Your attention is a precious commodity. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to capture and hold it, and there have never been more ways
Your attention is a precious commodity. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to capture and hold it, and there have never been more ways for companies to do so. But is the ever-expanding universe of apps actually making us happier and more productive? Or is it just making us more neurotic and stressed, constantly pulling us away from more important things?
This is a problem that the developers of a growing number of mindfulness apps want to help us solve. Instead of encouraging users to check their social media feeds and email a thousand times per day – or swipe, watch, and play until they drop – these apps ask them to slow down and appreciate the present moment.
Stephen Sokoler is the founder and CEO of Journey Meditation, and he explains why mindfulness apps are becoming more and more popular: “In today’s hectic, unpredictable world, people are feeling increasingly isolated, lonely, and stressed out. In turn, they’re seeking the proper tools to help them achieve a happier, less stressed life.” Sokoler also points to emerging research on the psychological benefits of meditation, as well as the rising number of testimonials from people who’ve benefited from their own practice.
The success of companies like Journey Meditation, Calm, and Headspace tells us something about today’s consumers: They’re looking for a reprieve from the incessant distractions and addictions that we’ve all come to accept. In this way, the self-inflicted problems of sensory overload and perpetual distraction can be fixed in the same way they were caused – through a change in consumer expectations and demands.
The market for mindfulness apps is exploding
In the first quarter of 2018, the top ten mindfulness apps generated 170 percent more revenue than they did in the first quarter of 2017. The leading meditation app, Calm, saw a four-fold increase in revenue in 2018 and has been downloaded more than 40 million times. After raising $88 million in its Series B funding round, Calm is worth $1 billion.
According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proportion of Americans who meditate surged between 2012 and 2017 – from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent. While it’s likely that this growth has been partly driven by the increasing availability of meditation and other wellness apps, it’s also possible that growing consumer demand has given developers an incentive to create the apps.
Companies are filling new niches in the meditation and wellness industry. For example, Journey Meditation started as a meditation service for corporations and other organizations (including Facebook, Morgan Stanley, and the Harlem Children’s Zone), but it now offers live-streaming group meditation sessions through its Journey LIVE app. By providing meditation sessions with a diverse group of experienced teachers within a supportive and inclusive community of fellow meditators, Journey LIVE gives meditators a unique group experience in an industry largely dominated by solo apps.
No matter how Americans meditate, it’s clear that the market for mindfulness apps is only going to continue to grow.
Possible reasons why mindfulness is on the rise
According to Deloitte, Americans are viewing their smartphones an average of 52 times per day. These devices have practically become extensions of ourselves, and although they’re invaluable tools for communication, productivity and entertainment, they can also cause frayed attention spans, spiked stress levels, and a whole lot of other problems.
The Pew Research Center reports that “45 percent of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis,” and much of this time is spent on social media.
However, just 31 percent of American teenagers say social media has had a “mostly positive effect” on people their age. Almost 25 percent say social media has had a “mostly negative effect,” citing bullying, a lack of in-person contact, “unrealistic views of others’ lives,” and addiction. A 2019 study in the Lancet found that extensive social media use could have a negative impact on the mental health of young people. Psychologist Jean Twenge says her research indicates that teenagers who “spent more time online or social media or on electronic devices also were more likely to be depressed and anxious and have risk factors for suicide.”
While these aren’t reasons to demonize smartphones, social media, or the other apps we use so often, they’re warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored.
How can mindfulness apps help?
It would be impossible to summarize the research on the health effects of meditation, but there’s evidence that meditation has many benefits. For example, a 2016 study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that meditation can reduce pain, while a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that meditation improved anxiety, depression, and pain.
As the research on meditation continues to come in, there are other reasons to embrace the growing emphasis on mindfulness apps. By turning our smartphones into instruments for improving our psychological well-being, companies like Calm and Journey are trying to reverse the disturbing trends outlined above. It’s not just Millennials and Gen Zers who are heavy smartphone and social media users – older generations have rapidly adopted these technologies as well. As Pew notes, the proportion of Baby Boomers who own smartphones rose from 25 percent in 2011 to 67 percent in 2018.
Although young smartphone owners are more likely to use meditation apps, 15.9 percent of Americans aged 45 to 64 say they meditate – an even higher proportion than the 18 to 44 age group. Even Americans 65 and older report that they meditate just as often as Millennials and Gen Zers. By providing users with lessons and meditations they can access from anywhere, supportive communities, and ways to track and schedule their practice, apps are making mindfulness more accessible than ever.
But more importantly, they’re contributing to the growing awareness that our smartphones can be used to reduce the distractions in our lives and help us focus – rather than doing the opposite. As consumers become more aware of the negative effects of technology they use every day, they’ll continue to search for tools that will help them slow down and enjoy their lives.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
This article is from Inc.com