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Mindful : October 2018
in service of people’s well-being?” says Gunatillake. “ When you ask that ques- tion, you have to include: How does our notification system support well-being? How about our customer service, or our website, or our marketing strategy, or our email campaigns? All of that is as much a part of the product as guided audio or a meditation timer or some teaching videos. There’s an opportu- nity to recog nize that meditation is more than just content.” Of the many ways to make mind- fulness apps more inherently mindful, Gunatillake is most excited about improvements to social networking settings. Earlier this year, Buddhify launched what Gunatillake informally calls “karaoke meditation,” where people meditate in a room together while one of them reads a script off their phone. “ We provide the expert content, and they provide the voice. We want to really create experiences for people face-to-face.” Apps could also encourage users to contemplate how they’ll incorporate mindfulness into their life outside of the app. For instance, experts suggest that you set an intention up front. “ Why are you interested in meditation in the first place?” asks Brewer. “ Know what progress is and look for progress. Start with your pain points and see if your suffering is relieved. If so, great. If not, you might try something else.” Meditation teachers also recom- mend trying different styles, including in-person meditation, and finding opportunities to ask questions. As Richard Davidson explains, “Every shred of scientific research we have certainly indicates that one size will not fit all.” Different programs and apps will show you how to use mindfulness in different ways. That variety can be good for maintaining a playful atti- tude about meditation and learning to integrate it into your life in different ways. Gunatillake says developers could include lessons on why mind- fulness works and how to employ it in everyday life. If you understand how it works, “you can start applying it to everything,” says Gunatillake. “Every time you notice yourself being distracted by advertisements on the subway, you’re reminded to come back. These are things that an app can support you to do.” The real value of apps might be in helping users see mindfulness as part of their lives. But when a meditation app becomes just another habit, like checking email, it risks becoming less mindfulness training and more so just another piece of technology taking up headspace. Learning to be mindful in the world is a habit worth cultivat- ing—whether or not apps are the way to get there. After all, Gunatillake says, “There’s no such thing as digital mindfulness. There’s just mindfulness.” ● chief science officer at Headspace in 2017. “I’m interested in trying to advance the science of meditation. The research you are going to see come out of Headspace is going to have sample sizes upwards of several thousand people.” Even though research means that Headspace opens itself up to nega- tive findings, like in Chris Noone’s sham meditation study, Bell says the company is prepared for that. “ We’re trying to advance the understanding of how Headspace can impact people,” says Bell. “It’s not going to be a pana- cea. We know that it’s helpful for a lot of different things. But part of doing the science and being transparent is publishing those negative results.” Research findings can be used to advance society’s understand- ing of the mind and improve the apps themselves. Researchers have already started identifying areas for improvement in mainstream mind- fulness apps. In one study, users reported features like notifications to be demotivating. Gunatillake says it’s important for mindfulness experts and business- people to work more closely together. “ Very few products are asking teachers to help create the product,” says Guna- tillake. “That’s a big opportunity. If the meditation teachers were actively involved in the design decisions, they’d ask questions like ‘How does this noti- fication system make you feel?’” “As a mindfulness app developer, we have to ask: How is everything we do Apps could encourage users to contemplate how they’ll incorporate mindfulness into their life outside of the app. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sam Littlefair writes for Mindful about social trends and is the editor of LionsRoar.com. October 2018 mindful 67 mindful tech