The 64th MediaSnackers podcast finds out more about Project Happiness.
(WORLD) The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.
Jim (Sky) Schuyler is the Chief Technology Officer for the Dalai Lama Foundation, discussing the Project Happiness project.
1.11—2.14 aims and objectives of Project Happiness
2.15—5.57 what schools are involved
5.58—10.47 utilising the technologies and web platforms
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Jim Schuyler: Okay. Well, glad to be here. My name is Jim Schuyler and a lot of people call me Sky and my background is that I am the Chief Technology Officer of the Dalai Lama Foundation and that is the real Dalai Lama. It’s an international organisation for peace and ethics. We have some pretty big goals to promote peace and ethics worldwide. We’re a non religious foundation, so even though as the Dalai Lama says it’s kind of hard to take the monk out of the Dalai Lama, it’s hard to remove the Buddhist monk from the Dalai Lama. We do as much of that as we can because he writes a lot and talks a lot about peace and ethics.
Jim Schuyler: And my position is a volunteer position so I serve without any compensation. The foundation was formed in 2002, so it’s fairly new.
Jim Schuyler: And I also – I do a number of commercial things as well DK but we don’t need to talk about commercial things today.
DK: Okay, we’re going to be talking about a specific project that you guys have running at the Dalai Lama Foundation which is Project Happiness. We’ve already done a weblog post on the MediaSnackers blog but tell us a bit more about its aims and its objectives.
Jim Schuyler: Sure. Well Project Happiness specifically is designed to be a media based project; it’s online media primarily. And we can talk a little more about what the media later on. But its goal really is to expose high school students to the concept of lasting happiness as opposed to what I would call transient happiness. We’d like kids to be able to talk about their experiences, understand what the barriers are, understand how they can really achieve a position in their own lives where they feel happy about what’s going on and about their role in the future of the earth.
DK: Wow, that’s a huge gain. Obviously it’s focused on personal development but the way you’re doing this as well; I know you’ve got three schools involved. Tell us about the schools involved but how are you actually going to do this as well?
Jim Schuyler: Sure, okay. We have three what I call cornerstone schools right now. We began the project late in 2006 so our schools are all northern hemisphere schools and I’ll stress with you that because it’s a global project, the northern hemisphere schools normally start their school term and they graduate students on a schedule starting in the fall. When I say the fall, let’s say October because that’s the fall in the northern hemisphere. And then in the spring which is April, May, June then graduate to the next grade. So we started in the beginning of the school term northern hemisphere 2006 with these three schools.
The anchor school for this is the Mount Madonna School which is in the Santa Cruz Mountains up at San Francisco and then we added two other schools. We have two very energetic teachers. One of them in just Nigeria so this is in the middle of Nigeria and he’s the principal of a school that I believe has around 200 students but he’s involved with, I think a little fewer than a dozen of these in his side of the project. And then in India, we’re involved because of our connection with the Dalai Lama, we’re involved with what’s called the Upper Tibetan Children’s Village.
I hardly think of high school kids as children, I guess many people do but they’re more like young adults. And we’ve involved a class there and a teacher there at the Upper TCV in participating in this. So those are the three cornerstone schools and to date what’s going on with the project is they have all begun conversations; we have an email group that students from all three are participating in. They’ve all begun studying the book that’s the foundation of this 8-week process. So each of them goes through an 8-week process which you could call a course. They’ve all studied the book which is named Ethics for the New Millennium and it’s by his Holiness, the Dalai Lama. And it has a lot of good material in it about temporary happiness and long lasting happiness.
It’s really a book about ethics but ethics comes into play in this idea of how you achieve lasting happiness. So they’ve studied the book, they’re participating in an email group right now and I know I’m going on at length here but what we’ve done is I went to India and took two video cameras with me; small inexpensive video cameras. And as you know, being on the media front, these days the rage is these hard-drive built-in cameras that have no tape. And this was absolutely a great thing for our project because if you take a camera that’s got moving parts and tapes that you’ve got to put in and out and so on to places like India and Nigeria, first thing that happens is you’re three months into the project and it breaks. And it’s hard to find somewhere to get that thing fixed.
So rather than deal with those problems, I took two cameras to India. We gave one to the kids and the teacher at the Upper TCV and they’ve shot a lot of video and we can talk more about that later. And then we sent one of the cameras on with a friend to Nigeria and it’s now in Nigeria and we have a lot of good video back from that. So exchanging the video and starting video conversations which is what we’ve been doing just recently in the project is again a key part of this process of getting the kids talking to each other.
DK: And that’s the dynamic bit for me that I kind of really sit up and take notice of; this video conversation between three very different cultures, very different places and allowing these young people to express themselves around something this you know very insular in terms of personal development. This happiness is such a kind of a wow subject isn’t it, to take on at such a young level? But it’s utilising that technology, the free web platforms and enabling them all to kind of converse and collaborate, which I find just fascinating. And tell us why you’ve gone down that route and not down any other route then? Is it just because this stuff is now available?
Jim Schuyler: Yeah, sure. It really is and actually DK you’ve asked me for about six questions all in one there so I could take two hours.
Jim Schuyler: I tell people I have a five minute answer to the question and then I’ve got the five hour answer to the question so we’re limited in time. But, first of all let’s just take the last thing you said which is absolutely true that before about six months ago it would have been very difficult to do this project. And the reason is that there were platforms around to which you could load your videos, like YouTube. And another one we use is Blip.tv. So I’ll refer to those two even though there are many others. But without the YouTube phenomenon and without inexpensive video cameras being available and of course video cameras being built-in to a lot of computers with all the Macintoshes having built-in video.
This phenomenon of people being able to record anything they want and of course 95% of it is just idle chatter or worse maybe but you know let’s say idle chatter. And 5% of it may or may not be stuff that’s to the point. So with those technologies and I mean both kind of ubiquitous video so that people can shoot their own video plus that ability to, for free, upload your video to YouTube or Blip.tv or other places and then make that available was really crucial. Now I’ll tell you – remember I’m a developer on this and I think a lot of people don’t realise how much development has to go on behind the scenes and what we developers call infrastructure.
So the infrastructure of course is all of this software and server structure that goes around the project and allows the project to even happen. A lot of people are unaware of how much work it takes to do that stuff. But when YouTube and Blip.tv and others became so popular, it was clear to us that we could build on top of that using what has, you know there’s a catch phrase now called Web 2.0. And to me Web 2.0 really means the ability to pull together services that come from other companies and mash them together and you know mashup is another one of those words that’s thrown around a lot and has changed meaning in the past month even. But to basically mash all those services together and then create a service that works for us.
So one of the questions that you asked us sparks this answer which is, I think some of our listeners will understand about Current TV. And the model of Current TV is one we love which is that people can submit video and we’re going to do this in our project. People will be able to submit video; that video will go on to a website – now actually it will be on YouTube, it will be on Blip or other places and we will have pointers to it so it will play in our website. And the students will be able to vote on those things as to whether they’re relevant to the questions that are being asked which are about happiness and importance to happiness. And they’ll be able to basically vote them up.
So they’ll vote them up higher and higher on the list. We’ll also have staff doing the same thing, watching out for good things that should immediately be aired. And then we will call those together and make those available so people can compare them cross culturally which again you asked. And the cross cultural thing is wonderful because what we found for instance in India, the kids there are very concerned about how they’re going to take care of their parents as they get older. While in the US I don’t hear kids here really discussing how they’re going to take care of their parents as much as how they’re going to make it through to the next grade in school or how they’re going to be able to afford getting the next big thing that they need to buy.
DK: Yes, certainly.
Jim Schuyler: And then the kids in Nigeria are really concerned about their families because it’s still rural. It’s an agricultural area that we’re working in and there the kids are concerned about will they be able to get home from school so that they can participate in the festival that’s taking place next week.
DK: Wow, that’s just insightful stuff.
Jim Schuyler: Very interesting.
DK: Yeah, definitely.
Jim Schuyler: Yeah, it is.
DK: And I’m sure we could just go on –
Jim Schuyler: And those are going to arise very grassroots and very organically from the videos that we collect. We don’t intend to really point those out for people. People will see them.
DK: And I know there’s stuff online at the moment and I’m going to stick on the links onto this interview anyway. But I’m going to wrap it up there Sky. Thanks very much for your time to speak to MediaSnackers; really appreciate it.
Jim Schuyler: Absolutely no problem. Happy to do it.