Wisdom 2.0: A conference ends, a door opens

Cloud Doorway by Lisa Cuscuna
Cloud Doorway by Lisa Cuscuna

The sign of a good conference is one where, when you reach the end, you feel hunger for more, rather than hunger for home. While this sentiment may be profoundly against the Zen tenet that desire is the root of suffering, it’s certainly what I felt coming out of Soren Gordhamer’s Wisdom 2.0.

Saturday marked Day Two of the conference, and it proved no less fulfilling than Day One. Sunday was an unconference held at the Google campus, but I was (sadly) unable to attend. In keeping with my previous post on Day One, here are a few thoughts based on discussions during the second day, as well as a few closing thoughts.

Community is everywhere….or is it?

The whole notion of community, and whether there is a distinction between online and offline community, was a key theme (actually, across both days). Some people clearly felt that true community lived in the dirt world, whereas others felt a more expansive view was appropriate. Each viewpoint is valid, and illustrates the difficulty in defining what we mean by community, and indeed how much context matters.

The debate further illustrated how hard it is to come up with simple conclusions about whether or not technology disrupts our ability to be human, connected, compassionate, and mindful. Technology has facilitated the creation of “communities” that heretofore would have been impossible. In some sense, it really comes down to a question of locale…Is a community of shared interest, independent of physical proximity and “real” connection, still a community? No clear answer emerged, which illustrated the clear divide between the “realists” and those who feel that the digital domain can serve as an adequate proxy for real-world connection.

Purpose and a human vision are key to the best businesses

The second panel of the day discussed how businesses can support their staff to live mindfully and effectively. I felt like Jesse Jacobs from Samovar Teas summed it up best when he described how their business decided to discontinue WiFi service. Samovar originally chose to offer WiFi in their tea shops, but it ultimately led to people coming in, having their tea, and being totally disconnected while they worked on their laptops. This environment was counter to their business vision of creating a place where people could come to relax, slow down, enjoy tea, and perhaps disconnect. As a result, he chose to discontinue WiFi service. Complaints erupted. Yelp review scores tanked. But they held firm, and after losing a lot of customers, a new base eventually buoyed their business, which was based on a human vision.

Other panelists echoed these basic sentiments, that “human” businesses are the ones that thrive and survive. They are based on a fundamental respect for people, the idea being that making people’s lives better is good business, whether it’s employees, investors or customers.

The real-time stream and mindful behavior are at odds

In the panel focused on social media (what it is, how to use it best, warnings from the wise), one theme resonated with me strongly. Ben Parr talked about the “real-time Web,” and how everything these days requires real-time attention and real-time response. Within minutes, Loic Lemeur talked about a political debacle at Le Web, where his approach was to wait until the dust settled, be thoughtful about his response, and then take action. These two notions (real-time vs. mindful response) are at odds, and no one seemed to catch the contradiction. How can we be real-time and simultaneously be thoughtful in our responses to criticism or challenging questions? Part of mindfulness is patience and deliberation, which is at odds with the new paradigm where people seem to expect instantaneous responses to difficult questions. Others have noticed this challenge (most notably Chris Brogan’s entry on The Assault on Anywhen), and it’s one that’s not going away anytime soon. The real-time pressure cooker is like a ravenous feedback monster, and only the wisest minds will find a way to satisfy it with small, thoughtful pieces.

Online vs. Offline is a false dichotomy

Ok…This wasn’t a central topic of discussion, but it should have been, and it related strongly to the previous point about community. In a brief sideline discussion I had with Aliza Sherman, where I lamented the lack of young voices at Wisdom 2.0, she shared a great insight with me. When she speaks with kids, including her own, they don’t make distinctions between online and offline behavior. It’s all just part of life. They’ve grown up with technology, and so for them, being without it is unimaginable. On the contrary, many who discuss social media and technology these days grew up in a world where the personal computer didn’t exist. We are all still adapting to technology, whereas the youth of today simply take it for granted. In a sense, then, the generation creating the technologies are disconnected from the youngest generation that use them. We feel the duality between online and offline, whereas the children of today may not.

Closing thoughts

Serendipity shined on me at this conference, for whatever reason. On the first day, before the conference had even started, I had the great fortune to have a wonderful solo lunch with Beth Kanter, where I learned about her intense passion for using social media effectively to help non-profits. On the last day, fifteen minutes before the conference was scheduled to end, I met and talked with the wonderful Christine Egger, co-director of Social Actions, a company whose mission is to generate real, tangible actions related to important causes around the world (using social media and technology). In between, it was nothing but great content and meetings with many interesting and compelling people (e.g., Aliza Sherman, Mei Mei Fox, Shawn Collins).

At the end of the conference, Soren took the stage and confessed that he wasn’t sure how to end things. He wound up speaking calmly and kindly about the people who had helped put things together, and his happiness, then lead everyone through a brief moment of silence. It was the perfect conclusion to two days of thoughtful contemplation of how technology intersects with our human lives.

In the end, I believe this is only a beginning. Soren was unsure how to conclude the conference because most of the questions remain unanswered. We’re just starting this dialogue in an open and meaningful way, and in that sense, the conference didn’t come to a close. It was really an opening.

NOTE:: This entry was originally published on Sequence.com.