The Quest to be a Tech Monk
What do you dream of?
Getting into an organisation of your choice? Being rich? Travelling the world? Being with the love of your life? Building the biggest business empire? Leaving a great legacy behind? Something more modest? Something grander?
Have you ever thought about how your dreams, and beliefs, originated? Were they are a result of your upbringing, and environment? Or were you born with them?
My current dream is to build responsible tech that makes our lives fulfilling(not easier, not more efficient, but fulfilling), and has a significant emotional impact on every single person on our planet. I say current, as this is obviously not the first dream of my life; I have dreamt of getting the best education, travelling the world, staying forever with my first love, creating a theory to explain spiritual phenomenon through physics & later neuroscience, and much more…
In hindsight, all of them were the result of my upbringing. I acquired them. Some of these I was able to fulfil, and some left a burning hole in my heart, for life. However, the quest for each dream, gifted me perspective, and experience. Experience that evolved into my current dream. Experience that taught me there is no right or wrong way to live our lives; that we are all a product of our environments. Most importantly, I learned that all of us are wearing our own blindfolds, and making a mad dash towards our dreams.
Our lives are not the reality, but an escape from it!
Think about it! Why are you doing what you are doing in life? Will you be happier after achieving these dreams? What if you'll not be? What if nothing will change? What if all this chasing dreams thing is utter bullshit, and pointless? What if we are wasting our lives deluding ourselves? If our dreams are the product of our environment anyway, why the fuck do we devote the entirety of our lives to them? Have your ever reflected on these questions?
I guess you have. I surely have. A lot! Yet, I refused to join my dad’s business, dropped out of college a semester before graduating, said no to a great PhD offer studying consciousness, and while all my friends are busy settling down in life, I have spent the past 3 years of my life on Lishash, pursuing my dream to change the world. In this process, I have lost several friends, have not made a single penny, said no to several opportunities, faced rejection constantly, have had some really horrible experiences, and probably this is just the beginning of all the pain. All this trauma for chasing a vision, whose chances of materialising are extremely low, almost non-existent. Genius, isn't it? As Elon says, “I am chewing glass, while staring into the abyss.” Even amid all this emotional conflict, I am going hard at it, and am enjoying every moment of the journey quite a lot actually! Why?
It's not black and white
“We are engineers Shashwat, our job is to build cool things, the regulations can be figured by the policy makers later”, said my friend Bruina, with an air of nonchalant confidence that has come to characterise the tech sector these days. We both were doing research in the UCLA Neuro-Engineering department, and were discussing her project: students would be given electrical stimulations to their brain, through electrodes built into a cap, whenever the device sensed that the student’s attention is deviating. This would lead to much more efficient learning, but there are risks of making students dependent on that device, and if something goes wrong, they might suffer from seizures, or worse.
"Making dependent? What bullshit? That's called creating a sustainable business mate. Are you not dependent on your phone right now? That's not a bad thing. That's business. That's how the world works Sherlock!" she explained.
I have always been fascinated by spirituality, and how several ascetics leave everything, and go to the Himalayan mountains, putting themselves under severe hardships, and ponder over fundamental questions of what, why and how of life. My foundational dream has been to study spirituality through science, and to come up with concrete mathematical, and neuro-physical theories of how spiritual experiences occur, and how to reproduce them. I traveled from ashram to ashram, interviewed many monks, and conducted research with the best professors. All of them tried to tell me the same thing: Science is an objective study of controllable, and reproducible, experiments, but spirituality, by definition, is a very subjective, and experiential phenomenon. It differs from person to person. You can't study it purely objectively.
After 4 years of vehement denial, I finally realised that my professors and the monks were correct. In my passionate, but mad, rush, I was going against a fundamental truth. Spirituality can be only be properly understood, by experiencing it on your own. That too, without trying to seek anything, you have to surrender your logical mind completely first. Let all go, as they say. This is part of the reason why these ascetics go the mountains leaving everything behind. Now honestly, I don't have the courage to do that; I don't even know if this entire quest is meaningful. But these questions haunt me. Daily. What's the point of anything in life? Why am I seeking whatever I am seeking? The more I think of them, the more I get depressed, as I genuinely don't know the answers. NOBODY DOES.
To escape from the pain, I submerge myself in my work/dreams/relationships, whatever works. Based on who you are, this can also be religion, money, travel, recreation etc. No matter how we deceive ourselves, the truth is that we are all escaping, in some way or the other. There are people like Bruina, and I, who just don't take no for an answer, and practice our passions so intensely, that we usually end up discounting majority of the discouragement that comes from conflict. That can be really good if you go on to create a Tesla, or can waste 4 years of your life for no outcome. On the contrary, there are people on the other extreme, who get so lost in their conflict that they never end up doing anything at all! Everything seems pointless, and negative to these people. Based on my experience with them, they are usually not the happiest people either.
An Insight, and the Manifestation
This experience, along with several years of travel, multiple failures, losing several loved ones, and the fact that all of us can not just leave our homes, and become ascetics, lead to a life changing insight for me…
Embrace your escapes wholly, and mindfully!
Happiness is not a goal, or a destination. It's a state of mind, that stems from being satisfied. From accepting our internal conflicts. From realising that everything is temporary, and bound by the laws of constant change. Our dreams. Our beliefs. Our religion. Everything.
Dream, and chase them with full rigour, but also stop to reflect upon, and treasure your journey in the process. Do not let your life pass in this mad rush. Cherish everything as much as you can! Don't deny your inner conflict, embrace it. Realise that you might be wrong, and what you have today, you might not tomorrow. Enjoy your life to the fullest, while you can’t figure it out…
Lishash is a direct manifestation of this insight. Lishash means harmony: a symphonic fusion of polar extremes. Our current tech has habituated us in getting lost in our escapes, while life passes us by: whenever we face the realities of life we don't like, we take our phones out, and conveniently get lost in the feeds of our choice, and soon, escaping without even realising becomes our habit. It's our dream, at Lishash, to build technology that allows us to embrace our escapes mindfully and wholly; tech that becomes a medium to augment, and cherish life, rather than becoming a hinderance to it. We have started out with music, and taken several radical design decisions to make sure of it: There are no lists, no feeds. It's an extremely intimate and private social network, you can't become friends with strangers, until a mutual friend connects you. There are no likes, no comments, no online social gratification. Instead, you have raw, honest conversations, with your real friends, on music you like. Most importantly, it's not all algorithms and AI; every single element has an innate fusion of two polar extremes: human intuition and machine intelligence. There's harmony. There's Lishash.
Now, some of these are really risky/suicidal decisions, if we consider the currently successful business models. Is it the Tesla, and the 4 year story in the making, again? Have I ruined my past 3 years chasing something fundamentally impossible, again? Maybe. Only time can answer that, and that's the point of this blog! Regardless of whether we succeed or not, we are cherishing every part of the journey! I, and several of our early adopters have experienced a completely new way of immersing in, and discovering music. We have forged some of our strongest friendships this pandemic, and I personally have become more mindful of celebrating routine moments. Every morning I wake up, I start the morning session, and just let all go! It's magical.
About the high probability of failure, I'll quote Gaurav Munjal, from Unacademy:
"Majority of the people give up because they try 10 things, and nothing works for them. Obviously, it is stupid to keep trying non-stop when nothing is working. But an even more stupid thing is to stop at 10, when there were a 1000 things to try, and you could try them, given your circumstances!"
I am extremely fortunate to have the, probably once in a lifetime, opportunity to build something that can fundamentally change the way we live, and I am surely not stopping before trying all the 1000 ways in my reach! This dream, gratitude, the conflict about failure, and the acceptance of this conflict create a magical environment that produces an incessant stream of satisfaction. I have never been happier in life, and genuinely wish the same for you!
Next, I'll show you how we are trying to create this feeling through Lishash Contexts, the challenges we have faced, the lessons we have learnt, and how I met, and lost, my brother Lucas in this journey.
Until next time …