the dangers of technology addiction. With a “Power Down to Power Up" process that takes students from presence to passion to purpose, and then idea to impact, the Incubator provides the physical space for an "In the Gap" year program. Participants come to be inspired, focused and effective through technology awareness, mindfulness practices and entrepreneurial skills as they work directly with mentors to create their own social change initiatives. ABC Legacy is committed to lighting candles in the minds of the future leaders of the world and helping them ignite a positive collaborate impact on society.

"Power Down to Power Up" is the process  for ABC Legacy’s In the Gap program which is designed to be housed  within a thriving Innovation Center like the Bradford Mill in Concord, MA. Students spend 12 weeks taking frequent intermittent breaks from technology to practice mindfulness in order to synthesize and create new ideas, collaborate and plan to use technology mindfully. Through this process they learn an entrepreneurial curriculum similar to African Leadership Academy's to create social and environmental initiatives whether it be a TED talk, a computer language, a company, or a social impact project. The possibilities are endless once these college age millennials "come alive." There are Millennials who are thriving, and the question is, "What was their process?" 

The African Leadership Academy takes the best and the brightest students from all countries in Africa with the mission to create the new leaders of Africa. These students are thriving. They go to universities and colleges around the world and commit to entrepreneurial projects in their home countries. What can we learn from this model? Can we do the same for our schools in the U.S? Maybe some are, and I plan to seek them out, or I will go learn the curriculum at African Leadership Academy, following one of my own passions - South Africa.

In closing, I loop around to the beginning of this article. What happens when depressed and anxious teens seek passion and purpose to make a difference in the world, or in TS Eliot's words, "to Dare to Disturb their Universe?" I claim they find meaningfulness.  I end with, perhaps, a little known fact about the great spiritual philosopher William James. As a young man, William James went to Paris to study. He was extremely depressed and became suicidal, but he decided to make a wager suggested by a French philosopher. He would act every day for a moment as if the universe was full of purpose and meaning. At the end of this period, he had discovered so much meaning and purpose that he changed his life around. Thus, Presence + Passion + Purpose = Meaning.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

ABC Legacy Links with TextLess Live More


In 1997 I created ABC Legacy: Atoms to Bits Children’s Legacy where children and their families use the Internet to learn about other cultures, events, and problems around the globe, and then use technology to connect and collaborate to care and make a difference. At this point it was merely a concept. 17 years later, I’ve come back to actually creating ABC Legacy: Alliance for Building Connections to Change and Alumni Building Connections for Change.

I'm circling back to a passion I've had since my very first days of teaching at The Fenn School. At times I wondered why a women's history major focused on social justice was teaching at a predominately white, all boys middle school, and not a coed high school or inner city school. My dad helped me immensely when he said, "Your contribution comes from "lighting candles in the minds of the future leaders of the world." So that's what I did. I included women's and social justice history about change agents including Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, and the pro-democrayc students of Tienanmen Square. With these role models I urged my students to move from an idea for social good to real life impact, and many of my former students are doing just that. My dad's directive calmed my angst, and it has been my mission in some form or other for the last 28 years. Over the last month, I've been working with Millennials and professional peers to develop a program that teaches technology awareness within a larger framework. I'm creating a learning/working environment and process/curriculum that inspires social innovation.

In order to do this, there are some questions to ask about the role technology plays in this mission.
  1. How can we use technology mindfully rather than letting it use us mindlessly.
  2. How can we harness the infinite power of this tool to create positive impact and live our legacy in the world, now?
  3. What if we focused on leaving a positive digital footprint rather than trying to prevent a negative one?
These are all questions I ask as I unfold a model for a Millennial Incubator located at The Wheelhouse on Bradford Street in Concord, MA. The very Wheelhouse I pre-marketed before it existed four years ago. It's almost as if it was part of the plan that together with professional mentors in the education, social innovation and technology fields from Wheelhouse and fellow alumni, college interns and high school students learn the dangers of technology addiction and apply mindfulness practices in order to actualize their social impact missions and legacies.

But how did I get here? I’ve learned quite a bit since my visit to San Francisco and the Wisdom 2.0 Conference February 14 to 16, 2014. Through amazing synchronicity and connections, my blog entries about TextLess Live More on July 3 as well as September 19 has had a deeper significance. When I went to the Kick-Off Assembly for TextLess Live More at Milton Academy on October 6, I met Merritt Levitan’s parents Anna and Rich afterwards and we discussed our collective visions for the Millennial Generation and their use of technology as well as how to foster real engagement interactions.

The Millennial Generation ideally wants to use technology for social good and not let it use them, not let it cause them mindless distraction. Many of the teens and 20 year olds are more worried about the younger children and tweens, the iPad generation. From these discussions with Anna and Rich, as well as some of the young founders of TextLess Live More, students now at Harvard, Stanford, BC, Tufts and others, there are thoughts on the future of TLLM. The hope is that the number of schools participating will expand from 50 to 500 by the end of 2015, and one million people will be wearing the blue bracelets. I’ve found that when I wear the bracelet on my right wrist it is an extremely effective deterrent to picking up my phone while driving. It helps me resist the impulse to make a phone call, switch the song, or read a text.

My Teens and Technology blog that was also called Mindful Media Musings actually started out with the title: Confessions of a Tech Addicted Yogi, but I was too embarrassed that a yoga teacher, trained in mindfulness practice, had fallen victim to this ubiquitous distraction addiction. This blog includes the study of technology addiction in addition to mindfulness practices as ways to counter problematic technology habits, and it's almost as if the blog is a directive to myself. I am aware of the seductive and addictive nature of my digital devices, but awareness isn’t enough.

Often times it takes a Digital Detox or Tech Recess to recalibrate and re-align one’s intentions and mental clarity for a more mindful use of technology. TextLess Live More days, the first Monday of every month, are a wonderful way to take a tech break, become aware of habits, and engage with others who are also spending the day unplugged.

Tomorrow, November 3 is the second TLLM Day this year, and 174 people have joined the FB promoted “Turn off for What? CCHS TextLess Live More Day.” Join a community of over 50 schools, including students and adults in the CCHS community, by turning off your phone and living more mindfully, more like Merritt Levitan, more real, more engaged, and more present! I look forward to following up with comments and reactions from a CCHS student survey after tomorrow.

Tomorrow I'm going to start Oprah and Deepak's 21 Day Meditation Challenge, take a walk to Egg Rock, even if it's inclimate weather, and create a creative collage of tree images that remind me to stay deeply rooted to the earth.

What are you going to do on your digital free day?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Digital Detox


How balanced is your use of technology? How often do you go offline? For a weekend? A day? An hour?

When parents set boundaries around their own use of technology they have more power to suggest and enforce boundaries with their families. Role modeling one’s own productive use of technology is an effective method for helping children and teens “use technology rather than let it use them.”



Technology free zones in the house work well, for example during family mealtime and during sleep time which would include all bedrooms, including the parents. If you, the adult, don’t use your digital device in the car, you can expect the same from your teens, who are very aware of their parents' compulsions to pick up their cellphones. In a recent study, by Liberty Mutual and MADD, “Nearly 91 percent of teens witnessed their parents talking on their cell phone, and 90 percent admitted to doing it themselves. When it comes to texting and driving, nearly 59 percent of parents were caught doing it and 78 percent of teens admitted they had done it, too, once they saw their parents engage in the behavior.”

Digital detoxes are a more radical way to unplug. My friend, Ritchie Perkins and his wife instituted technology detoxes in their household on Wednesday nights and Sundays until 5 pm. Their sons complained, and still complain, when they are asked to unplug, but it is now part of their family culture. Even when the boys say, “We’re the only ones who have to do this,” they know it’s for their own good, as most teens do.  The family has begun to see some of the benefits of such unplugging. In Ritchie’s words, “We spend Sundays having fun in real life, real time activities. We walk the dogs together, or we play a board game, or sometimes we go to the Huntington Theater. But mostly what I like about it is that we are hanging out together, talking about something (or maybe even nothing). It’s the simply hanging out that I like best about no-technology.” Ritchie’s family is in the minority because it takes energy and persistence to enforce these types of boundaries, especially with digital natives who have never known a life without technology. 

My response? I have spent very little time away from technology, even on yoga retreats where I journal and write. I’ve often used the rationale that I need my computer to do this since I write more fluidly on a keyboard. Of course, I am also connected to the Internet, so perhaps my reasoning is a little suspect. This past weekend I went to Omega Institute for Sustainable Living to see Pema Chodrun, a 78 year Buddhist Nun and “Rock Star.” Anyone who has read her many books or spent time with her will agree. Her teachings on presence, mindfulness, and meditation are the antithesis of the mindless distraction of unconscious computing. Though it was not a requirement of the retreat, I decided to leave my cell phone at home. I gave my daughters emergency numbers, put an away message on my Gmail, and went off the grid.

I was amazed at the results. Granted I was in silence for the first part of the weekend in a camp like environment where there was very little need for technology. Nevertheless, I noticed my frequent impulse to check my phone for texts from my daughter, emails about upcoming plans, and Facebook notifications. Gradually, the need to check my phone subsided. The most surprising observation was in the morning. After reaching for an absent phone, there was nothing to distract me from getting up and rolling out my yoga mat. I usually intend to meditate and practice yoga for awhile to start the day clear and focused, but often times I am distracted by my phone. With those precious early morning minutes gone, I spend time, while on my computer, with my teenage daughter before she heads to school.

As the weekend progressed I truly felt my mind settle, relying on my own thoughts and memories rather than googling questions I had about this idea and that. I didn’t look up the books Pema mentioned on Amazon, rather I found them in the Omega Bookstore. I found it easy to handwrite in my journal, and I came up with many ideas for this blog entry, as well as other creative musings. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of the book The Distraction Addiction, writes about balancing technology through conscious computing.
He says that when you go through a digital detox, “You might feel your mind slowing down a bit, but in a good way. Some of the cognitive sediment stirred up by juggling work, personal life, and virtual distractions is starting to settle. And the stillness that’s left, which people usually assume is a terrifying boredom that has to be filled with something, actually isn’t bad after all. It’s the feeling of your extended mind tuning up, your attention rebuilding, the balance between the human and high-tech parts of your righting itself.”

I plan to implement more of my own self-imposed digital detoxes, including a 5 day yoga training at Esalen later this month. October 6 is the kick-off for the TextLess, Live More Campaign I’ve written about in previous posts. My daughter and her friends introduced the campaign to their Rivers and Revolutions' Cohort, so they will be joining the other schools and colleges around the country. Hopefully, this group will bring it forth to the entire CCHS community, and set the trend for a more balanced digital life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Email Apnea, a Digital Diagnosis




Do you hold your breath when checking e-mail on your computer, clicking to see a notification on Facebook, texting on your iPhone, or watching a YouTube video? Have you ever tested it out? Stop right now, and notice your breathing, your posture, and your heart rate. If you hold your breath or have shallow breathing you are one of the 80% of people who have E-mail Apnea (alternatively called Screen Apnea).

Linda Stone, one of the technology industry’s great visionaries, coined the phrase in her 2008 article  when she began to notice her own breath holding. She went on to see if others did the same thing through extensive research, with some fascinating results. When one holds their breath, several things happen. It increases stress levels because there is no exhale, and the exhale is what lessens the stress response and generates the relaxation response. This also impacts our view of the world, sense of well-being and effectiveness.

In another article, “Why Email Can be Habit Forming,” Stone researched the impact of stress and found that when one is stressed they revert to familiar or unconscious behaviors and routines. That is why it can be very difficult to break a habit because “the part of our brain associated with decision-making and goal-directed behaviors shrinks and the brain regions associated with habit formation grow when we're under chronic stress.”

For example she states, “Stressed rats will compulsively press a bar for food pellets, even when they have no intention of eating.” This compulsive behavior could also include checking email every ten minutes, going on Facebook when working on a research paper, and texting and driving,” all behaviors that are contributed to the distraction addiction so many teens suffer from, and they are not the only ones. How many of you find yourself setting goals to use technology less, focus on singular tasks, and stop playing Candy Crush, only to find yourself impulsively doing these things. Luke Venebles in a response to Linda Stone’s article Conscious Computing wrote, “the constant allure of checking to see if someone has replied to my email is a bit more powerful than me at the moment.”

Why do we hold our breath or breathe shallowly when we are in front of a screen? One reason is that when sitting at a computer or using a digital device we are usually in a position with our arms extended and shoulders forward compressing the diaphragm so that it is difficult to get a full inhale and exhale, thus shallow breathing. The other reason is that there is often anticipation involved, which begins with an inhale but the exhale rarely follows which alerts the Sympathetic Nervous System, or the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response. The nervous system goes on high alert, ready for danger, thus creating stress in the body, among other things.

A recent study at Baylor University found that female college students spend 10 hours a day on the cell phone, boys slightly less at 8 hours a day. If students are holding their breath or experiencing shallow breathing for much of this time, it means that they are in high alert stress response much of the day. In another post I will share the research on teens, technology and anxiety, but the simple act of breathing could be one of the remedies for the effect technology is having not only on teens, but the entire population, including you.

The essential remedy is to teach teens to become more mindful of their computing behaviors and remember to breathe. When one takes deep breaths through the nose they fill the lungs and make more space in the body, and the longer they take to exhale through the nose, the more time the body has to go into relaxation response. Simply becoming aware of one’s posture and breath, while sitting at a computer or on an iPhone can cause one to sit up straight and start breathing, thus beginning to reverse some of the effects of Email Apnea.

There are technologies that help us become aware of our breathing, of our attention, or our stress levels. Huffington Post's GPS for the Soul is an app that measures heart rate and heart rate variability. In combination these inform the user of their stress level. The app includes guides to help one self correct, or move from flight, fright or freeze to well-being, along with a breathing pacer. One of the most helpful aspects for me is the intermittent reminders to check in with oneself and breathe. 

Mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga and walking in nature alone are other ways to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to dominate, allowing for more tranquility and calm. Another benefit of these practices is they are done off the grid which gives the mind, body and soul a break from the digital world.





Friday, September 19, 2014

Teens and Technology



Teens and Technology are wedded. They go hand in hand… iPhone to iPhone… and much of what one hears about is only about the dangers and negative aspects of this marriage, which are valid and well documented. But, there are also positive occurrences as teens themselves attempt to remedy these issues.





Teens from Milton Academy are making a difference in light of the tragic death of their friend Merritt Levitan with the campaign, “TextLess Live More.” Merritt, on a cross-country bike trip, died when a texting driver hit her. In honor of Merritt’s memory and to fight against this deadly habit, students at Milton Academy began to institute a day a month where all technology was suspended for the day. In their words, “Our goal is to decrease excessive phone use and encourage people to disconnect from the virtual world and reattach themselves to the real world. Hopefully, our practice of “disconnecting” will translate to more substantial real-world relationships and also prevent dangerous habits like texting and driving.” At present there are 50 other schools and colleges participating. The goal this year is 500, and the kick off is October 6. The Merritt’s Waywebsite has specific instructions for students who wish to institute "TextLess, Live More" Days in their own schools or colleges. One can learn about this on Facebook as well.

When teens themselves ask their peers to become aware, evaluate and moderate their technology habits and behaviors, it can be a very effective campaign for change. At this point, it is not an older generation instructing a younger one, but rather a group of peers putting their beliefs and values into action with their friends and classmates.

This proactive approach to the deadly consequences of texting and driving is a superb model for seeking remedies to other issues, concerns and questions about teens and their use of technology. In essence the proactive statement could be "Live More." Ben Snyder, Head of the Upper School at Noble and Greenough School made an interesting comment by expanding on the TextLess, Live More theme. He said, “I kept coming back to thinking that if we all texted (and “teched”) less, we would all live more (and better).

We need solutions, and I believe we are going to find them, oftentimes from teens themselves which includes ways for teens to use mindfulness and present moment living to counteract some of the ways technology alters the present into mindless distractions. Thus the statement "Live More" could be expanded to Live More in the Moment.

In my newly named Teens and Technology Blog, the nouns teens and technology go together when we look at teens’ relationship with technology and the propensity for some of their lives to be controlled or governed by these digital devices. Technology and cell phone addiction is on the rise, as well as the negative impact such use can have on teens’ attention, memory, multi-tasking,anxiety, depression and an inability to communicate face to face compounded by the excessive use of texting.

In a recent article, “Is Technology Making Your Children Mindless Instead of Mindful?” Jim Taylor, an expert on teens and technology, states that moments of full engagement in an experience in life bring the greatest happiness, while distracted moments such as those when we are in our technology and not present are not only not as happy, but “even worse, in their always-connected, constantly distracted lives, children may not learn what real happiness is and where it comes from,” and he goes on to say, “Children have come to mistake stimulation, momentary pleasure, and that neurochemical high gained from being always connected for real happiness.” Thus, more research points to mindfulness techniques, flow experiences and positive technology as an anecdote to the distraction addictions of technology.

It seems clear that there are many concerns, worries, and alarming statistics about technology, but there are also strategies, counterbalances and hope for this distraction addiction that has become ubiquitous in today’s youth culture.