Why is this interesting? - The Tech and Mindfulness Edition

On meditation, wearable technology, and the future

Colin here. One of the surging areas of interest in the past few years has been meditation and wellness. Apps like Headspace and Calm have seen huge increases in users, and for those who want to take it even further, there are things like 10-day Vipassana retreats which require extreme levels of endurance. A Guardian writer recounted hers, “No matter the pain as you sit, or the fact that your hands and legs fall asleep and that your brain is crying for release. You are instructed to refocus attention on the objective sensations in your body, arising and falling, as you do a scan of your limbs in a specific order. By doing so, over 10 days, you train yourself to stop reacting to the vicissitudes of life.” 

This type of practice is meant to be extreme, but many talk about the life-changing benefits. Although most won’t go that far, it seems like even a little bit of meditation beats the alternatives—a pack of smokes (or now, vape pen), a stiff drink, or painkillers. For that reason I was intrigued to see the launch of a company called Feelmore Labs that developed a device, called the Cove, which claims to lessen anxiety by activating “specific mechanoreceptors in the skin and regulates a deep part of the brain controlling emotions, the insula, which in effect reduces anxiety and stress.” 

The explanation continues

Simply put it on for 20 minutes a day, without interruption to your day, on the way to work, before bed, while you enjoy your morning coffee. The device’s design is sleek, minimal and so subtle that it is almost unnoticeable. Cove will soon release software that allows you to personalize your experience and adjust the frequency to find your ideal wave.

Why is this interesting? 

Some more enlightened people might disagree, but I’ve found maintaining consistency with meditation is difficult. It’s interesting to think about how a subtle, nonobtrusive device-driven stimulus can bring about some of the stress-reducing benefits of meditation, for a wider audience of people. 

The tech will obviously raise the eyebrows of skeptics: is this something better advertised on late-night TV? “Hack your brain waves!” The promise of better living through technology! Naturally, until we’ve tried it, it’s impossible to check the validity of the claims. But two close and credible friends of WITI (one with a particularly bad sleep problem) have tried it for extended periods and have given it a thumbs up. 

The bona fides and the investors behind the app check out. The scientific advisory board is “made up of experts in neuromodulation, mood disorders, and sleep science from Brown University and Harvard Medical School,” according to the company. In terms of clinical testing, the launch materials say: “The Cove device has spent about four years in R&D and been tested more than 3,500 times by individuals in clinical settings, including trials with Butler Hospital at Brown University. In all, more than 90 percent of the participants who used Cove for 30 days experienced a stress reduction of 40 percent, and a sleep quality improvement of nearly 50 percent.” 

For now, color us intrigued at the concept: a wearable to stimulate the body to induce better sleep or reduced stress. And it is easy to see how this could evolve into something customizable based on treating specific issues. But it will be up to much more rigorous product reviewing, more clinical trials, and more scrutiny to see if this space is as promising as it would seem. Today, purported health panaceas through technology are being (rightfully) more scrutinized. This is fine and to be expected. But because of the potential benefits for mental wellbeing, I hope they succeed. (CJN)

Charity of the day

Following yesterday’s explosion in Lebanon, Unicef USA has staff on the ground in Beirut and says it is “helping authorities assess urgently needed medical and vaccine supplies and rushing drinking water to rescue workers at the Beirut port.” The group has set up a donation page. (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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