No Time to Think

Uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on 07.03.2008

>> Good afternoon my friends. My name is Ming. And I'm a Genetic Googler. It's--it's a delight
to--it's a delight for us to have Dr. David Levy to talk to us about not having time to
think. David earned his PhD in Computer Science in Stanford University, it's a small [INDISTINCT]
down the street from here--in 1979 before most of us were born. And then a funny thing
happened on his way to his next career, he had a diploma in ca--Calligraphy and Bookbinding
from Roehampton Institute in London; which is kind of funny for me because before I met
David, I didn't know that bookbinding was something you had to learn. I thought you
just put paper and staple it together or something but no. Anyway, for more than 15 years, David
was a researcher at the Xerox PARC where his works centered on exploring the transition
from paper to plastic--no, from paper to print to digital media. As a professor in the University
of Washington Information School since 2000, he has focused on bringing meditation--sorry.
Mindfulness training and other contemplative practices to address the problems of information
overload and acceleration and during the years--in the year 2005 and up to 2006, he was the holder
>> [INDISTINCT] Chair in Education and Technology at the Library of Congress. And this is where
Google expected in the Library of Congress because we do make people who are cheerful
whole year. We run nice. Anyway my friends, I give you David Levy.
>> LEVY: Ming, thank you. Thank you. I'm delighted to be here. I really want to thank Ming for
inviting me, only my second time here on the Google Campus. I'm here to talk about a topic
that probably needs no introduction. Does anybody know--not know what this talk is about,
No Time To Think? Does that register with some of you? I--presumably, that's why you're
here. This is a concern that has been growing for me and has only gotten worse in the six
or seven years that I've been in Academic. Because what I have found is that the acceleration
that the culture is experiencing is expect--is affecting, I think in a profound ways even
the way we are educated and the way we learn. And it's been after 15 to 20 years as a researcher
at Xerox PARC, a "think tank," it was really very stunning and terribly upsetting to me
to become an Academic and to find that I have less time to think than ever before. The place
I want to start is with a quote. This is a few years ago, I was reading the biography
of Barbara McClintock who won a Nobel Prize for Genetics. Wonderful biography by Evelyn
Fox Keller called the Feeling for the Organism and in that book, as she--Fox Keller asked
the question, what enabled Barbara McClintock to see further and deeper into Genetics than
other had--people had before. It took a decade or more for her colleagues to begin to understand
what she had understood, what she had seen and to finally win a Nobel Prize. And the
answer that Fox Keller gives is that Barbara McClintock took the time to look and to hear
what the material had to say to her. That she took the time to be deeply connected to
what happened to be the corn plants that she was studying and there was this one story
at the end of the book where McClintock goes to Harvard to give a--to give a lecture and
she explains to the students that this budding geneticists, it's really going to be important
for them to take the time to look and to think. And then the students say, "Where does one
get the time to look and to think?" The students argued that the new technology of Molecular
Biology is self-propelling. It doesn't leave time. There's always the next experiment,
the next sequencing to do. The pace of current research seems to preclude such a contemplative
stance. I was really struck by that because this is a story from 25 years ago and if there
is that sense of the driving quality of the technology 25 years ago, and not enough time
to look, to listen, to think. Well then, what would McClintock think were--she allowed to
be alive today. Now, the way I want to go into this is to start with--by looking at
one particular, very famous article from Computer and Information Science. How many of you know
the article, "As We May Think" by Vannevar Bush? Okay. So, some of you do. This is--Vannevar
Bush, first of all, who--who lived from 1890 to 1974 was very famous in his day. He was
trained as an electrical engineer. He was the Vice President of MIT. He's main research
was in ana--analogue computing, before digital computing was released--invented. But when--when
he--the way he became famous was that, he was President Roosevelt's Science adviser
during World War II and he was responsible for creating something called The Office of
Scientific Research and Development which was the attempt to bring scientists, military
people and academics together to solve problems that needed to be solved in order to win World
War II and he was so famous that he appeared on the--on the cover of Time magazine in 1943.
This is not what he is remembered for. What he is most remembered for today especially
amongst techies like us is a seminal article that he wrote in the Atlantic monthly in July
1945. The article was called, "As We May Think" and the reason this article is so famous is
that he imagined what we now call hypertext. And here a--here is the art--some of the central
quotes from this very famous paper. He says, "Consider a future device for individual use,
which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. A device in which an individual--in
which individual stores all his books, records and communications, and which is mechanized
so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. This is before digital
computers or--or anything but, you know, giant walls of switches and he's actually imagining
something like this being produced out of micro film and what you see to the left is
an artist rendition of what Bush was imagining which he called the "Memex." But then, he
goes on to say, this device permits associative indexing. The basic idea of which is a provision
whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another.
This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is
the important thing. So there is--there it is, right? That's the moment July 1945 when
if you like, conceptually, the link and hypertext are born and all of the people who have been
famous for the--in this evolution of hypertext all the way up to Tim Berners-Lee in the web
acknowledge that this is the seminal place where these ideas began for the--for the technical
community. So this is very well known, especially of people who were born--who are older than
Ming is, let's say. What is not so well known and the part that I want to concentrate on
from this article because I think it tells us a lot about the situation that we find
ourselves today. What's not noticed so much is exactly the larger argument that Vannevar
Bush was trying to make. Why did he suggest the creation of this device he called the
memex? And his argument goes essentially like this, he's writing in July 1945, the war is
coming to an end, he says, "The devastating war is coming to an end in which science and
technology have allowed people to deploy cruel weapons against one another." And he knows
all about this because he and his organization help develop some of these cruel weapons.
The survival of the human race depends on its ability to "Grow in the wisdom of race
experience." That's a kind of archaic term but basically, he's saying we need--our survival
will depend on our developing wisdom. If people had better access to the record of human achievement,
they would be better able to review their shady past and analyze more completely and
objectively their present problems. In other words he's saying, if we could make better
use of the human record, we ought to be able to survive as a race by developing wisdom
because we have the time to think seriously about the really hard and important problems.
That's his argument, it's an--it's an argument about the importance of deep and targeted
thinking but then he goes on to point out that there are certain obstacles that today--today
meaning 1945, are preventing people from making the best use of the record and here's what
he says. He says, "There's a growing mountain of research. But there is an increased--there
is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The
investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers,
conclusions to which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember as they appear.
Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress and the effort to bridge between
disciplines is correspondingly superficial." So, in 1945 he's identifying information overload
and the specialization of disciplines as a central problem that's going to get in the
way of using the human record for human prospering survival in the growth of wisdom and that's
why he wants to create the memex. What he's saying is that if we had better tools we ought
to be able to automate the more routine aspects of research and this would free people up
to develop to--to engage in more creative thought. It's a beautiful idea. He go--he
distinguishes two kinds of thought. One kind he says is kind of route and repetitive and
routine, and another kind is mature or creative and he says, "For mature thought there is
no mechanical substitute but creative thought and essentially repetitive thought are very
different things for the latter there are, and maybe powerful mechanical aids. I mean,
look, here we are looking back more than 60 years later and we can recognize, you know,
the world that you are so deeply connected with and working on here at Google which is
the realization that we can automate and semi-automate many things in very powerful ways but this
is Bush's claim, there's still room for the human mind and for a different kind of thinking
which he calls mature or creative. So, here's--here's the question that this talk is meant to pose,
what happen? We have this visionary work which in some sense is--has direct influence on
the development of hypertext, on the development of the web and yet the sense of information
overload has only grown in our culture and it's clear that we have less time to think
than ever before. So, what happened? What happened to this beautiful vision which--which
has so far only partly been realized and what can we do about it? And that's what I want
to spend the rest of the time on in this talk talking about. And the way I want to move
on is I want to contrast to some of what Bush was saying with another thinker who was writing
it almost exactly the same time as Bush and who is not as nearly as famous as Vannevar
Bush. And this is a man named Joseph Pieper who was born in 1904 and died in 1997 who
was German. So, he was on the other side of the war. He was a catholic philosopher and
theologian. So, Bush was an engineer and an American and Pieper was German--a German theologian
and philosopher. And in 1947, so, two years later after--after Bush's paper--which of
course, Pieper wouldn't have known about at all because it wasn't part of his world. Two
years later, Pieper wrote a little book called "Leisure: The Basis of Culture" which is still
in print and he starts of by saying, you know, Bush is actually--when he writes in 1945,
the part I didn't tell you is, he starts off by saying, "What are scientist going to do
now that the war is coming to an end?" We viewed all these scientific thinking and manpower
to help win the war but what kinds of peace--peaceful ends should science and technology devote
it's [INDISTINCT] to and that's what he then goes on to talk about, human flourishing,
the better management of the record, more time to think and so on. In a curios way,
Pieper is making a related argument because he says, "What should Germany do now that
we've been defeated and after all of the huge moral lapses of the war?" The question is,
what should Germany devote itself to? He can see that Germany is in the middle of a giant
reconstructive effort where people are working very, very hard to economically reconstruct
a country that has been destroyed as a result to the war. And his answer is, people need
leisure which sounds totally weird. So, let's look at--let's look at an argument here. He
says first of all, "The world of work is becoming our entire world; it threatens to engulf us
completely and the demands of the world of work become greater and greater, until at
last they make a total claim upon the whole of human nature." So, he's worried that Germany
in this frenzy to reconstruct itself is going to devote itself to this--to work and nothing
but work. And then he asked; will it ever be possible to keep or reclaim some room for
leisure from the forces of total work? And this would mean not merely a little portion
of rest on Sunday, but rather a whole preserve of true, unconfined humanity; a space of freedom,
of true learning, of attunement to the world as a whole. In other words, will it be possible
to keep the human being from becoming a complete functionary, a worker? So, he's worrying that
what--you know, all work and no play makes Jack and Jill a dull boy and girl, right?
And he's really worrying that without this notion of leisure, which I haven't explained
to you. I haven't explained to you what he means by it; that without this, that people
are going to end up becoming less human, less fully human. And then he goes on to say what
he means by leisure. By leisure, he doesn't mean, you know, go watching the Giants or
a Giants game or playing a round of golf or playing video games, not that he necessarily
would have been against any of those things but what he--but he says, "Leisure is a form
of stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality. Only the person who
is still can hear. Only the person who is still can hear and who ever is not still cannot
hear. Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding of contemplative beholding and
immersion in the real." We--the notion of leisure that he is using here goes all the
way back to the Greek philosophers, it's leisure as quieting and stilling the mind becoming
receptively available to the world, rather than charging around and trying to do things
to the world. And I suspect that everyone of us has some leisure like activity in our
world. For some people, it's reading; for some people, it's gardening; for some people,
it's cycling; if we have time at the end, I'm sure some of you can tell--can tell the
rest what you actually do that has this other quality which is that, it brings you to a
greater sense of well-being and mental stability and opens you up to the world and without
this, you can't hear, right? You're so busy imposing things on the world that you can't
actually hear. Incidentally, Pieper points out that in--at least in English, the words
school, scholar and scholarship all come from the Latin scola, which comes from the Greek
word which means leisure in the sense. In other words school and scholarship are contemplative
activities in which one learns to engage with the materials. And then he goes on to say--and
this is where he really, in a very interesting way connects up with Vannevar Bush, because
he also wants to talk about the nature of thinking and he points out that the medieval
scholastics distinguished between the intellect as ratio, that's a Latin word and the intellect
as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive thought, of searching and re-searching, abstracting,
refining, and concluding, let me say that again. Ratio is the power of discursive thought,
of searching and re-searching, abstracting, refining, and concluding. It's that use of
the mind to do that kind of thing whereas intellectus refers to the ability of simply
looking to which the truth presents itself as a landscape presents itself to the eye.
This has some very interesting similarity to what Bush is saying. Ratio is the more
connect the dots, balance your checkbook, solve a problem, that's in some sense easily
solved by going from A to B to C. Bush calls that Repetitive and Routine. Intellectus is
the more creative form of thinking which you can't make happen but you can quiet down enough
to allow things--to allow things to arise in the mind. And so here's my--here's at least
the punch line for the first part of this talk. It looks to me like the Web and all
these amazing suite of digital technologies that we've created today are the best tools
for ratio, the world has ever known. For searching and researching, abstracting, refining, and
concluding. And you know what I mean because you're right here at the center of the revolution.
What happened to intellectus? While we're so busy moving, you know, Googling and clicking
and assembling and all of that, what has happened to what was both Bush's and Peiper's idea
that as we move forward out of World War II trying to solve the larger world problems,
where is the space and time in which to get quiet enough to think in deeper ways? Okay.
So now, I'm going to try to tell you; to suggest to you at least, how it is that I think some
of these has come about that we've lost site of one half of the equation of thinking. It's--it's
such a simple truism of our lives today that everything is accelerating, you know, we've
had books like James Gleick's "Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything," you
know, Google faster and you'll find plenty of this stuff. What historians and social
scientist though have pointed out that this kind--that this acceleration that we're experiencing
today is not new. That it's being going on for the last couple of hundred years. As this
particular quote says, "The general sense of a speed up has accompanied modern society
at least since the middle of the 18th century." Basically, with the rise of the industrial
revolution in the--beginning in the early 19th Century; what you have is a new set of
technologies, you have steam power that allows our--the entire economic system to speed up.
Once you can mechanize things with steam power, you can speed up the mining of raw materials,
you can speed up the manufacturing of goods, the industrial revolution of course; you can
speed up the distribution of goods to other places who railroads and steamboats and all
of that. So, the serious acceleration begins with a new set of technologies. What I've
become aware of is that there have been certain periodic points over this last 150 years where
there have been crisis of acceleration before. Ours is not the first crisis if you like of
acceleration. One of them happened in the late 19th Century, what happened there was
that--by that point, the railroads were in existence, you know, serious manufacturing,
industrial manufacturing was happening, people began to realize that they didn't have the
management structures and skills to keep up with the rate at which things were being produced
or--and to keep up with distributed organizations; if you think about it, the railroads were
one of the first large scale distributed organizations. How do you coordinate across all the different
railroad stations and so on; and so, there's a crisis, what Bedinger has called the control-crisis
in the late 19th Century where people start freaking out and saying we don't know what
to do because we can't manage things at the speed of which they're happening. And out
of that crisis is born the modern corporation. The idea of hierarchies, of job descriptions,
of new document technologies; like the typewriter and hanging vertical files and carbon paper;
things that of course are now a legacy technologies that we think--were the, you know, the killer
apps if you like of the--of the late 19th and early 20th Century. You also get the development
of new genres of documents like, memos and executive summaries and charts and tables
so that--so that somebody sitting at the top of the organization can actually monitor and
try to control what's going on. So, out of that first crisis in the late 19th Century,
we get the modern corporation on which we still have with us. Something interesting
that happens in the 20th--in the 1920s, things are--it's possible to manufacture more goods
and to move them faster and by the 1920s; industry leaders begin to realize that they're
able to produce more goods than people actually want or need. What are you going to do, right?
I don't want to buy another refrigerator, I don't want to buy another car, you know,
and all of that and so, what's the point of keeping--of going faster and faster and producing
more and more if it's not going to be--to be bought? If you look at the literature of
those days, what you see is a discussion, a dialogue going on among industry leaders
where one side is arguing, well let's slow down. People don't want all this stuff, we'll
just, you know, we'll crank the factory slower. However, the other side says, "No, of course,
we got to figure out how to move more goods and services, right?" And they--and that's
when they figure out that you ought to be able to stimulate people to buy more and that
is the rise of advertising. Modern advertising begins in the 20's as a way to keep the economic
engine moving faster and faster. Today, I think we're in another crisis which I'm--I
have called an Information Environmental Crisis and I'll explain more of that then in a few
minutes. Well, I think once again, we're at the kind of critical point where it's beginning
to look like, how much faster can we really go? How much faster can we go as organizations?
How much more can we take as individuals? How much do people want and need? And of course
this--this next crisis is being precipitated by the brilliance of the work that started
with people like Vannevar Bush and continues on with--with all of you. We know the only
too well that digital information could be manufactured very quickly, it can be sent
around at a speed of light and we can use email and all kinds of other digital technologies
as control mechanisms. So we have the possibility of going--of doing more faster than ever before
and the question is, is that what we want to do and is it going to work? The problem
that I think we're beginning to notice and I'm here, this is a quote from a Norwegian
anthropologist named Thomas Eriksen, who wrote a book called "The Tyranny of the Moment"
in 2001. We're beginning to notice a distinction between fast time activities and slow time
activities. He says, "When fast and slow time meet, fast time wins. This is why one never
gets the important things done because there is always something else one has to do first.
Naturally, we'll always tend to do the most urgent tasks first. In this way, the slow
and long-term activities lose out. In an age when the distinctions between work and leisure
are being erased, and efficiency seems to be the only value in economics, politics and
research, this is really bad news for things like thorough, far-sighted work, play and
long-term love relationships. It's also really bad news for thinking because thinking is
a slow time activity, you can't" --and that's what Bush was trying to say, you can only
speed up aspects of it. Thinking is a slow time activity, you can't speed up its creative
aspects. You have to be receptive and available for them to arise and so--and Vannevar Bush,
you know, when he thought he had the solution couldn't foresee, I mean, couldn't foresee
an awful lot of what's happened. He couldn't see--foresee that digital information would
explode the way it has and he couldn't foresee that we as a culture would be spending more
of our times metaphorically Googling if you would like and less of out time actually creating
the space and time in which to reflect. Okay. So, let's talk a little bit more about the
nature of thinking. I've argued so far that we have a kind of distinction between routine,
ratio like thinking and more mature intellectus thinking. This understanding is thousands
of years old and it's something that scientists and artists and writers have known as you
can see from some of these quotes. Here's Barbara McClintock, the geneticist, "When
you suddenly see the problem, something happens that you that--something happens that you
have the answer before you are able to put it into words. It is all done subconsciously."
Something's cooking. Well, here is the mathematician, Gauss, who reported solving a theorem, "Not
by dint of painful effort but so to speak by the grace of God as a sudden flash of light,
the enigma was solved." Or the composer Tchaikovsky described how "The germ of a future composition
comes suddenly and unexpectedly and takes root with extraordinary force and rapidity."
And even Lewis Carroll talks about how when he was writing Alice in Wonderland and looking
through the looking glass that they are made up almost wholly of bits and scraps, single
ideas which came of themselves. We all know the experience of being in the shower or the
equivalent and so suddenly something arises and what I'm trying to suggest to you, which
is stuff that I know you know because you're all thinkers is that, there is--that our best
thinking is a mixture of ratio and intellectus. We need both. And we need to be able to put
in the time to think things through but then we hit a point where that kind of linear thinking
isn't going to--isn't going to work and then we have to let go and open up for something
else to arise. There is another kind of thinking though that we all are quite familiar with,
which goes by various names and sometimes called Mind Chatter. I remember the first
time that I really noticed my own mind chatter. I was--I was in my 20's, I had woken up in
the middle of the night, you know, go to the bathroom and get a drink of water, something
like that, and I heard my mind going. It was going, "No. No, you know, when this happen
and that and, you know, what about..." You know, I was like, where, what is that? And
it made me wonder if that's part of what was happening in my sleep, with, you know, blah,
blah, blah, blah. Does anybody not know what I'm talking about here, you know, mind chatter?
So. there is--there is another way that--a mode that the mind operates in and for most
of us, it's going--it's going right in the boundary between conscious and unconscious
life and sometimes it takes a kind of attempt to quiet down and focus which is one of the
things one does in meditation to really being into notice how much of your cycles are being
stolen by this kind of mind chatter. So, the larger point then is that thinking takes time.
Creative thought can't be rushed but although creative thought can't be rushed, it can be
nurtured. There are ways that we can learn to quiet the mind, to tune it so that we can
become more focused, so that we can reduce mind chatter and so that we can be available
to those subconscious processes that--that are--where some of the deepest ideas actually
come from. We can't make creative thought happen in other words but we can prepare the
ground. And the question is, where in our culture are we creating the ground? Where
are the opportunities at the moment for us to actually engage to--to return to this kind
of creative activity? It's one of the things as I said at the beginning that has been driving
me crazy about being an academic, is it I feel that I am just going from, you know,
multitasking, email to meetings to, you know--you know what it's like and it's very, very hard.
Except for this year when I have a sabbatical. It's very hard to sink down into these deeper
reflect--reflective processes. Okay. So, as I--as I move toward bringing these remarks
to a close, I want to offer you a way that I've been of framing the current crisis, which
is, as a kind of information environmentalism. We all know that the environmental movement
is about 40 years old now. It began with Rachel Carson's famous book "Silent Spring"--thank
you. And for 40 years now, a huge amount of work has been done. That's finally got us
to the point where we realize the extent of the crisis and the fact that we have to do
something about it. But right at the beginning, 40 years ago, was the dawn of the understanding
that unchecked urbanization and industrialization were hurting the planet and the argument began
to be made--well, that there are other kinds of spaces--environmental spaces that have
to be preserved for the health of the planet, like, marsh lands and old growth forests and
healthy oceans and so on. Today, I'm suggesting, we may be at the beginning of a parallel understanding
and movement as we come to understand that information overload, media saturation, the
claims that ruminative and mindless thinking are taking on us is potentially of a--of a
real crisis proportion. And that we need--then, we may need to discover the kinds of spaces
instead of marsh lands and old growth forests. Maybe we need silence, maybe we need forms
of sanctuary, maybe we need opportunities for creative reflection and engagement. That
would--that would parallel this earlier movement. And if this is a useful metaphor, then we
might think about the kinds of activities that have been involved in the last 40 years
in the environmental movement research, you know, what is the nature of the problem? How
widespread it is--is it? How much of the polar caps are actually melting? Public debate,
you know, even today, the debate goes on among some people. Is there--how serious is global
warming? Is it human made? Education and consciousness racing, you know, kids learn in elementary
school. They go out and look at their local eco system and they--and they do recycling.
Legislation and policy setting, technology development, changes in soc--social practice
like, recycling. These have all been part of what it's taken us over these last 40 years
to get to where we are today, where we still haven't--we still know we have a major problem.
But at least, more of the world is taking it seriously and so. is it possible--I'm suggesting,
that we are at the beginning of a similar set of activities. How serious is this crisis
of thinking and overload? How do we get it up to the level of public debate? What are
the consequences of it for productivity and creativity? And I mean, look at some of the
legislation like the don't call list as an example or something that has largely solve
the one particular targeted problem which was the, you know, telemarketing over dinner.
Spam legislation hasn't done the same but then we have our spam filters. What else do
have to do? If were going to honor the vision that Vannevar Bush had for us. So, I'm going
to suggest four directions. I'm almost done. I have another five or six slides. I'm going
to suggest four directions for research and social activism. The first one, which almost
sounds like, that may not sound like it's an activity but I really believe it is. Is
that we simply need to become more aware of the nature and the extent of the problem.
We need to take it seriously. I mean, that's been part of the problem that we face collectively
with regard to environment--the global warming, you know. At some point, we have to say it's--it's
more than just something I talk about around the water cooler. You know, I'm so busy. I
don't have enough time to do this and that. This wonderful billboard--I took this picture
driving up 19th Avenue in San Francisco between 10 and 15 years ago. I thought it was such
an amazing ad that I actually--I lived in Palo Alto at that time, that the next day,
I kind of--I drove back up just to take this picture. It's an ad for KGO Radio and it says,
"Don't drive around empty-headed." And it shows this guy with the top of his head off
and I think what it's trying to suggest is, you don't want to be empty-headed, so fill
up your head with sports and news and weather and all of that. And I used this just as an
example of the messages that we're getting from the larger culture which are profound.
Don't be empty-headed. Don't quiet down, keep going. So, the extent that we can see--begin
to see how powerful these messages are and begin to realize that maybe they need to be
moderated in various ways, I think we'll be on our way to doing something about it. Something
else that I think we can work on is to design physical environments that are contemplative
in various ways. I haven't seen enough of the Google campus, but you have some lovely
spaces here already. And I know from discussion with Ming that there's the possibility of
creating some new kinds. There is something about being in a quiet beautiful environment
that has the tendency to bring us back to a more grounded comer position and that I
think encourages our ability to think and to be more ourselves. This is an ad that appeared
in the New York Times Magazine three or four years ago and it's for an IBM think pad ad--IBM
think pad computer and it says, "In deep policy on repose." And then it gives the dictionary
definition of how CNS [INDISTINCT] peaceful. And if you look at what this ad is suggesting,
it's clear that you can take your laptop anywhere, but you might want to take it to a place like
the stacks or to the library which is one of those places where traditionally people
have found the sense of peace and repose. So advertisers, of course, are on to some
of this stuff, but there's plenty of room for us to think about how to change our physical
environments in order to be more creative and more effective. Not only should we able
to think about our physical environments, we should be able to think about our virtual
environments as well. I mean, in a way, you know, the open--the opening page of Google
is actually uncluttered. That's a very interesting statement, right? But most of our computer
activities where the, you know, the screen is filled and it's trying to catch our attention
from all kinds of directions. What would it look like to create not just sanctuaries from
cyberspace but sanctuaries in cyberspace? That's a--that's a whole topic that has really
not been approached yet. This is the--this is the beautiful reading room at the Library
of Congress. Ming mentioned that I was--I was the holder--I held a chair--I held the
chair for an entire year at the Library of Congress. This--I would go into reading room
which was just steps from my office pretty much everyday and I--all I had to do is to
walk into that beautiful room and I felt myself relax, I felt myself be more relaxed and more
alive and more--and more connected. So I would go in there to work and to read. But one of
the things that I realized about the reading room is that visually, it's very busy. It's
got this magnificent dome. It's got sculpture. It's got inscriptions all over the place and
yet, at the same time, it's quiet. It's emotionally and intellectually quiet. There's got to be
a secret there, you know, because maybe we don't have to--maybe we can have visually
busy environments provided we understand how to make them calm and how they can help ground
us. So there's a secret there and I just wanted you to see this. I mean, many of us have this
Bose Headphones, I have a pair. Look at--look at the copy ad--the ad copy. Use it as a concert
hall or a sanctuary. They try to say something there, right? They're calling to us to recover
this and how do we--how do we get that in our physical environments, how do we get it
in our virtual environments? The last thing I want to talk about is--related to those
is, there's the potential to design contemplative information practices. How do we, you know,
how could we do e-mail or for that matter, instant messaging or pick your favorite online
activity. How could we do those in more contemplative ways? Well, I did--I did an experiment. I
taught a course at the University of Washington. I created a course called information and
contemplation. By the way, the syllabus is online should you be interested and I gave
students the following assignment. I said, I want you to keep a log of your email behavior
for a week. But because we were already meditating, we were--we were spending part of each class,
paying attention to our breathe and the thoughts that were going to our minds and what's happening
to us emotionally, we had that as a shared vocabulary. And I said, what I want you to
keep it a log of when you do your e-mail is exactly those things. Tell, you know, say
when you went online, what was going on through you emotionally, what was happening in your
body, what was happening with your breath, and keep track of that, and at the end of
the week, look back over your log and then write one or two pages talking about what
you discovered. And every single student discovered by doing this form of mindfulness practice,
that there were certain things that were happening for them around e-mail that weren't actually
not what they wanted at all. So, people often found that they went online when they were
1feeling anxious or bored, and that they got more anxious when they were online longer.
You know, a common experience for me is, I just have to look at the inbox of my, you
know, my e-mail inbox and what do I see there? I see all the things that aren't done. So,
that's interesting, right? I mean, it doesn't tell you how to solve the problem but at least
it tells you that there's some kind of disruption emotional and maybe even body disruption happening.
Another example of what a student discovered, she realized that--and obviously there's no
e-mail in that--in that particular inbox now. But imagine you are looking through your entire
inbox. You know, and your eyes are just glancing down. Well, think about all the different
kinds of things from your--from all the parts of your life that show up in your inbox. So,
in the course of 10 seconds, you can be in touch with, you know, your partner who wants
you to pick up the dry cleaning, a meeting that's been scheduled that it actually--you
don't really want to go to. I mean, you can go, you can cover your entire life in a scan
of, you know, of 10 or 15 seconds with all the emotional stuff and all the distracting
qualities that come along with that. And so this woman--this student realized that that
was in itself disruptive and she started thinking about how could she better filter in segment
so that she wasn't--that her entire life wasn't pounding on her every time she looked at her
inbox. The larger point is, not that anyone of this people is going to come up with the
ultimate answer to e-mail, but each one of us, if we bring some more thought and reflection
to our practices like that, we can actually make some discoveries from ourselves about
what's not working and how we could do it better. Okay. Just to let you know, a little
bit about what I've been up to. Four years ago, I organized the conference on information
silence and sanctuary which was wonderful. I've been getting--I've been lucky enough
to get funding from the McArthur Foundation for these events. In two years ago while I
was at the library of congress, I organized a workshop, A Mindful Work and Technology.
I taught this course at Information and Contemplation. And in June, I'm organizing another conference
that will be at the University of Washington called, No Time to Think. If you want to see
a little bit more about it, here's the URL for the site, So,
part of what I've been trying to do is to bring scholars, researchers, artists, religious
leaders together to look at the nature of this problem and to raise consciousness and
hopefully to begin to create some kind of larger research agenda. Okay. So, I've told
you pretty much what I wanted to tell you. Let's go back to the great man himself, the
inventor of hypertext. This is the last paragraph of that famous article. "The applications
of science have built man a well-supplied house and are teaching him to live healthily
therein. They have enabled him to throw masses of people against one another with cruel weapons.
They may yet allow him truly to encompass the great record--that's a lovely phrase.
To encompass the great record and to grow in the wisdom of race experience. He, man,
human beings may perish in conflict before they learn to wield that record for their
true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would
seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose
hope as to the outcome. This is to remind you that this was the vision that Bush had
which is I think a vision that in a lot of ways Google has as well which is to really
do good by organizing the record. And the part of it that really if you want one summary
slide is this. I think the next challenge ahead--I mean, there's always more to do in
organizing the record but the next challenge is to balance ratio with intellectus to figure
out how we cannot only do a brilliant job of searching and research--searching and researching,
abstracting, refining, and concluding but how we can create the space and time for thinking
for reflection for contemplation and to actually assimilate and work with all the information
that's available to us today. Thank you. Do we have...
>> Time for questions. >> LEVY: We have time for questions. Is that
a hand back there? No? >> So, I'm only learning about you just now
and heard about Xerox PARC and I'm wondering if you would draw any parlous between Bush
and Douglas Engelbart and as I'm just now reviewing Bush's thoughts I see how he is
thinking about helping an individual think and making the tools to help an individual
think and I see Engelbart focus more on helping communities of people work together. Any thoughts
to that? >> LEVY: That's right. You're absolutely right.
Douglas Engelbart, by the way, who I think there's a picture in building downstairs somewhere
of man with Engelbart is another one of the luminaries in the story about the development
of hypertext in the web. He--at SRI, at the Stanford Research Institute, he developed
a few--he developed the first type--the first working hypertext system and in 19--I forgot
what year it was, '67 or earlier did this amazing demo with windows on the screen. He
was the inventor of the mouse by the way. The mouse was not invented at PARC. And you're
right--oh, and by the way, Engelbart read As We May Think and there's a letter where
Engelbart writes to Bush and it's clear whether Bush ever responded to him but Engelbart got
really jazzed when he read this article. I think he was in the Navy at that time. But
you're right. Bush seems to have been had a much more solitary--you know, the individual
working with his or her workstation and Engelbart's vision was of a much more collaborative environment.
You're absolutely right. What's interest--what's also interesting is if you look--want to look
at another one of the roots of the web, H.G. Wells, the historian had this idea for what
you call the World Brain. He didn't have the--a sense--I'm not sure he had a sense of what
the technologies would be but his was an idea in a sense organizing all of world knowledge
whereas Bush didn't quite have that idea. He had more--the person at his own individual
workstation putting links together and so on. So, that was a very good point. Yes?
>> Hi, David. Who is going to dispute you? I mean, serenity, calmness, it's all good
stuff, right? But--and I thank you for the good words about the Google homepage. At same
time, I'm wondering how we can design spaces that do support contemplation and this sort
of sense of peacefulness and so on and particularly in light of the sort of phenomena of flow
and disruption of flow because we find that even tiny little decrements increases in latency
or decrements in performance can actually really effect one's ability to do work and
you know very well that, you know, general--in the response time actually really reduces
your ability to--and engage you to a close state. So, the question is, if it's just a
matter of slowing down, we'll just give everbody modems and we'll slow everything down and
that's probably not what you want? >> LEVY: No.
>> So, what is the nature of the design of sort of these kinds of places that support
this kind of space for thinking? >> LEVY: Dan, I don't actually know the answer
to that. I mean, that's why that's the kind of research that actually needs to be done.
But I and I think that what it's going to take is going to--it's going to take PARC
like experiments which, you know, we both know what that was like for many years. It's
going to take experiments where people really do try to build environments and see what
happens, right? I mean, I don't think you--and I don't think its one size does not fit all.
You know, there's work--I'm sure you know some of the work--I mean, there's work in
Microsoft, Eric Horvitz and some of his people have done stuff on how do you minimize interruptions
or how do you develop a model of the user in such a way that you figure out what the
right time is. I mean, I think that's interesting work. But I don't think it goes far enough
to un--because it--because I think part of what we need is a baseline shared understanding
of some of these other states. See, I think--I--so long as we--as we simply import the model
of efficiency of efficiency--of efficient effectiveness which is--I mean, now that this
allows me to do this little piece. But we don't take seriously that there is another
mode of relating to the world until--and until the designers who are going to design for
that are themselves experiencing that. I don't think we're going to get--we're going to get
good answers so we actually need, you know, we need the work that Ming is doing in bringing
Norman Fisher in to get people trained in--excuse me, not meditation but emotional intelligence.
We need people--we need people who are willing to talk with one another about the flow state
experiences that they actually achieve maybe on a hiking trail and it has to be legitimate
to talk a bit that in relation to what happens in the office. So--I mean, it's the right
question and I don't have the answer. But I think I see specially given the kind of
background that we share with PARC, I think I see how one could begin to actually investigate
that kind of thing. Yes. >> Hi. My name is Zunas and I just came from
meditation which I lead [INDISTINCT] this year and that's a wonderful thing to do. I
come from Europe. I come from Sweden, and I live in San Francisco and I've observed
and it become very clear to me over the years that I missed something because wherever I
am in the city, there's no benches to sit down. I can't sit down and just observed what
is. I have to keep moving. If I want to sit down anywhere, I'm probably loitering according
to the city law or something. And I really want to have a ticket for loitering in US.
I'm trying to get this, I'm not sure how I need to do that but I think it's very interesting
concept because if you are sitting down and being quiet and just enjoying life and not
running around, you're essentially loitering in this culture or the American way maybe
in the way I perceive it. I observe that I can't sit down and I can't be calm and quiet
about consuming. I can go to a café but it's going to be mostly inside and I'm going to
sit there and I have to consume to stay there and I'll be bombarded by people consuming
and it's going to be TV's on and is always something trying to steal my attention. If
I walk on the street there's going to be people asking me for signatures and if I'm loitering
in California or--no, but nobody asked me if I go in Sweden, I would like that. But--yes,
this is a very interesting theme because it's built into the culture and also into the architecture
of cities a lot and I would be very happy if something could be done to think about
these things on a broader scale and I don't know if you have any suggestions.
>> LEVY: Well first, thank you. Thank you for those excellent observations. I think
it is in some sense been built into out culture that, you know, that leisure is loitering
or are certain kind of leisure is loitering. The one institution that I think still is
carrying some of these other relationship to the world in our culture is libraries.
You know, it's so interesting because here, you know, we all know look what's happening
on the web the--with digital libraries. But at the same time public libraries are prospering
in this country. And in San Francisco built a new one and Seattle built a beautiful new
public library and it's retrofitting, you know, the branches and all of that. The library--and
especially the reading room remains a kind of protective space in this culture and it's
a place where people can go--it's not acceptable to use cell phones typically in a place like
a reading room and very often there isn't even wireless there. You might actually be
there just to think or to write, you know, or to read a book. So, I--that's the place.
I'm excited about, you know, as I think about how do we move these ideas more broadly into
the culture. My interest is in targeting public library as a space. I mean, they've been hit
very hard with, you know, needing to show performance metrics and all those kinds of
things and yet, the public wants to have those secular open contemplative spaces.
>> So... >> What--last question.
>> So, I had a pretty similar question. Are there any cultures or countries that you think
are better were set this kind of contemplative thinking and like, you know, what features
of the culture would be correlated with that maybe like the internet use or mode of car
use or... >> That's a really great question. And I don't
actually have a good answer to it because I'm not that familiar. I mean, there are countries
like is it Bhutan? Is it--that has, you know, taken out--which is a Buddhist country that
has taken on a notion of gross national happiness, right? Which presumably I don't know it would
be interesting to look at how technology is being used there, I don't know. I think there
are cultures that are even more frantic than ours. I mean, I've spent a certain amount
of time in Japan. And at least the parts of Japanese culture that I have seen suggest
to me where, where we're going to be five to ten years from now. We're--you know, there's
even a term in--I forgotten. There's the term in Japanese which essentially means death
by overwork. I mean, that's how seriously the notion has been taken. But you raised
a very good question. I mean, it would be wonderful. I mean, put that in a hopper for
a kind of research direction that somebody ought to find which is to look across cultures
at how people are doing in maintaining this other dimension of life. And maybe even--because,
you know, I hope it's clear to you and since I'm wrapping up now, I'll use this as my last
sense or two. I hope it's clear to you that what I'm really saying is we have the opportunity
to figure out how to do this with the technologies as well. It's not--it's--surely, it's not
about pulling the plug but I think we've been so focused on this more faster better. Everything
has to be faster and more effective and efficient in certain ways. That we've lost sight of
the fact that we've cut out an entire dimension that is not only central to what it is--to
who we are as human beings but that's central for doing creative work. And that's probably
the argument that ultimately is going to win because we want to do creative work and we
want to do good work. And I don't see how we can do it adequately when we're running
faster then it's healthy for us. So, I think at that point, I will stop and say thank you