A Crowd of People


As both a technologist and a contemplative, I have long been interested in the promise and the perils associated with our digital information technologies. These remarkable technologies—including personal computers and smart phones, and the ever-increasing range of applications that run on them—have the ability to extend our reach across space and time. But at the same time, they can also  distract us, and stretch and diffuse our attention; and the acceleration of life to which they so evidently and intentionally contribute can increase stress and reduce the time to think and reflect.

For nearly two decades, first at Xerox PARC and now at the University of Washington, I have investigated the challenge of achieving contemplative balance–how as individuals and as a society we might live healthy, reflective, and productive life while participating in an accelerating, information-saturated culture. This has included exploring how we might use digital technologies to their (and our) best advantage, and in the process maintaining a sense of calm, focused and balanced engagement.

My work in this area has involved several different initiatives and directions:

  • No Time to Think: A historical and philosophical exploration of the conditions leading to overload and acceleration.
  • Student Attitudes toward IT: Dialogue with undergraduates around the country, inquiring into their attitudes toward their digital tools.
  • Meditation & Multitasking: Recent experimental work suggesting that training in mindfulness meditation can improve one’s ability to multitask.
  • Information & Contemplation: A course I teach at the UW that helps students to bring a more contemplative approach to their use of email and other high tech information practices.