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Mindful : October 2018
the nature of the app platform influ- ences how those people understand meditation. The so-called mindful- ness industry doesn’t recognize that.” To illustrate his point, Gunatillake points out how Silicon Valley has— intentionally or otherwise—changed the nature of international diplomacy. In 2018, we can’t talk about politics without talking about Twitter, and it’s become evident that Facebook has the power to tip elections. Gunatillake points to four main ways he thinks apps are changing how people understand mindful- ness. First, by using a subscription model (charging almost $100/year in some cases), apps create a culture that relies on dependency and makes people think that mindfulness is a luxury good. Second, the medium of a smartphone encourages the idea that mindfulness is something you do on your own. Third, guided medita- tions make users think that mindful- ness meditation is a passive, g uided activity—not necessarily a tool for engaging in everyday experience. And fourth, the lack of diversity within apps might encourage the idea that there are only a few kinds of meditation, rather than showing users that there are many varieties and formats of meditation and mind- fulness practice. Basically, for millions of meditators today, mindfulness means you pay $10 per month for a mellifluous voice to guide you through a breathing tech- nique on your smartphone. That’s a big shift from what the world thought mindfulness was five years ago. Zindel Segal is one of the creators of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and a corresponding digital program still in development. When designing the program, Segal’s team decided to go with a desktop version to mitigate problems raised by technology, which, he believes, is in some ways inherently obstructive to quality mindfulness training. “ We’re told that people want every- thing on their phones and tablets, and they only have five or ten minutes to digest content,” says Segal. “Here you’ve got the crux of one of the issues of mindfulness and technology: The platforms available to deliver this material are shaped by the attention → cope with stress, let go of fixations, and experience the present moment. Apps more often promote the idea that meditation is simply about either productivity or relaxation. “The whole globalized mindfulness culture has changed in the last five years,” says Rohan Gunatillake, cre- ator of the mindfulness app Buddhify. “For the vast majority of people, med- itation apps are meditation. Full stop.” Along with creating Buddhify, Gunatillake founded a design studio, Mindfulness Every where, which seeks to integrate mindfulness into product design. As a leader in the field of mindfulness, he has sounded the alarm that the popularization of mindfulness apps may be having unintended consequences. Decisions at big companies like Calm and Head- space don’t just affect a product—they fundamentally affect our culture’s understanding of mindfulness. “ When we designed our apps, we were just designing apps.” says Guna- tillake. “ We didn’t realize we were designing a culture. When millions and millions of people have their first experience of meditation with an app, Searching For Mindfulness Apps are catching up to—and even outstripping—other sources for mindfulness, according to internet search data. Google Search Terms Meditation center Meditation app Meditation book Meditation timer 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 SEARCHES October 2018 mindful 63 mindful tech