Ari Qayumi

Definition of Mindful Technology on a whiteboard

What is Mindful Technology?

Mindful Technology is an exciting new field with enormous potential. It’s so new, that much of it is still evolving and taking shape as it’s being implemented, tested, validated, and continuously studied. So how can we discuss something that’s still relatively in flux? Carefully. I would argue that these discussions are even more important because they will set the context and to some degree the path for how this field evolves over many decades to come.

How do we define mindful technology?

When we say “mindful technology”, we are talking about the technology system, not the user – the system. Mindful Technology is technology designed to help people change their behavior in the positive way that they want while also moving toward achieving their goals over time, across a wide range of environments, and ultimately, in a way that helps them fulfill their aspirations as defined by them.

The goal of mindful technology is to create a system that supports and empowers the user from a full-stack perspective. From the frontend collecting data from the user, the middleware enforcing logic, and distributing data to a backend running machine learning models, it’s important to figure out what change the user wants to effect and what they care about for why they are using your product.

Mindful Technology is technology designed to change behavior sustainably by:

  1. Evaluating one’s judgment and decision-making models.
  2. Disrupting automatic tendencies to create space to choose a different response.
  3. Offering a specific behavior sequence to be automated away for a specified time period/threshold.

The benefits of this are immediately apparent. Imagine the apps on your computer and phone working to enhance your attention on what you deem important, rather than detracting from it with things you’re not interested in. Now imagine that you get to agree with your team in advance to define what is important for your group’s success and it can be used to help you stay interested in things that you might be feeling burnt out about but are important for leveling up.

Why Do We Even Need It?

Before you shelf this with healing crystals and tarot cards, you need to understand that it’s already happening.

Technology is already changing our behavior – and oftentimes for worse. You can find multiple studies demonstrating a strong link between heavy social media use and increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc. Technology is so pervasively changing our behavior that we’ve added words to our vocabulary to describe them. Who hasn’t engaged in “doomscrolling”, and you probably don’t go a day without “googling” something.

With the negative effects of technology rollouts increasingly being required study metrics, startups in-market have started to be evaluated in ways that they never anticipated impacting their fair market value and the ones who are leading are changing how they design their offerings from persuasive to mindful technology.

What Does Mindful Technology Look Like?

Mindful technology is technology that creates a pause between the moment a user engages in a behavior and enables the user to choose whether they want to engage in this behavior, if they want this behavior to become a regular habit, or if they want this behavior to translate into an action instead of a behavior.

This enables designers to make sure they are making the behavior that the user wants to do, and is in the interest of the user, easier to perform, rather than what is most common today, where the user is doing the behavior that the designer thinks the user wants to perform (or more prevalently, what the company has told the designer to do to get the user to change their behavior) without receiving clarification (or feedback) from the user that this is what the user wants to do and has confirmed is in their best interest.

What does this mean in a practical sense? We’re all familiar with video platforms, that as soon as the show or movie ends, they give us about 3-5 seconds before jumping into the next one. This facilitates watching the next show, but it also promotes binge-watching (another term created by technology-induced behaviors). We lose track of time, hours can go by, we ate all the chips and most of the ice cream, and later we feel guilty that we didn’t get more done.

What if instead of doing so, the app knew how much time you’d like to spend consuming content and reminded you when you hit that threshold instead of just feeding you the next program? Or suggested programs of a length that are in accordance with the schedule you’ve defined for watching? It would be working with you to achieve the goals that you’ve defined.

What if your audio service understood that you’d like to spend some portion of your day learning? Instead of suggesting Ariana Grande’s next hit, it could provide a podcast on the topic you’ve chosen for that portion of your day. You’d feel more fulfilled for accomplishing your goal and the app would have helped you complete it.

Some of these wouldn’t even require considerable changes to the applications themselves, but even these small front end changes could have a tremendous positive impact on people’s lives

Measuring Success

Mindful Technology accounts for adding value to a user’s life given the amount of time well spent that it creates both in the short and long-term, as well as in their on-screen and off-screen lifestyles. The end result is that it helps people change their behavior now to map to and realize a digital habit profile that helps them achieve their future on-screen and off-screen behaviors, aspirations, and goals.

We can recalibrate what success means for users, as defined by users, and within applications by designing the technology to answer the following questions:

  • Does the technology enable cross-platform functionality and omnichannel data transfer?
  • Does the technology collect auditable user and system data before applying analysis?
  • Does the technology empower users with front-end actionable intelligence to provide feedback (or clarification) prior to analysis?
  • Does the technology enable users with the ability to mark what behaviors on the frontend UI/UX per module are rewarding versus which are distracting / energy sucking without impacting the original data set?
  • Does the technology show the user the behavior change benefits the system has provided to the user since the user has been using the technology?