I’ve long been an admirer of Buddhist psychology and philosophy, and have read several books written with and about the Dalai Lama, but I tuned in today more out of curiosity than anything else. I wanted to witness how a Google+ hangout could work in practice to connect people around the entire world to a live video-chat event. It was ‘an experience’.
From farce to fantastic
The first ten minutes were a complete farce. The webcam at Archbishop Tutu’s end was pointing to a room of people whom he was addressing at his Peace Lecture in Cape Town and the microphone was picking up ambient noise (see below). So not only could we not see Archbishop Tutu, we couldn’t hear him either. People were commenting in Google+ as the video streamed with questions like ‘is it in English?’. The Dalai Lama sat patiently in India looking completely nonplussed and more than a little bored. Had it not been for my experimental curiosity I’d have tuned out. But I hung in there (no pun intended)…and I’m glad I did.
Once Archbishop Tutu had finished his address, he took a seat with an interviewer and someone had the bright idea to point the webcam at him and connect him up to a microphone. And off we went.
What followed was 45 minutes of genuinely interesting and heart-warming conversation between two elderly gentleman who spoke more sense and wisdom in less than an hour than I’ve heard in the last ten years. The video streaming in from India was at times patchy, but the discussion was such that it really didn’t matter.
Warmth, grace and humour
Archbishop Tutu is a man of great humour and genuine warmth, with a wicked laugh. He poked fun at the Dalai Lama for being “mischievous” and “not even being able to speak English properly”. The Dalai Lama, who I have long wanted to see speak ‘live’, was equally playful and affectionate, and the friendship between the two was obvious for all to see. Both men clearly have a huge capacity for compassion and life-affirming grace.
The standout moment for me was when Archbishop Tutu asked the Dalai Lama: “Do you have an army?” It seemed an odd question, and it clearly took His Holiness by surprise. But he chuckled and replied warmly: “Yes. But I have no weapons. I have wisdom and compassion.” “The reason I ask”, said Archbishop Tutu, “is that I’d like to know why the Chinese government fears you”. It was a fantastic moment full of simple clarity. But it was the Dalai Lama’s response that I will always remember.
“It’s simple”, he said. “Some Chinese officials have described me as a demon. So naturally there is some fear. Hypocrisy and telling lies is part of their lives, so when someone tells the truth, they feel uncomfortable. So they think I’m a demon.” And then, as if to demonstrate the point, he put two fingers to his head as if horns and laughed into the camera.
The image of this resplendent, warm gentleman playfully mimicking a devil seemed to put things totally into context. And I only wish the Chinese people could have seen it. “1.3 billion Chinese people should know the reality and be able to judge for themselves what is right”, he continued. “For this reason, censorship is immoral.”
Do Hangouts have potential?
It seems almost blasé to turn attention back to the technology after that, but the reason I tuned in was, as I say, to see how an organised hangout could work in practice. And aside from the technical issues of the first ten minutes, I have to say this was a complete success. It was immediately obvious that this technology can be adapted and utilised by organisations, brands and companies to get closer to their advocates, supporters, fans and customers. If social communications is all about being open, honest and genuine, what better way is there than to host live Q&A sessions or topic-specific discussions to which anyone (with a Google+ profile, at least) can observe and take part it?
Prior to this morning, I was sceptical about hangouts for anything other than casual video-chats between friends and informal meetings over the web. But now I can see massive potential. And once Google+ business profiles launch and the platform starts to become more embedded in a mainstream audience (which may itself take many, many months or even years), hangouts could become a powerful tool in a company’s armoury. I for one will be watching developments closely.
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