I founded Lululemon Athletica in the summer of 1998; a watershed moment, it turned out, in the development and mainstream adoption of new communication technologies. A month or two before I was moved to start a yoga-inspired athletic apparel brand, "spam"* -- meaning unsolicited email -- had been included in the Oxford English Dictionary. As I conducted the first Lululemon focus groups that fall, a search engine called Google first appeared on the web and by the time our first lines were being manufactured, email was ubiquitous enough that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan could star in a broad, holiday-season rom-com about it.
The opening of our first unassuming store in early 1999 coincided with cell phone users in the UK being the first to be able to send text messages between rival providers and all throughout this heady period, the first social networking websites were popping up around the globe. In fact the phrase "social media," as we now know it, harkens all the way back to 1997. Thirteen years after the term was coined, Facebook -- the world's largest social networking site -- counts one sixth of the planet's seven billion people as users.
Lululemon's 15-year journey has both coincided with and greatly benefited from a wave of innovation that's changing the way that people communicate with each other and engage with the wider world. Similar waves have taken place before but unlike the contemporaneous introduction of the telephone, gramophone, radio, moving image, and commercially available camera, this current burst of inventiveness can all be taken advantage of via one slick device that fits in the palm of your hand. Now, wherever you go, your connection to everything and everyone can go with you. And therein lies the problem.
While I'm incredibly excited to partake in these astounding technological developments, I'm increasingly aware that our unprecedented interconnectedness and availability can come at a price if we're not careful. We are being bombarded with more information than we are physically, mentally and emotionally equipped to deal with. We are approaching technological burnout.
The near constant vibration in your right trouser pocket is due to the fact that new communication technologies aren't deftly replacing existing ones but are being layered over top of them. While cell and smartphones quickly rendered beepers, PDAs and payphones obsolete, they also created a space for a wide array of communication methods to coexist and even become integrated with one another. Smartphones didn't exist when Marshall McLuhan was alive but his idea that "the medium is the message" is never more relevant than when we pull out our devices and choose to call, text, email, FaceTime, or tweet at someone.
Being a more circumspect adopter of both texting and social media enabled me to see how the latest ways to connect were insidiously affecting some of the people around me. That little bit of lag time enabled me to see that the human being's innate need to feel connected to others was being shorted out by the sheer volume of information - some of it useful, some of it not so much - that people were sharing. I also could see that there was a pressure to keep up with the latest platforms and that any prolonged period of disconnectedness could be a cause of heightened anxiety and emotional distress. Upon returning from the Google zeitgeist conference I asked my eldest son JJ if he intended to join Google+; the company's first foray into social media. His impassioned and anguished response was proof positive that the sheer volume of information flying at people -- especially younger people -- was becoming a real problem.
Something dawned on me as I saw what people have termed "technostress" and "Social Media Anxiety Disorder" showing up more frequently and intensively. I realized that I'd intuitively been using a coping mechanism that had helped me through the challenges of founding a little clothing company and growing it to a publically-traded, multi-billion dollar concern, all while striving to find a balance with my family life and a slew of other complex projects. And I happened upon it while peeing.
Five times a day or so, the call of nature would take me away from everything that was screaming out for my attention. Once alone in washroom, I found that I was closing my eyes, letting my mind go blank and visualizing a little dot in front of me. I imagined myself floating through this point in space and staying there as long as I could. It was like my mind was a computer that was running too many applications and I was powering down. As I powered back up, the extraneous noise fell away, and I was able clearly identify the task that took priority. As I took a deep breath and opened my eyes, I "cemented in" the task and committed to executing it by a certain time. It was an approach I stuck with because, well, it worked. This 60-second technique didn't just get me through our company's meteoric growth; it enabled me to thrive in it.
Once I reflected upon how invaluable these 60-second reboots had been for me, I was compelled to share my experiences with my friends, family, colleagues and now with Whil, the wider world as way to cope with our increasingly connected planet.
The need to feel connected to one another is as old as humanity itself. Our ability to share so much our lives with others about is a truly transformative development. The challenge in the years ahead will be navigating this new reality with mindfulness and a clearness of vision. Whil is a tool for turning that challenge into an advantage. It takes just a minute and will cost you absolutely nothing,
Please take this opportunity to try it for yourself.
• "Spam" meaning unsolicited email appears to derive from a 1970 skit by the British "Monty Python" comedy group, which is set in a café in which every item on the menu includes spam.