Breathing room: time and attention scarcity and the place of mindfulness in a technology rich classroom
Technology has the power to distract us from the troubles of everyday life. Effective media providers harness attention, passing it along, in a digital stream of unreflective stimulation. This brings about the unsettling, yet well observed paradox that young people seem passionately engaged in meaningless diversions. Mindfulness practices offer one alternative to this type of distraction. Mindfulness is an ancient meditative practice that is gaining popular and scientific support as a proven method of coping with the stresses of modern life while enhancing well being. The aim of this study was to investigate whether mindfulness practices were compatible with a technology-rich classroom environment. We hypothesized that students might only accept the challenge of mental self-sufficiency inherent in meditative practices if they were delivered in the very mediums to which they have acclimated. The study involved the insertion of exercises from a mindfulness app, a video, and teacher-guided sessions, into the daily routine of urban Montessori middle school students. Data was collected through surveys, interviews, video recordings, case studies and observations. We used the data to examine the process by which mindfulness required a sharp break from the routines and usual tools of school but had to accommodate itself to them as well. We found that although students perceived the potential of mindfulness to help them cultivate peace of mind the enterprise played itself out in uneven and ultimately unquantifiable ways. Study results appeared at the mercy of the unique developmental stage of middle school students they often complained about meditating when we did it, and desired it when we did not. Furthermore, they revealed the promise and confusion of offering mindfulness to adolescents who have a tenuous sense of self to use as a touchstone during meditation in the first place.