Mental wellness permeates every aspect of our lives. The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) defines it as an active process we consciously engage in to make us resilient and help us flourish. Once established, it becomes a renewable and dynamic resource that we tap to adapt to changes and deal with stressful situations in our daily going. As such, mental wellness is essential to building prosperous communities and societies.
The pandemic has turned mental wellness into an emblem of survival. It has become a trendy term, and a fashionable modality caught on the market web. Innovative and modernized ancient tools from floating tanks to scream therapy, sound boxes, meditation and mindfulness apps, light therapy boxes, sleep trackers, sleep retreats, and forest baths are flooding social networks. And although months of isolation and uncertainty accelerated their market growth, social and economic despair have revealed the inequality in access to mental wellness solutions. Wellness products and services are often pricey, and those who need them the most can’t afford them.
Notably, access to outdoor nature, one of the most effective, low-risk, and proven pathways to improve mental wellness, is inaccessible to many. In the United States alone, 70% of low-income communities live in nature-deprived areas. This figure is 20% higher than the figure for those with moderate or high incomes. Seventy-four percent (74%) of communities of color live in nature-deprived areas, compared with just 23% of white neighborhoods1. Not surprisingly, health metrics among these populations are alarming, affecting our community and taxing our health system and services.
Given this socio-economical nature gap, one can only wonder if those who can benefit the most can count on a dose of nature exposure regularly. Recent entrepreneurial efforts such as NatureQuant crunches data from multiple sources to quantify a person’s daily exposure to outdoor greenery. Among NatureQuant goals is to help its users set weekly goals a-la Fitbit 10K daily steps. The base assumption is that if we can measure it, we can track it. What happens when there is no green exposure to measure? There are some glimpses of hope. Our state legislators are also starting to pay attention. The “Outdoors for All Act” bill was recently introduced in Congress to create a direct funding source for projects to expand outdoor recreational opportunities in urban and low-income communities nationwide. Other efforts such as Children and Nature Network and 10-minute walks focus on revitalizing our communities with increased access to green outdoors.
At Humegy, we are going beyond facilitating access to green spaces to fix our disconnect from nature. Humans have evolved their environment away from the conditions we were designed to inhabit. Be it enfolded by green parks or plain concrete, or dry walls or windows with a view of the sky, wherever you look, somebody is hooked to their screens, mindlessly scrolling on social media and ingesting endless streams of information. A recent study found that the average US adult will spend 44 years staring at screens2. These findings felt comically outrageous to the viewers of Wall-E more than a decade ago; it is our brutal reality today.
Technology addiction touches me profoundly as a nature-lover, a mother of young children, and a technologist. I founded Humegy to tackle this predicament a few months before the pandemic. I found inspiration in my personal story dealing with health issues and the many Americans who live in concrete jungles, underserved communities, and individuals with physical disabilities and limited mobility. I pictured building a tech solution that would help people reconnect with nature even when the circumstances prevented them from being outdoors. I conceive four founding principles for creating such a solution.
- Technology for good: While technological advances have accelerated our progress and capacity beyond our imagination, they have also undermind our wellbeing. Habit-forming solutions built into social media, video games, and other tech spin-offs are at the crux of the current global mental crisis. We pledge to use technology as an enabler, an empowering medium, not a dominant element in renewing the relationship between humans and nature. To achieve this, we will build transparent technology that promotes healthy behaviors toward our immediate environment, wellbeing, and ultimately Earth and society.
- Nature at arms reaches: Bringing natural elements to our intimate living space, such as plants, lessens the impact that socio-economical factors such as limited time and access to the outdoors have on our ability to tap the wellness benefits of nature exposure. Our extensive market research on the indoor plant market reveals how technology aid can tackle the challenges users face in caring for indoor plants. We will build on it through innovation to incorporate indoor plant caring into our wellness routine.
- If we can measure it, we can track it: Thanks to advances in self-tracking technologies, modern users have embraced self-quantization with great success. Think about all the health trackers available in the market today. We will build on these advances to measure and keep track of users’ responsiveness to the caring needs of their plants, thus nurturing and maintaining an engaging relationship between users and their immediate nature that directly translates into improved wellness and wellbeing.
- Connection to nature is second nature, a habit: The tech industry has successfully applied design principles to build habit-forming consumer products. Social media apps have taught the average American to look at their mobile screens hundreds of times a day. Our product will build upon habit-forming design principles to help users create and establish new habits that promote awareness and connection between users and the natural elements (plants) in their immediate surroundings.
The Humegy journey starts here…
2 https://www.visiondirect.co.uk/blog/research-reveals-screen-time-habits GW