Tiffany Shlain on Mindfulness, the Internet & her latest creation, “BRAIN POWER”

A long time ago, longer than I’d care to admit, I was sitting at a dinner gathering and my cousin Fred posed the question: “What do you think is the fastest way to make change…by group consensus or by one person?” I naturally leapt to the conclusion of group consensus because it just seemed so obvious that a large number of people changing would make the bigger difference. But then he pointed out how difficult it would be to get an entire group of people to agree on making a change all at once. He felt it would be better to change oneself, since that’s really all you can control, and then by being an example perhaps impress others to make a change…kind of like throwing a pebble into a lake and watching the ripples emanate from the splash…

TIFFANY SHLAIN is a filmmaker, artist, founder of the Webby Awards, and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Her last four films premiered at Sundance, including her 2011 acclaimed feature documentary, Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology, which The New York Times hailed as “Incredibly engaging” and “Examining Everything From the Big Bang to Twitter,” and The US State Department just selected as one of the films represent America at embassies around the world for their 2012 American Film Showcase. The film explores what it means to be connected emotionally, technologically and socially in the 21st century and led to questioning what all this technology is doing to our brains?

Schlain’s latest effort, Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks, is a short film and TED book which looks at new research on how to best grow children’s brains and applies this to thinking about the best way to grow the global brain of the internet. It is the third of a series titled Let it Ripple: Mobile Films for Global Change, which will include 16 short 2 to 10-minute films over the next 4 years about important aspects of life and is released today, November 8th, at The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Ms. Shlain employs a new kind of collaborative filmmaking which she and her film studio call CLOUD FILMMAKING. Each of these films both invites participants to send in videos from their cell phones and after the film is completed her team them makes free customized versions for non-profits all over the world. The first film in the series, A Declaration of Interdependence, with music by Moby, has been translated into 65 languages and she has made 100 customized versions.   The second, Engage, looks at the importance of engaging in society and has garnered 200 customized versions.

Brain Power is both a 10 minute film and a TED Book, which will be available on the Kindle, Nook and iPad, with links to relevant research, graphics, and video to further elaborate on themes highlighted in the film, including neurological link building, mindful connection, and the effects of overstimulation.

Did you know that a child is born with about 100 billion neurons, the same amount that an adult brain has? The difference is that there aren’t the same amount of connections. That’s what the developing brain is all about, firing and wiring. And that’s what our relatively young internet is all about too, firing and wiring. When they began Brain Power, Schlain writes in the TED Book, “they delved into brain development research, and quickly discovered that, fittingly, the language neuroscientists use to describe the growth of a child’s brain (connections, links, overstimulation) is often how we characterize or describe aspects of the ever-changing and evolving Internet.” Carrying the metaphor further they realized that our brains change “throughout life because behavior, experiences and environment can alter neural pathways and synapses.” This is called neuroplasticity. As with a child, so with the internet, “Our role as nurturers in this critical stage of development — the first 2,000 days, or birth to five years old — is to provide an environment that strengthens as many connections as possible and prunes the ones that aren’t needed, ultimately building a strong foundation for the rest of the child’s life.”

In a recent conversation with Ms. Shlain I asked her when she thought the internet would be “all grown up”? She replied when everyone on the planet has access to and is readily engaged in internet interaction. This will provide an entirely new landscape of communication, innovation and problem-solving. What are some mindfulness tips to growing our global (internet) brain responsibly? I asked. She suggested a Technology Shabbat (refraining from all technology use for one day a week). It not only calms the mind but also makes the return to our wires, plug-ins and connections that much more enjoyable. (Check out Brain World’s article “I Just Can’t Quit You Technology!”) She also encouraged an overall attention and awareness to the types of communication we are fostering on the internet. Where we put our attention will be where our energy goes…if we interact with a contributor’s mind we have the opportunity to raise the consciousness globally. That includes Facebook, Twitter, web pages, links…

Let It Ripple is creating waves of activity and Brain Power is the latest innovation from this smart, lively and fun braintrust.

BRAIN POWER was co-written by Moxie Institute Writer/Producer Sawyer Steele and UC Berkeley Robotics Professor Ken Goldberg. It draws on research from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Science and Harvard University’s Early Childhood Development Center. Authors and Internet pioneers Howard Rheingold, Steven Johnson, and Vint Cerf also contributed to the TED Book and film.

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