02/06/2016 04:23 BST | Updated 02/06/2017 06:12 BST

For People Who Want to Use Reading for Mindfulness, Our App Provides Literary Prescriptions


Slaves to technology

Technology controls more and more of our time. Smartphone use is still rising and according to some reports averages almost one third of our waking hours. At home and at work, we increasingly live from distraction to distraction, whether it's the latest celebrity spat on Twitter or breaking news on Donald Trump's most recent gaff. The pressure to keep on top of all of this information, despite its dubious importance and the inevitable FOMO, takes its toll. At the same time, social media encourages us to present polished versions of ourselves with recent research showing that the more time young adults spend on Facebook and Instagram, the more likely they are to feel depressed.

Tech to the rescue!

In spite of this, we can see trends of technology offering solutions too. There are apps that allow us disconnect or slow down, such as Headspace, the mindfulness app claiming over six million users. There's also rise in the Slow Living movement which espouses a more connected and attentive way of living. Led by the magazine Delayed Gratification, Slow Journalism is also on the rise and offers it's readers wider perspective and context in place of breaking news.

But what are the options if mindfulness isn't for you? A simple alternative is reading fiction. Part of the growing tech-­for-­good movement, is an online bibliotherapy service offering personalised literary prescriptions to readers around the world. It's service offers many of the same benefits as meditation as well as the chance to connect with others and get a fresh perspective on life's challenges via literature.

Whilst the UK is a leading light in the reading­for­wellbeing movement, many initiatives are small and local. By offering their service online, Biblio is seeking to make the benefits of bibliotherapy available to a much larger audience.

The service is powered not by algorithms, but by a community of real people, from librarians to counsellors who believe that there is a book for every aspect of the human condition and that reading changes everything. The evidence is compelling with studies showing that after just six minutes of silent reading, participants' heart rates slowed and tension in their muscles eased up to 68%.

By allowing users to connect anonymously online, the service allows people to talk one to one about what's really going on for them in a safe, empathetic and confidential space. Many users choose to share intimate details of their life with their bibliotherapist and the recommendations act as conduits for the conversation. The books also offer an opportunity in which to rehearse, revisit and reflect upon difficult experiences seen through the eyes of others. Technology enables users from all corners of the world to exchange messages at any time and to discuss what they've read, in effect acting as a private digital book club.

One of the team of volunteer curators, Julia Webb, a poet and currently writer in residence at Norwich Market, says "I enjoy the opportunity to connect with my readers, find out what's going on in their lives, and share my love of reading. I'm surprised by quite how much I enjoy the process and I await reader's responses to my suggestions eagerly. I often find myself wishing to re­read books that I'm recommending too."

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