A Tech Day in the Park – Innovation and Mindfulness at Berlin Tech Open Air 2014

This year’s Tech Open Air in Berlin (#TOA14) brought together a wide variety of speakers and listeners around contemporary tech innovations and their impact on human well-being. Apart from classical hardware tech fields like 3D printing, topics like mindfulness, using one’s full potential be it in creativity or efficiency or the capacity to focus were at the center of attention.

And so one of the most prominent questions posed throughout the day was how innovative solutions and hacks can shape environments streamlined for creativity, excellence and well-being.

Here is a recap of the day with some of our favorite talks.

Back to whats good for us! #paleo

Kicking off the day, Mark Poppenborg and Nico Richter held an inspiring talk about Paleo, the concept saying that our modern environment is detrimental to our health because it is optimised and streamlined for many things – but not for us humans.


In their talk they focused on the nutritional aspects of paleo. Their main argument:

Our human bodies are the product of constant adaption to our environment. This evolutionary process has been going on for millions of years and adapted us better and better to the world we live in. But this process is too slow to adapt to the sudden changes brought upon our nutrition by the rise of agriculture roughly 10.000 years ago. Therefore we should focus on eating food which was available and shaped our nutritional constitution before that date.

As living by these rules can be challenging in a society shaped by mass production and industrialised agriculture, Mark and Nico have set out to help the interested crowd navigate through this nutritional jungle.

While Nico has taken on the challenge of supplying Paleo-compatible recipes through his platform/blog Paleo360 as well as through a book of Paleo recipes, Mark is taking on the lack of availability of Paleo products and has started sourcing and supplying 100% Paleo premium grass-fed Biltong jerky.

 “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” – Hacking Happiness

Drawing on the rise of contemplative science, Sebastian Nienauber held a sparkling yet pragmatic talk inspired by research into neuroplasticity i.e. the brains ability to not only compensate physical injury but also “rewire” synapses and neural pathways as a result of changes in environment and, most notably, behaviour.

Sebastian Nienauber explains why it's important to have the right mind-set

Sebastian Nienauber explains why it’s important to have the right mind-set

If the wiring of our brain determines whether we’re happy or not and if we now know that we can actually influence or modify this wiring, then shouldn’t we look for smart “hacks” to achieve the rewiring we consider beneficial? After all, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.

What set him apart from other speakers was Sebastian’s clear ambition to get practical and his belief in the usefulness of technical solutions in reaching mental well-being and mindfulness. Be it organising contemporary meditation classes for busy Londoners or bringing together researchers and visionaries for a conference designed around the challenge of Hacking Happiness, Nienauber is eager to transform his convictions into action.

So much so that he ended his talk with some very practical advice for those in the audience who struggle with information overflow. His first advice was simply to sleep more in order to help your brain digest the experiences of the last day. This idea he referred to as the equivalent of clearing your “inbox” with the goal of waking up in the morning as a dry sponge, ready to soak up new experiences and information.

His second advice was to go and take any practical steps towards starting to meditate.

We like this advice!

 “Make love not more!”

With a compelling speech on creativity and process, Co-founder and COO of AKQA, James Hilton took a step back and asked when an ad agency does or does not actually add value to people’s lives and how the agency itself can retain and develop its creative talent. Reminding the audience that whatever you, you’re either hurting or healing somebody, he introduced the notion ADDvertising, in which he sees a recommitment to a seemingly very easy question: Seeing the talent and resources I have, how can I add creative value?

Two quotes stuck out and are clear and strong enough to stand for themselves:

“Nothing kills creativity faster than process. […] Listen to the voices in your head.”

James Hilton talks about trusting yourself

James Hilton talks about trusting yourself

 Trust no teacher, trust yourself

Ari Stein talking about how everyone profits from meditation and mindfulness

Ari Stein talking about how everyone profits from meditation and mindfulness

No happiness without empathy, no empathy without mindfulness, no mindfulness without meditation.

Ari Stein  made a point in emphasising the impact of mindfulness on ones personal as well as professional well-being. However he doesn’t share the general mistrust of technology which many other proponents of mindfulness are expressing. Drawing on the example of how facebook has brought the incredible possibility of communicating among continents and different groups in seconds, he was eager to point out that technology has helped tear down many walls and obstacles and should not be demonised as a whole.

However Ari also pointed out the ambiguity of “hacks”. Convinced that mindfulness can only be the outcome of a personal struggle, he radiated profound scepticism towards any “easy” way to reach such a state. One felt reminded of Hesse’s Siddhartha:

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” 

He acknowledged that one has to accept and be comfortable with mystery in order to find inner piece, which he pointed out is a given in Eastern philosophy and on the rise in contemporary quantum- and neuroscience.

Summing up his analytical talk combining neuroplasticity, quantum mechanics and buddhism, he coined a clear chain of causality: No happiness without empathy, no empathy without mindfulness, no mindfulness without meditation.

While this does not logically imply that meditating will necessarily lead to happiness, Ari seemed convinced that whoever takes a conscious decision to start doing so, simply cannot go wrong.

 Losing Focus: Technology’s Impact on our Brains

With undoubtedly the most fact-based talk of the day, Chris Grogolewski of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences addressed the question whether some of our common sense assumptions about well-being and work efficiency hold up against proper scientific study.

Are multitaskers actually very inefficient workers because they are bad at filtering out distractive information and literally take in everything?

Does the excessive level internet consumption in modern life constitute actual addictive behaviour?

How often do you become defensive and start making up lies when being asked about your internet consumption? And if it qualifies as an addition, what implications would or should such a rewording trigger?

While presenting remarkable results from empirical research suggesting highly addictive characteristics of excessive internet usage (15 mins in a room without stimuli was perceived as very unpleasant by most subjects), Chris, with commendable scientific caution, refrained from giving easy answers. However the lack of sufficient or satisfactory data on the subject combined with promising first study results make him a fiery proponent of further and broader research into the matter.

As a whole, Chris’s talk was a firework of ideas and starting points for further scientific research not only into internet addictive behaviour bur also into the existence of a causal relationship between meditation and mindfulness on the one hand, and being able to concentrate and focus on the other hand.

All in all – Tech Open Air 2014

All in all, Tech Open Air 2014 proved to be an integral part of the startup community far beyond the borders of Berlin by fostering necessary and productive discussions between founders, investors, and visionaries. The fact that mindfulness and the quest to reach it through technology formed a key topic this year is proof that the discussion around it is gaining attention and input both from those who believe in hacks as well as from those who see an even more personal meditative approach as the sole way to reach inner peace and empathy.

As OFFTIME, we are happy to say that our solution offers support to any of the latter, as you can use it as a communication filter in order to increase efficiency or as a way of making time for meditation.
Use it in whatever way you like. And please, if you reach nirvana, let us know. 😉

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