Today is the first day of TechCrunch Disrupt, the tech-news site’s annual three-day conference of exhibitors, panels, and start-up schmoozing, this year held at Pier 94. Each morning’s agenda consists of onstage “fireside chats”: Tomorrow, for example, will feature Charlie Rose interviewing Ashton Kutcher. But this morning’s star was AOL content head Arianna Huffington (after AOL’s recent HuffPo acquisition, she is the boss of TechCrunch) who emerged for a panel discussion — ostensibly about journalism in the social-media age — to answer questions from email OG Nora Ephron, alongside friend NYU J-school professor Jay Rosen. (TechCrunch co-editor Erick Schonfeld later informed the room that he initially invited New York Times editor Bill Keller to debate the Lady Huff, but that Keller “chickened out.”)
The dialogue was expansive and harmonious. But amid “Great Journalism” affronts and congenial back-and-forths (Huffington: “Self-expression is the new entertainment”; Ephron: “If I Tweeted, I would Tweet that”), Arianna seemed most concerned with spiritual peace–or lack thereof. “Excessive social networking,” she said, “is making it harder for us to connect with our creativity, our wisdom.” She claimed, “we actually, at the Huffington Post, try to get people to learn to disconnect, and sleep, and not have their devices charging next to their beds.” A simple–if heretic in this room–prescription.
Far more confounding was Arianna’s longer-term solution to avoid morphing into Max Headroom. “One of the things that I’d love to see is an app, or a piece of software, or something”–she clearly wasn’t thinking of a self-help book, or a religious text, or even a spa visit–“that is like the equivalent of a GPS for the soul. Something that helps us connect with, ‘How are we doing? How aligned are we with ourselves?'” This imagined bit of technology would tell us when to stop using technology.
Since Arianna didn’t give this program a name, let’s call it the iSoul. The iSoul, as described by Arianna, would be a kind of spiritual laxative (though she didn’t use that phrase, sadly). It would “help us take the measures that we need to take: whether it’s sleep, or meditation, or a walk in a park, or whatever does it for us that helps us connect with ourselves.”
Those were the only specifics. But in a room suffocated with partnerships and sponsorships and acquisitions, her idea led one to wonder what the iSoul would look like. Would the iSoul recommend a movie, then send the user to AOL property MovieFone for listings? Would the iSoul suggest a Gentle Kripalu class at your local yoga studio, then ask you to check-in on FourSquare? Would we strive to become the Mayor of our Souls?
“That’s my biggest obsession right now, other than everything else I’m doing,” Arianna said, “is the fact that people are losing themselves, losing their objectivity, wisdom. I’ve just given a commencement speech so I had to think about this ultimate question. I’d love some kind of app that would help us get closer to these bigger questions.”
Some kind of app that would help us get closer to the bigger questions. Maybe the iSoul developer would be a company called Deus ex Machina? And its second-generation upgrade would be able to detect when we’d truly lost ourselves? Maybe it would beep loudly when it was time to walk off the job? Or end the marriage? Or stop blogging for free for someone who’s publicly collected $315 million for your efforts?
What if you had no soul? Would the iSoul simulate one?
Arianna Huffington did not address these questions. She did however note, “Maybe somebody here will invent it.” No doubt they will.