Funneling a steady stream of diversions straight to your pocket, smartphones are often cast as the ultimate distractors. But a
What if they could act as mentors in mindfulness, helping users stay attentive in order to achieve particular goals?
That's the challenge
Singh, who grew up in
"In our culture today, we often don't have scarcity of food or gadgets or knowledge. The scarcity has shifted to mindfulness," Singh said. "We may know we should do something, but we are not always able to do it. The goal of this course was to bring harmony between what we know and what do."
Humans forget. Under stress, we can fail to take the steps we intend to, Singh says. But smartphones don't operate that way.
"And there are a billion of them in use today worldwide," he said. "They could deliver reminder technologies, or they could observe, teach, anticipate or help users perform best practices on a regular basis."
The apps the students developed in this first class focused on delivering messages to users at a set time or place. An app called Balance, targeted to senior citizens, offers easy and routine access to short exercise videos that could improve coordination and prevent falls. WeeAddition guides women through pregnancy. Joggle is a collaborative art, poetry and music app that could encourage creativity.
And College Granny aimed to help students balance studying and socializing, and develop healthy habits in both parts of their lives. The user can set the app to remind him or her at appropriate times to go to sleep, take a study break or quit after just one game of beer pong, for example. The reminders are more than words on a screen. They're one-frame comics--"nonconfrontational" messages delivered by a costumed college student in a curly gray wig.
"The app would be able to have a constant, almost living presence in the user's life, and could thus help them form their decisions even more than if it were just a browsing app," said
The team plans to continue working on the app and potentially make it available to the public, as does the group that developed Joggle.
"I think the course changed the way I view technology," said
Singh sees the class as the beginning of a new platform. He's not the first to envision these beneficial uses of smartphones--wellness apps are popular downloads already. He thinks the concept could turn into something bigger because of the do-it-yourself app program that Singh created with
"We believe it's unique in that that it offers the ability to make multimedia content and a basic, but fully functioning app without traditional coding skills," Hinckley said. "We're not aware of anything like it."
The app template lets creators develop apps that push content to users at specific points in time or space. These apps greet users, give them options to view content or reschedule, and also lets them give feedback. Singh envisions uses in fields including medicine and education. Doctors and nurses could use it to monitor patients or encourage them to stick to recommendations. Foreign language teachers and students could use it to provide a stream of vocabulary that could help users based on where they are.
"Technology," Singh said, "can be a great behavior changer."
TNS 30TagarumaMar-131224-4588067 30TagarumaMar
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