Flipping through the pocket programming guide for South By Southwest 2013 feels a little bit like reading through an entire year of one of those Joke-A-Day or Far Side calendars you had on your desk when you were a kid in one sitting: you are really not supposed to take all of this in in just one day.
Getting Started With Angel Investing
#catvidfest: Is This The End Of Art?
What Can We Learn From The Unabomber?
Extreme GPS: Limits of Security & Precision
Latinos y Mobile: A Silver Bullet?
The Comfy Chair! Are We Sitting Too Much?
Some sound like they are for babies, others sound like they are for EMBA students, most sound like they are for bloggers. And then there was
Female Orgasm: The Regenerative Human Technology
Nicole Daedone is the primary evangelist for orgasmic meditation. She more or less admitted that she had been shoehorned into the tech world: she was primarily involved in the spiritual realm, and was indeed on her way to becoming a Buddhist nun before Ray Kurzweil, that overbearing conduit between the digital and spiritual realms, stepped in as he tends to do and called what she was doing “technology” which got her practice a lot of buzz from the tech media. So she rolled with it and started storytelling to people like the SXSWi crowd I was with yesterday afternoon.
A few years back at a party with fellow Buddhists, Daedone was discussing her evolving meditation and yogic exercises with other practitioners (“these parties are not usually very… fun”) when one attendee caught her off guard by offering to demonstrate, in the next room, his very precise method for inducing orgasm in a meditative setting. The next thing she knew she was on a table with her pants off being stroked by a stranger going through a very understandable carousel of emotions: Have I lost my mind? Am I attracted to this person? Will we get married? What will our children be called? And then, after just a few minutes of clinically-precise pressure, transcendence: “the feeling of being connected to nothing at all,” kind of like the time slowing down into eternity moments described by champion downhill skiers, “but still sharing this connection with this one person.”
Something about Daedone’s delivery seemed down-to-earth and pragmatic enough to keep me listening
I am personally not much of a spiritual person and have generally stayed away from yoga studios and meditation because they have always reminded me of church and temporary tribal tattoos, so this Kama Sutra-esque notion of rolling sexuality in with spirituality usually makes me cringe. But something about Daedone’s delivery seemed down-to-earth and pragmatic enough to keep me listening – that, and the stories were good in this weird way that was sexual but not at all porn-y. It seemed like it was supposed to feel taboo but it didn’t.
After this experience, Daedone put herself into a state of orgasmic monasticism: a sort of spiritual self-education reliant on celibacy and daily practice of her technique. The real drive seemed to be an exploration of spiritual well-being through a method that’s often considered base and self-serving. Many American practitioners of eastern methods attempt to address what’s known as the Western mantra: “I eat too much, I drink too much, but still I am hungry.”
There is nowhere better to address the disconnect between consumerism and happiness than at South By Southwest. For twenty years the interactive portion of the festival has been a launchpad for products and services that do something new and interesting: the most visible winners have been Twitter and MakerBot, both products that used the intense concentration of young, open-minded geeks to propel their products into viral stardom. But being on the ground in Austin doesn’t feel like a launchpad for great ideas anymore. It feels like a playground for tired ideas tweaked slightly and marketed into the ground. At all of the trade shows I go to, the looming question above all new products, no matter how cool or terrible they are, is “Who needs any of this shit?” I mean, really: I never, ever, ever want to hear about an app with a name like Vendly, Foodzy, or Plotter again, or find out about a product that will revolutionize the way I watch TV / talk to my pets / share moments with friends. No matter how interesting or well-intentioned their goal, I can be quite certain that its impact on my life will never be as important as Yahoo! was. Or Friendster.
Being on the ground in Austin doesn’t feel like a launchpad for great ideas anymore
The most interesting part of Daedone's talk was when she addressed this very issue, which is at its core about happiness. What is happiness? Traditionally it has been associated directly with homeostasis: that is, when one transitions from one state (like being very cold) to a more pleasurable state (being nice and toasty), we get happy, and we associate the vehicle of that change (a down jacket or a space heater) with the happiness. The problem with this model is that it produces diminishing returns in the long run. It’s most easily seen in overconsumption: on drinking a single beer, the euphoria and whatever else that comes with being tipsy is at its highest. The second beer, while it’s still great, isn’t as good as that first one was. And so on. By the time you’ve jammed through a twelve-pack, the liquid itself is almost meaningless to your brain and the bottle becomes little more than a prop in a probably not-too-pretty scene.
The internet has, more than anything else, facilitated the quintessentially American / capitalist cycle of production and consumption. At any of SXSW’s conferences all of these measures have been taken to their logical extremes: after going to the music conference for seven years I swore to never go again: there’s simply too much music out there, which in itself isn’t a bad thing. At SXSW Interactive, the same thing happens with digital products.
Every brand that takes itself seriously must have a presence in Austin every March
The bad thing is that lots of people have jobs and dreams that depend on every single product’s success. Not only is it a logical impossibility for every new product to be successful, it creates an oppressive amount of marketing that abstracts farther and farther away from the product itself until we arrive at a conference that is far more about marketing than it is about music. Every brand that takes itself seriously must have a presence in Austin every March. I don’t hate the PR and events companies that create these fantasy worlds of people who will like a search engine because it gave them a free drink ticket. I don’t even hate Microsoft for deciding that Bing needs to have a “Recharge Lounge.” I actually kind of like Bing itself! All of these people are just trying to make a living. So, what do I hate? I guess I hate the system itself: I hate, in the end, that Western Mantra, that never being satisfied is actually a great thing. Steve Jobs said it most poetically: Stay hungry. Steve if you’re out there somewhere can you tell me if you’re hungry for a yam?
Anyway, back to orgasms: Nicole Daedone’s message, as I heard it, is that orgasmic meditation (yes, she calls it OM) is a way to keep increasing our happiness on a different plane, one that doesn’t require endless consumption and actually brings people together instead of forcing them to compete. Her proposition is that orgasm operates on a wholly different model of happiness: instead of the diminishing returns of homeostasis, it brings people joy through physical pleasure and actively bringing people together.
Daedone began asking scientists to help her find out what the repeatable and teachable physical facts of her monastic study. It turns out the primary chemical released in the brain during orgasm is oxytocin, and its release provokes prolonged feelings of vitality, well-being, and empathy in most subjects. In an interview with the famously-skeptical evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (whose catchphrase is ”Religion: together we can find a cure”), he proposed that the female orgasm appeared to be something of an evolutionary leftover from a time when mating was a far more perilous activity. Daedone countered that the only other time oxytocin is released is during childbirth: it’s a chemical that appears to somehow activate our capacity for human connection. Not the “find me on Facebook” kind, but a deep-seated defining human chemical characteristic that jumpstarts our capacity to love one another. Richard Dawkins was impressed. Ray Kurzweil (along with many other people) believes that we must study empathy and build it into robots before we make them too powerful – you know, so they have to think about how much they love you before they decide to crush you.
She introduced the audience to what she sees as a widespread ignorance of and disconnection from the limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates our strongest emotions: fear, motivation, and love. Oxytocin is, as she puts it, a “high-octane fuel” for the compassionate parts of the limbic system, which is a theoretically unlimited fuel tank for the stuff. The female orgasm releases oxytocin in the subject, but also – and perhaps more interestingly – in the person who’s administering the practice, if it’s an outside party. It builds instant chemical empathy between the two people: this was the “downhill skier” moment she had experienced with the Buddhist at that party. I instantly thought of my own experience with Adderall, which operates on the sympathetic nervous system: artificially-induced stress and an insatiable hunger for western-style work and isolation, coupled with diminished sex drive. ADHD drugs rob the patient of the very chemicals that foster human connections, which is bad news for the rapidly-increasing numbers of children who are prescribed them every year. Daedone has already written a paper about this topic, which she obviously sees as a threat to the very fiber of human connection: her solution to a distracted society is to educate about meditation (not just the orgasmic kind), which apparently works wonders for our capacity to focus. Unfortunately it’s a lot easier (and a lot more profitable for big pharma) to administer a pill than it is to convince children to sit down and think about nothing for an hour.
Orgasmic meditation is the building material for a worldwide limbic internet where “we all become routers” for empathy
To bookend her talk, Nicole Daedone wisely brought it all back to a tech metaphor: she sees orgasmic meditation as the building material for a worldwide limbic internet where “we all become routers” for connections that transmit empathy instead of LOLcats and spreadsheets. There are, of course, many obstacles on the path to its completion: for starters, orgasmic meditation is a practice that can only be employed by adults, which she defines as people whose frontal cortexes are fully developed. This usually happens at the age of 25. And more obviously, there are societal structures in place that prohibit most of us from accurately distinguishing between love (a connection between people), sensuality (a physical manifestation of connection), and sex (the porn kind).
When her talk was over it was back to the endless halls of app advertisements that define SXSWi, which, while still loathsome in many ways, had lost a bit of its dark power over my consciousness: the conference itself had brought me (in a rather roundabout way) to Daedone’s talk, which changed my perspective about everything I see here.
Of course I don’t fully hate that old Western Mantra of endless consumption and constant hunger. For starters, I can’t: I am a product of it, and I benefit from it, as most people do. In a lot of ways we are destined to grow and consume resources since the very first time the zygote splits from one cell into two. I guess what we might be starting to do as humans on a very crowded earth is realize that our traditional resources are not limitless. My overexposure to all the open bars and free pizza in Austin have, over the years, just kind of made me realize that I need a new dimension to grow in. Does that make me a spiritual person? I guess I kind of don’t care anymore because I’m on my 12th beer over here and I just feel kind of bloated!
But before I start going to yoga class, I am gonna have to get a really sick mat, so can you just post on my wall if Lululemon is having a sale anytime soon?