Learning in the Digital Age

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The internet is radically changing everything about the way we exchange ideas, interact with each other, and collectively shape society.

If you’re anything like me, you have probably found that there is a rare and mental nutrient in TED talks that are necessary for keeping pace with humanity.

TED, which stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design’, is a manifestation extending from our amazing connectivity. With so much happening, TED helps me keep current with the pulse of humanity’s ongoing, evolutionary ‘happening’.


Because at a deeper level, our digital network is changing the way we are being human.


I remember a few years ago reading a special edition of Wired magazine. The magazine focused on ‘The Petabyte Age’, and talked about the incomprehensibly vast amounts of data that companies like Google have evolved to handle.

When you type in a word to search in Google, it is literally like searching for a needle in a haystack – the size of Wisconsin.

At a certain point, we are confronted with a limitation: there’s just too much stuff to sort through! It’s points like these, thresholds between what has worked up until now and the impossibility of moving forward with familiar tools, that discovery thrives.

To quote:

“The Petabyte Age is different because more is different. Kilobytes were stored on floppy disks. Megabytes were stored on hard disks. Terabytes were stored in disk arrays. Petabytes are stored in the cloud. As we moved along that progression, we went from the folder analogy to the file cabinet analogy to the library analogy to — well, at petabytes we ran out of organizational analogies.”

This is a profound realization. Our technology is allowing us to access so much information that we are literally being flooded up and out of the box. When people like Google’s research director Peter Norvig say things like, “All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them”, it represents a monumental step in human history.


We are at a point where our technological relationship with reality is yielding a revolution in our perception of reality.


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Sit with that for a moment: your perception of reality shapes your experience of reality. What sages have known forever is occurring at the societal level in this unique technological way.

So what might emerge from this realization? How might it shape human society, or your own life? What is becoming clear is that a sense of the collective is becoming more and more tangible, made evident through things like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As we share our experiences, our ideas, pictures, status updates, tweets, blogs, we are stabilizing a new collective experience.

But what makes this information meaningful to us? And beyond our individual experience, how can these new methods of community building translate into empowering and evolutionary forces for society? For individuals?  How can we grow into a truly global consciousness that celebrates life and harnesses the creative potential of digital connection?

Let me first give you an example of how this abundance of information has recently impacted my life.

A week or two ago I shared with you that I was returning to overtone or harmonic singing. This is an ancient tradition that lives in many cultures. It is a universal practice. But fifty years ago, I probably wouldn’t even have know it existed.

Today, I can use Google and Youtube to find folks from all over the world who are both rooted in traditional harmonic singing styles AND people who are exploring these techniques in other genres, often on their own.

As a side note, this is something that especially excites me about the web – DIY.  One of the gifts of self-study is the unique and personalized insight that arise. A few years ago I stumbled upon a cello etude written by an amateur cellist. This cellist wrote the etude as a documentation of his process of working on a specific area of cello technique. The exercise was brilliant, simple and yet marvelously to the point.


There is a beauty and a power in beginners mind.


That I can access so many people, not just teachers and practitioners, but amateurs (which means ‘lovers of’) gives me a rich spectrum to tap into, to feel nuances that are embodied, understood and communicated from many people with different experiences, language and experiences.

As I started to piece together my understanding, I realized that I also wanted to hear from professional vocalists, both contemporary and classical, about the science of sound in the voice. Two minutes later I had found several Youtube channels that I liked. I continue to watch their videos and learn a variety of tools and techniques to strengthen my voice, expand my range and prepare myself for going deeper into the more esoteric overtone singing practices.

The fact that I can do all this from my home, in my own workspace, is incredible and a profound gift. I can tap into a vast global community, and it feels really good.

However, unfettered access to knowledge is a double edged sword.

Knowledge, or information that has been retained, still needs to be integrated, grounded and incorporated – literally, brought into the body and made part of a larger picture – in order to become wisdom.

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Wisdom is knowledge that has been digested and reconstituted at the cellular level, converting information into transformation.


One of the reasons why I am so drawn to ancient wisdom traditions is that they are wisdom traditions. We require a sense of the ancient to truly engage with the present moment, to be grounded innovators and uplifting reformers.

We also require real relationships with master teachers, with elders, to guide our own growth and hold space for our humanity to unfold through the mythical journey of life each of us must undertake.

All great wisdom traditions advocate for taking association of those who are more developed, more experienced, more endowed with wisdom. While the internet facilitates gathering information and ‘friends’ at a prodigious rate, we still require authentic teachers and real relationships to draw out that which is greatest inside of us.

Which brings me back to TED.

TED is a great resource for teachers who themselves intend to connect in this new digital way. It’s not just our access to information that’s growing – it’s also our access to teachers. The recently emerging ‘spiritual entrepreneurship’ movement is another example of teachers moving outside of traditional arenas of expertise and into empowered leadership. Leadership that speaks through the web and touches more and more people each every day.  Leadership that strives to extend digital services to the 60% of the world who is not online so that we may all have a place in digital age.

So what I see is our technology doing is enormously positive.  Yes, there are the frivolities of Facebook, the dangers of misinformation and the encouragement to be complacent, disconnected consumers.  But mistakes are what lead to growth, and the internet is the schoolhouse for our emerging global consciousness.

As a child of the digital age, I feel hope and the promise of light at the end of the tunnel.  I hear amazing stories, like University of the People giving people living in underprivileged situations access to higher education. Like all the spiritual multi-passionate entrepreneurs realizing their message and pursuing their dreams for the good of all. Like Seattle-based Citizen University instigating a shift towards localized, city-driven political change.

Like TED.

These examples challenge the status quo of how we share information and create situations where we accumulate real wisdom. Real leadership. Real human connection.

I strive to bring this sense of optimism and purpose to my own work. Like everything else, music can be a wisdom practice, one that simultaneously deepens our self-awareness and elevates our capacity to be global citizens.

Specifically, music invites us to get in touch with the vast, the infinite, that which extends beyond the grasp of our left hemisphere and provokes whole-brained learning.


And so I leave you with a challenge. To use your powers of vision, of sound, of heart and will, desire and yes even survival to become whole-brained learners. To create a whole-brained society. To become wise, powerful and compassionate human beings who convert information into transformation.


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