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Stanford Calming Tech Center Wants to Keep Technology from Stressing Us out

by Paul Strauss

One thing that I’ve personally experienced from living the always-connected 21st century lifestyle – your gadgets can stress you out. Whether it’s the pressure that you constantly need to check email, or that your boss might text you at three in the morning, it’s become almost impossible to distance yourself from the stressors of work and life if you’re carrying a smartphone. Now, a group of technologists at Stanford are working on a program to help decrease the stress caused by technology – and by life in general.

calming_tech

The Stanford Calming Tech Center is focused on research and development of technologies which can help us better manage our stress, while decreasing the likelihood that gadgets become an added source of stress. I was recently introduced to this budding program while attending Further with Ford, an annual event which shares not only the auto manufacturer’s vision for the future, but provides access to technology and design thought-leaders to share their insights.

The Calming Tech program was founded by Neema Moraveji, who says that the stresses caused by our gadgets can affect your breathing. There’s even evidence that shows that checking your email can cause the same sort of irregular breathing caused by our fight-or-flight mechanism. So how can we decrease our stress levels in the connected world? While you could lock your devices away, that’s not always practical.

What Moraveji proposes is that we leverage our gadgets to help us live more consciously – through practices such as breathing exercises and meditation. His research shows that the introduction of “calmors” such as music, intentional distractions, and moments of mindfulness can make a difference. Among their projects, the Calming Tech team is working on a system called BreathAware, a biofeedback device that pairs with your wireless device to help you manage your breathing throughout the day.

In addition, the team is working on ideas for user interfaces which reduce stress, as well as tools which let users know how frequently they’re performing common tasks like reading emails. The lab also offers a regular course called “d.compress – Designing Calm,” which encourages students to create interactive technologies which reduce, rather than introduce stress.

It’s a very interesting field of study, and one well worth pursuing in my opinion. While I’m all for pervasive technology and connectivity, it is important that we don’t let them add new forms of stress to our lives.




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