Keep Calm and Carry on

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On: September 22, 2019
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Digital media has provided our society with endless amounts of information and previously unimaginable connectivity; however, this comes with the cost of constant distractions that have become overwhelming to the everyday user. From texts, to emails, to push notifications from various social media accounts, smartphone users are relentlessly distracted from day-to-day tasks and constantly hit with potential stress triggers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many people are turning to mindfulness apps such as Calm to train themselves to destress and reduce anxiety. But this action stirs the debate: is new media technology actually improving our wellbeing or possibly causing harm to it?

Digital media has provided our society with endless amounts of information and previously unimaginable connectivity; however, this comes with the cost of constant distractions that have become overwhelming to the everyday user. From texts, to emails, to push notifications from various social media accounts, smartphone users are relentlessly distracted from day-to-day tasks and constantly hit with potential stress triggers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many people are turning to mindfulness apps such as Calm to train themselves to destress and reduce anxiety. But this action stirs the debate: is new media technology actually improving our wellbeing or possibly causing harm to it?

Before I begin to argue the advancements of Calm and why it should be your mindfulness app of choice, I first have to address the question, “What is mindfulness and why is it important?” Mindfulness is much more than just breathing and meditating. Mindfulness is the mental technique of being aware of one’s feelings, thoughts, and body sensations by being present in the moment. It is a skill that needs to be developed through practice. According to the Journal of Happiness Studies, “brief mindfulness training has a beneficial impact on several aspects of psychosocial well-being, and that smartphone apps are an effective delivery medium for mindfulness training,” (Howells). 

Established in 2012, Calm has become one of the leading mindfulness apps available and was even voted by the Center for Humane Technology as “the world’s happiest app.” It is designed to strengthen mental fitness by tackling some of the biggest mental health challenges of today, including: stress, anxiety, insomnia, and depression. When you first enter the platform, you are given the option to choose your reason for seeking this training; whether it be better sleep, develop gratitude, build self esteem, reduce stress, etc. This gives the app a better idea of what content to present to you. With over 100 sleep stories, sleep music, meditation lessons, nature sounds, and much more, this app is a hard one to compete with. They even have famous guest readers such as Stephen Fry, Bob Ross, and Matthew McConaughey. 

The most popular feature on Calm is a 10-minute meditation called, ‘The Daily Calm,’ explores a fresh mindful theme and inspiring concept every day. Before starting this meditation, the app encourages users to cut down potential distractions by using headphones and switching their phone to airplane mode / do not disturb mode before pressing ‘play.’ Additionally, the app creates positive reinforcement for continuous practice of mindfulness through celebratory banners and badges, and invitations to share your stats publicly. All of these features are reasons why this app is miles ahead of any of the other competing mindfulness apps. 

I know what you’re thinking, “Ok Calm sounds cool, but why use an app instead of seeking guidance from an actual instructor?” The answer to this is simply because of cost and convenience. According to a Scientific Reports article, “Mindfulness apps provide 24/7 access to mindfulness-based practice. Interactive mobile applications and aesthetically pleasing and well-designed apps are likely to be more effective in engaging the user in regular mindfulness practice,” (Gorman). Of course there is no comparison to the training of a personal psychologist, who can mold their guidance based on your specific life events and personal needs. However, this takes a lot of time and money. If you’re looking to build and maintain a self care foundation everyday, then Calm is an appropriate alternative. Marcos Economides confirms this in his article by stating, “relative to in-person training, digital mediums are wider-reaching, demand less time, are more affordable, and may be more engaging. Digital mediums therefore have wide-reaching potential for improving public health,” (Economides). 

Another important question to answer in this media debate is: if smartphones and apps are constantly distracting us and stressing us out, then why would we use them to improve mindfulness? To answer this I must first clarify that smartphones and apps are not necessarily an “evil” medium. What I mean by this is a smartphone is just that, a phone. It’s how we as users manipulate the medium (the smartphone) and interpret its messages, that makes them good or bad. Consequently, I would argue that in many ways it’s up to users of smartphones whether they build mindfulness with these apps, or sucume to a barrage of stress triggers.  

The final obvious question that I need to answer is, “If we are to promote mindfulness and be present, then why not just put the phone down?” For most people, this is easier said than done. Have you ever found yourself picking up your phone and then soon finding yourself in some endless scroll on Instagram? This is true for most smartphone users because smartphones and their apps are designed to be addictive, so they are extremely hard to put down. The idea of the mindfulness apps, such as Calm, is to harness this addictive device to form more positive habits. This again ties back to the user choosing to manipulate the medium for “good.” 

In conclusion, I would like to state that although technology does have some negative impacts on society such as stress triggers I ultimately believe that it has more positives which can be used to promote well-being. Because smartphones are an organically unbiased medium, it is up to how the users manipulate them whether they are used for “good” or “bad”. Although mindfulness apps are are not perfect by any means, I don’t find them hurtful to the user and think they are a great accessory towards living a healthier life. Mindfulness is important, but it is hard to maintain without guidance and practice, so I recommend you should keep Calm (if you already have it) and carry on living your mindful life. 

Citations: 

“About.” Calm Blog, https://www.calm.com/blog/about.

“App Ratings.” Center for Humane Technology, https://humanetech.com/resources/app-ratings/.

Calm. “Daily Calm | 10 Minute Mindfulness Meditation | Be Present.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Oct. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZToicYcHIOU.

Economides, Marcos, et al. “Improvements in Stress, Affect, and Irritability Following Brief Use of a Mindfulness-Based Smartphone App: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Mindfulness, vol. 9, no. 5, Jan. 2018, pp. 1584–1593., doi:10.1007/s12671-018-0905-4.

Gans, Joshua. “Managing Disruption.” The Disruption Dilemma, 2016, pp. 65–82., doi:10.7551/mitpress/9780262034487.003.0005.

Gorman, Thomas E., and C. Shawn Green. “Short-Term Mindfulness Intervention Reduces the Negative Attentional Effects Associated with Heavy Media Multitasking.” Scientific Reports, vol. 6, no. 1, 2016, doi:10.1038/srep24542.

Heinemeyer, Annika. “Can We ‘Unplug Online’? The Paradox of Meditation Apps and Mindfulness.” Masters of Media, 23 Sept. 2018, https://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/blog/2018/09/23/can-we-unplug-online-the-paradox-of-meditation-apps-and-mindfulness/.

Howells, Annika, et al. “Putting the ‘App’ in Happiness: A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Smartphone-Based Mindfulness Intervention to Enhance Wellbeing.” Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, 2014, pp. 163–185., doi:10.1007/s10902-014-9589-1.

Mani, Madhavan, et al. “Review and Evaluation of Mindfulness-Based IPhone Apps.” JMIR MHealth and UHealth, vol. 3, no. 3, 2015, doi:10.2196/mhealth.4328.

Ruiz, Rebecca. “One Woman’s Quest to Find the Right Meditation App in a Messed-up World.” Mashable, 1 Feb. 2018, https://mashable.com/2018/02/01/best-meditation-apps-mindfulness/?europe=true#Sfnv_tadcmqy.

Tunney, Conall, et al. “Comparing Young Peoples Experience of Technology-Delivered v. Face-to-Face Mindfulness and Relaxation: Two-Armed Qualitative Focus Group Study.” British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 210, no. 4, 2017, pp. 284–289., doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.115.172783.

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