Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Technology Can Really Help Me Stay Mindful

Almost every week now, a new mindfulness app comes out, with the goal to use tech to get me to practice more. I love mindfulness, I love tech. And I also think tech people have not yet figured out how to best serve people like myself. As with any new technology, the first thing is to figure out the psychology of the user. What is it that I need as a practitioner?

I will tell you first what I don't need. I do not need another fancy timer, the one in my iPhone is good enough. I do not need another website to go to, to find other fellows to sit with. I've got Twitter and #wannasit or #OMCru with the advantage of flexibility and simplicity. I do not need a counter to keep track of how many minutes I spend meditating. This is not a competition. I do not need tech to tell me when, where, how much, and with whom to practice.

Where tech can be helpful, though, is in mitigating the potential hazards from tech use itself. What I need are built in mechanisms for all the online worlds I visit, that remind me when I have gotten lost.  I want a google app that 'knows' and can warn me when I have been surfing mindlessly for too long. I want a Facebook app that lets me know when I have been spending a bit too much time looking at my friends' pages, or visited the site too many times in one day.  I want a Twitter app that keeps my visits to a predetermined (by me) number every day . . . Of course, there is a glitch. My intention to use tech more wisely goes in the face of advertisers' goals to keep me online longer, and outside of my habitual realms. 

What are your thoughts on mindfulness and tech?

26 comments:

  1. I find guided meditation apps - like headspace - very helpful. I guess they are like water-wings or bicycle stabilisers...not great for advanced users but supportive to beginners like me.

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  2. Sounds like you want a papanca monitor. ;-) Actually, tech for me brings the ability to connect with people I might not normally connect with and it also allows me to see a wider view - one which points out the universality of suffering, of our habits of clinging and identification... It's a way for me to see externally (and internally) that nothing is really worth clinging to as "I," "me," or "mine" as I see the suffering that arises in relation to those acquisitions of identity.

    I have to rely on my own mindfulness (or lack thereof) to remember (sati) to be present, to see when I'm lost and to come back. While tech could be helpful on that regard, I think then, it would be easy to rely on that technology and get complacent - like relying on a GPS, rather than my own capacity to bring myself back. It also means that I have the responsibility... to own the consequences of my actions.


    Just my thoughts... for whatever they're worth!

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  3. Dear Marguerite,

    I've been thinking about installing a mindfulness bell on my computer for the very same reasons (mindless surfing, etc). After reading this today I did a search and found this site.

    http://www.mindfulnessdc.org/bell/index.html

    As I was concerned about downloading any .exe files, I was happy to see that no download is required.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Namaste,
    Peg

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  4. Interesting perspective on the use of technology to moderate the use of technology in our daily life so we can be more mindful. The challenge is how to deliver such an app(?) / service(?) without it becoming one more thing one has to pay attention to. I think it's a great idea worth exploring further.

    I wouldn't say that this approach is a glitch, I don't see our purpose online to serve advertisers :)

    Bob

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  5. Dear Bob, the way I see it such technology has to find us and dance with us, and not be one more thing. It has blend seamlessly into the user experience, and enhance it rather than burden.

    Agree with you that it is not 'our' purpose to serve advertisers, but ads are certainly how Facebook and Google make their money . . .

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  6. Peg, I am gladdened by your intention to bring more intention into your 'life' online!

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  7. Dharmadancer, I see your point, and I also don't think such technology can be a substitute for one's effort with practice. At best, it can help make us aware of our mindlessness, which can be a good thing. And I am with you, regarding the huge gift of technology, and how it has opened our world, broken down artificial frontiers, and given us the opportunity to be with worldwide sangha.

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  8. 'Anonymous', we each have to find what works for us, don't we? And as you point out, our needs are likely to evolve over time. That certainly has been the case for me. Evershifting 'I', and experience moment-to-moment :)

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  9. Such good timing that I found this post. I was just getting highly frustrated trying to figure out this biofeedback device my doctor wanted me to try. So technology was definitely stressing me out when it was supposed to be doing the opposite!

    But more to your point, I use a very low-tech way of keeping track of what I'm doing online--a notebook by my computer. I try to write what I'm going on the computer for, note how long I've been on it, etc. Too often I open up the laptop for one thing, completely forget what I was doing, get lost in something else... The simple notebook helps me be more mindful, and accountable for my time.

    I'm glad I found your blog!

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  10. Nice low-tech solution. How long have you been using the notebook? I wonder how sustainable it is over time.

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  11. Very nice thoughts Marguerite! I do love my Equanimity timer app- it's so elegant. But I agree that it doesn't help me when I'm "lost" and absorbed in the technology. Someone is going to have to invent these helper technologies who is not trying to cash in on everyone's mindless overuse of tech. A bit of a conundrum... Maybe someone who's already escaped the financial wheel with one of the tech monsters will do it as a humanitarian gesture?

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  12. Thanks, Paul. Nice to 'see' you here . . . Maybe Bob above will be willing to take on the challenge . . . ? :)

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  13. Paul and Marguerite, it's something I am willing to explore but I can't make any promises :) If it is something simple like the IMC mobile calendar I wrote, then yeah it can happen but seeing that the idea requires a comprehensive design approach, I expect it to be a substantial project. We can continue this discussion in tech dharma?

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  14. Hey Marguerite, not sure how useful that is but I remember using http://getconcentrating.com/ to narrow down windows and apps that would get me out of focus. Hope it helps.

    Gael
    gaelblanchemain.com

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  15. Take a look at the words being used in this regard, such as, "rely on" and you will see the state of your personal mindfulness. If mind isn't doing the mindfulness then....

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  16. Merci, Gael. That is good information!

    And thank you for retweeting the HuffPo article on end-of-life care!

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  17. Wendy, I am not quite sure what you mean . . .

    Mind, enabled by practice, is doing the mindfulness for sure.

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  18. Wendy- I hope you were just trying to point out the importance of actually practicing mindfulness rather than expecting technology to do it for you. True, but what is being discussed here, I think, is how technology can be a part of "skillful means" to improve the real-life situations we all find ourselves in, and thereby increase the success of mindfulness practice. Seems reasonable to me.

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  19. Yes, Paul. Thank you for the clarification.

    I also think such technology could help with giving the younger folks, children (via their parents) and teenagers, the tools to be more aware of their online use.

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  20. Bob, yes, let's continue our exploration offline in tech dharma group. By the way, anybody else interested can join us . . . We are planning live meetings in Silicon Valley.

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  21. Marguerite, Dejal's Time Out http://www.dejal.com/timeout/ enables taking breaks from screen time for refreshment, exercise, meditation or simply composure. A free/donation and paid version are available. I like the app being tied to the passage of time, however could see an app based upon a set number of activities being performed. The former helps one be mindful of nourishing one's self while using technology, as well as breaking lost attention, so that the mind can refocus with intention. The latter is accomplishment oriented like an exercise repetition and would bring discipline and awareness of an intention fulfilled. Enough is enough!

    Karen

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  22. Nice, Karen. Agree both are of potential value. It would be great to have an app that encompasses both and more, and that could be customized based on changing individual preferences.

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  23. Very interesting - you might be interested in Time Sink or Active Timer, both are apps that try to hhelp you track how you spend time on your computer :)

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  24. Thanks, Kyle. This is great. Adding to the bucket of suggestions here . . .

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  25. Just wanted to drop a comment and say I am new to your blog and really like what I am reading. Technology is growing very fast

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  26. Hi Marguerite, I like your post and the way you speak about the technology industry not really understanding what we (as practitioners of meditation) really need - perhaps because they don't meditate enough :-)

    You said you would welcome technology that would remind you to be mindful when you browse the internet. I think there will be programmes soon which will measure your breathing and/or brain activity and will remind you of taking a breath or change your behaviour when you 'get lost'. Linda Stone is somebody really promoting the idea of mindfulness-promoting technology (http://blog.jonudell.net/2010/05/03/talking-with-linda-stone-about-coherent-breathing-and-human-performance/)

    I look forward to your other posts>

    Miro Cansky
    http://www.mindfulness4all.co.uk/

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