(2020-04-30) Matuschak On Guided Meditation App

Andy Matuschak ponders meditation apps.

Guided meditation apps are naturally spread over time

Meditation’s insights unfold slowly. Aspirants are typically advised to practice daily. Over weeks and months

A Book on meditation isn’t well-suited to this kind of slow unfurling

But a Guided meditation app’s experience is stretched out in time

This is an unusual property for a mass medium: Mass mediums mostly lack an authored time dimension beyond a day.

Mass mediums mostly lack an authored time dimension beyond a day

Filmmakers, composers, and playwrights carefully author the time dimension of their work. A pregnant pause, a slow-burn conflict, and an accelerando feel the way they do because of how they’re experienced by viewers over time. Those mediums express a few hours’ evolving experience—but what about days, months, years? Cultural institutions often author their experiences over those time scales (e.g. multi-year religious coming-of-age rituals), but mass mediums rarely do.

Books often take weeks or months to read. But books almost never have an authored time dimension like that of films or plays

Cohorted MOOCs introduce a longer time dimension, but it’s largely unauthored

MOOC instructional materials often “unlock” over time, but the material doesn’t meaningfully interact with that timeline.

By contrast, consider Rinpoche and David Chapman’s Aro meditation course. It’s a sequence of 18+ emails, one automatically sent each week after you sign up. But the emails aren’t written like MOOC materials: the passing weeks are carefully woven into each letter. They spiral back, returning to earlier ideas as a refresher after a few weeks have passed.

Games with high replay value are explicitly designed with second, minute, hour, day, and month+ timelines

Guided meditation apps bundle instruction with daily sessions

This experience puts the focus on the activity itself, rather than the lesson, which is delivered peripherally.

The inverted meditation framing is powerful because Enabling environments focus on doing what’s enabled.

Some other activities which are structured like meditation in this way:

  • team sports: you show up to play with your team, but your coach likely uses that context to deliver some day-specific drills or instructions
  • likewise with orchestras and choirs, I suspect
  • physical fitness classes: you’re really showing up to work out, not to “take a class,” even though there is an instructor who may deliver new “instructional material” every day
  • in the case of Peloton et al, this is actually a mass medium
  • martial arts?

Guided meditation apps deliver enacted experiences in a mass medium

You’re not going to learn by waiting for the meditation teacher to “make you enlightened”: you have to put in the time on the cushion, receptive to your own sensations. All that said, while these experiences might feel self-authored, meditation lessons are in fact structured to bring them about. This makes meditation lessons an interesting example of an Enacted experience.

these meditation apps scale beautifully: they’re a mass medium.

Guided meditation apps deliver enabling environments in a mass medium

Much more than typical “learning apps,” a Guided meditation app is often a legitimate Enabling environment.

They’re focused on actually doing the thing:

The activities aren’t some bitter pill you need to swallow: even early sessions fulfill an intrinsically meaningful purpose.

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