Mindful Technology is on the rise, but it’s time to think beyond Meditation

It’s a familiar scene: I sit down to meditate, knowing it’ll help clear my mind. I’m an entrepreneur, a sociologist, and an ex yoga teacher. My mindful practices keep me sane. Sometimes.

I increasingly sense that I unintentionally use mindful practices as escapism. Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it. On those days, what I need most is not to disengage from ruminating thoughts through meditation and the like, but to get perspective on those recurring thoughts until I can detangle them into resolution.

Photo: Michael Papendieck

I need to engage with what’s going on inside. It’s great to run to a yoga class or sit in peace for 10 minutes, but when I open my eyes, it all comes flooding back. The day’s thoughts, emotions, and challenges are still there — unprocessed.

Is it possible we can use mindful practices to simply… numb?

It’s time to be mindful of our mindfulness. And it’s time to use technology to do it.

Mindful” practices like meditation are great, in the same way that eating “Organic” food is. It’s not the only way to be healthy, but it’s a good place to start. Focusing our attention on one thing at a time nicely complements our typical reality. When practiced consciously, it works. We’re in an age of information overload and hyper stimulation — unless we make the effort to do nothing.

Enter — technology. Oftentimes, it’s portrayed as the villain, and we, its victims. It’s a familiar narrative: technology is the thing that dissolves our focus, takes us down rabbit holes of endless scrolling feeds, and leaves us with more clutter in our heads about how others are parsing the world and their experiences, rather than how we are experiencing it ourselves. Let’s extricate ourselves from the narrative — it is what it is.

Technology has taught mindfulness to thousands. Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm help many regularly carve out time for themselves, all while changing stigmas about who meditates and why. Virtual therapy is rising too — Ginger.io and Talkspace are able to connect more people with therapists that wouldn’t otherwise do so. But with meditation and virtual therapy, technology is merely used as a connective tool — a new way to distribute practices and services whose models already exist.

Photo: Alexey Menschikov
Let’s expand our understanding of how technology can provide mindful experiences, and what we want them to help us with.

I use Headspace because it makes me legitimize the practice of doing nothing. It motivates me to take the time to sit in stillness, and it’s effective in guiding me to a place of more self-awareness. The awareness that helps me be a better, kinder, and calmer person with others and with myself. But it’s a partial solution — a first stepping stone — towards what I crave. I don’t want to cope with challenging thoughts and emotions, I want to move past them.

Mindfulness helps us be self-aware, but I’d argue it’s not what millennials today want most. We want to simply be who we know we are. As a generation, many of us aren’t sure how to get there. I want that external version of myself to mimic who I know I am on the inside. Call it cliche. When we train our ability to self-perceive, we clarify the understanding of who we are internally, but that doesn’t mean we’ve adjusted our external realities to match. Next comes the hard part: accepting the flawed version of what is, and working towards building a new external model.

Art: Jim Warren
There’s a limit to the self-awareness we can generate in our own heads. At a certain point, we need feedback from third person perspective to find blind spots and unconscious biases that exist beyond what we see from proprioception, self-awareness, and self-study. And we’re all holding a thing that can offer us third person perspective all day everyday — our phones.

What if technology could echo back our own behavior and thought processes to give us a new awareness of our own minds? What if it’s the thing that could unlock new levels of consciousness, when the data it holds about us and our behaviors is shared back, rather than sent off to the individual companies that collect it for their own purposes? What if technology can be the very think to help us metabolize stale thought patterns into new perspectives for self-growth?

Technology isn’t the enemy of the mindful. It’s an untapped ally we can design as a new mirror of ourselves. It can and will give us new forms of awareness that might just help us process what we’ve never been able to see or sense alone.

The real question is — are we ready to let tech show us our blind spots?