Just over two years ago, on March 16, 2010, to be precise, I spoke at a conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Internet designation ".com." The panel I was on was asked to "gaze into the crystal ball" and predict what the game-changing inventions would be during the next 25 years of the Internet. One of mine was less of a prediction than a hope -- that one day someone would create an app that would gauge the state of your mind, body, and spirit, then automatically offer the exact steps you would need to take to realign all three aspects of your being.
At the time, I was just thinking out loud. But after the event, as I continued to write and speak about the idea, the response I got from others who shared my sense of urgency about this need was incredible. At some point I realized: Hey, I'm surrounded by dozens of engineers and coders and brilliant, creative people, so why can't my fantasy become a reality? And, in fact, it's about to.
I'm delighted to announce that HuffPost, along with a great team of partners, is at work on an app we call "GPS for the Soul," projected to launch in June. The philosophy behind it is based on two truths about human beings. First, that we all have within us a centered place of wisdom, harmony, and balance. This truth is embraced by a vast range of the world's religions ("The Kingdom of Heaven is within") and philosophies. And whether or not we believe in the existence of the soul, we've all experienced times in which we're fully connected with ourselves. "Give me a place to stand and I will move the world," said the Greek mathematician Archimedes. It's a great way of saying that when we come from that centered place within ourselves, nothing is impossible. The second truth is that we're all going to veer away from that place, again and again and again. That's the nature of life. In fact, we may be off-course more often than we are on-course.
So what we need is a great course-correcting mechanism -- a GPS for the Soul -- because otherwise the consequences can be serious, in terms of our health, our relationships, our jobs, and even our country. We have no shortage of examples of smart leaders making terrible decisions. It's not from lack of I.Q., but lack of wisdom. The faster we can course-correct, the fewer negative consequences there will be.
Plotinus, another philosopher (this time Roman, not Greek), said that "knowledge has three degrees -- opinion, science, illumination." The first, he wrote, we get from sense, the second from dialectic, and the third, illumination, comes from intuition. The hyper-connectedness allowed -- actually, demanded -- by the Internet, which has made the first two types of knowledge very easy to come by, has also taken us further away from that illumination, or wisdom, or intuition, or whatever you want to call it that is so essential to living a fulfilling and meaningful life.
The Internet and the rise of social media have, of course, given us amazing tools to connect, and to effect change in ways large and small. At the same time, there's a snake lurking in this cyber Garden of Eden. Our 24/7 connection to the digital world often disconnects us from the real world around us -- from our physical surroundings, from our loved ones, and especially from ourselves. We see the effects of this in every aspect of our lives.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Ndubuisi Ekekwe, founder of the non-profit African Institution of Technology, notes how over-connectedness is actually bad for the bottom line. "We're also jeopardizing long-term productivity by eliminating predictable time off that ensures balance in our lives," he writes. Ekekwe also points to Professor Leslie Perlow, author of the forthcoming Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work. Perlow presents research showing how deliberately disconnecting from their digital devices led to people feeling more satisfied in their jobs and their lives.
And then there is "Freedom," the popular app that allows users to cut off their online access for a specified amount of time. The app has had over 300,000 users so far. "I'm much more relaxed, and I get a lot more done," says founder Fred Stutzman.
In my own life, the problem was brought home in a very concrete way when, after a period of years of over-work and over-connectedness, I passed out. I broke my cheekbone and got five stitches over my eye -- and a new urgency about learning to disconnect.
Of course, I realize there's a paradox in the idea that, of all things, an app can help free us from our hyper-connected lives. But as "Freedom" shows, the solution to the problems created by technology isn't anti-technology, but more and better technology.
Here's how our new app will work: when you tap your phone's sensor, GPS for the Soul will provide you with several measures of your current stress levels, including your heart rate and heart rate variability. (Subsequent releases will provide even more information.) It will then connect you to whatever you need to get to a place of balance. It might be music, or poetry, or breathing exercises, or photos of a person or place you love -- or a combination of all of these.
Since no one knows better than you what helps you de-stress and tap into that place of peace inside yourself, you'll be able to personalize the app's feedback you receive, programming the app to send you just what you need to course-correct. Personally, I'll be programming mine to send me meditation instructions, photos of my daughters, my favorite moments from Mozart's "Magic Flute," etc. etc. And on my app's home screen will be this beautiful photo by Gordon Parks, a copy of which is also hanging in my bedroom.
Photo Credit: The Gordon Parks Foundation
HuffPost is partnering with a group of top-shelf innovators to bring GPS for the Soul to life. Leading the app's development is bLife, a mobile developer dedicated to using science to help people lead happier and healthier lives. And HeartMath -- a leader in leveraging cutting-edge technology to improve health, well-being and consciousness -- is designing the foundational technology, including the app's sensors.
Starting today, and continuing as we lead up to the launch of the app, we're featuring stories on HuffPost that reinforce GPS for the Soul's themes. Russell Bishop, GPS for the Soul's editorial director, shares his tips on how to find "that oasis of peace" that's in all of us. We're also featuring HuffPost bloggers weighing in on a range of subjects related to GPS for the Soul. There's designer Tory Burch on the art of sleeping; psychotherapist Ira Israel on ways we can better and more authentically communicate with each other (and how disconnecting from social media can help); and wellness coach Laura Norman asks, "Is stress a choice?" There's also a slideshow on the health benefits of relaxing.
So please join me in celebrating the launch of GPS for the Soul, which I hope will be just the beginning of a journey to reconnect with our creativity, our intuition, our wisdom -- and ourselves.
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