Technology for meditation: It sounds like a paradox, right? The whole point of meditation, in a sense, is to unplug. And yet, meditation tech has become wildly popular over the past year. Apple picked the app Calm, a mindfulness and meditation app, for its app of the year in 2017, and competitors like Headspace have developed loyal followings.
Meditation has never been easy for me, but I’ve been trying it for years, in no small part to get away from the constant distraction of technology. I am particularly hooked on the social media and workflow apps that my phone has made all too convenient. So the idea of using a smartphone and a pair of earbuds to clear my mind always seemed too counterintuitive to even try.
But the meditation tech I encountered at this year’s CES—the largest consumer electronics show in the world—really surprised me. These weren’t your typical apps, which have a supposedly soothing voice whisper in your ear to encourage you to chill out. Rather, I found a pair of brain-reading sunglasses, the Lowdown Focus Glasses by Smith Optics.
These shades actually have EEG sensors in the bridge of the nose and behind the ears that read your brain waves. The sunglasses pair with a smartphone app (bear with me) that you use with a pair of headphones. You put the sunglasses on so they touch your skin, start the session on the app, and sit quietly. As your brain starts to become more active, you begin to hear a very basic, nonannoying ocean-wave sound. The more distracted you are, the louder the wave sound becomes. It worked, drowning out my thoughts, and allowing me to realize my mind was drifting into things I need not think about. The beauty of this tech was that it wasn’t someone telling me to chill out, which I would find patronizing and obnoxious. The wave brought me to a chill space, a quiet mind. As my brain activity began to reduce, so did the volume of the wave sound. My calmness was rewarded with silence.
Afterward the app showed me a chart, indicating how much I was able to keep my mind quiet. And I feel confident that if I tried again tomorrow, I’d be able to relax even more. The app also has guided meditation options with areas of focus for people who want to do targeted cognitive training, for instance to improve sleep or relaxation or the general ability to improve your focus.
So if you’re like me, and too cool to meditate with just a smartphone app, a pair of brain-reading sunglasses could actually help. At the very least, it’s better than some creepy digital whisper.
Read more of Slate’s coverage of CES 2018.