Meditation and mindfulness practices have now become mainstream, we speak about it openly now, in the street with our friends and on social media, it's no longer for the young hipsters!
There are a plethora of apps and related tech to choose from, and these apps provide guided meditations, tracks for relaxation, and reminders to take mindful moments throughout your day.
On the surface, this seems like a great way to help people incorporate meditation into their busy lives, especially if they have, or are going through, some kind of physical or mental trauma (though one leads to another in most cases).
But, there is a fundamental problem with how most meditation apps are designed - they are optimised to keep users hooked and retained in their system, rather than truly teaching meditation skills.
The business models of most meditation apps rely on recurring subscriptions and streaks. They make you feel like you need to meditate every single day and try to instill a sense of “failing” or breaking a streak if you miss a day.
This has the potential to attach unhelpful pressure and guilt to the practice.
Meditation should not feel like a chore you need to check off each day. Also, the apps often gamify meditation with achievements, badges, and milestones. While game design can motivate usage, it does not effectively teach the nuances and deeper purpose behind meditation.
Most of the content is simplified, introductory material that never progresses.
What is missing is a true sense of developing mindfulness as a life skill. That takes time, patience, and wisdom - it is a lifelong journey. Reducing meditation down to 5 or 10 minute guided sessions actually misses much of the point.
Also, relying on an app to always be the provider of your meditation neglects the insights that can unfold when you sit in silence.
The Buddha did not need a digital app to reach enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
Of course, technology can be leveraged skilfully to share meditation. However, we must be cautious of how certain app dynamics cultivate dependency rather than self-sufficient inner growth.
Design choices stem from the underlying business models. The solution is not to demonize technology, but rather re-align it to support genuine mindfulness more holistically. Apps could teach a curriculum on meditative skills and philosophy.
Reminders could be framed as encouragement rather than pressure for streaks.
Progression could track inner realisations, not just number of sessions completed, so we must be wary of how some subtle design decisions in apps today exploit certain addictive tendencies in the human mind.
With more wisdom, meditation apps could actually deliver on their lofty promises of transforming lives through mindfulness.