Imagine a social media platform that had nothing to do with status or performance. One that you didn’t mindlessly check more than you check in with yourself, and one that didn’t leave you self-critical or angry at the world every time you signed off. A new app called Landed, currently in beta-testing, aims to achieve just that. 

Landed connects users one-on-one via a specific and limited course of action: sending audio messages back and forth. The first message is always a response to the prompt, “Name three things you were grateful for in the last week.” Users are also given the option to share a challenging experience. They log in on Sunday and have until Monday at 8 p.m. in their local time zone to submit their message. On Tuesday, they’ll receive an audio message from their randomly assigned match for the week. After that, the matched pair can act like digital penpals, sending voice messages back and forth for the rest of the week, if they choose. On Sunday, all records of the conversation disappear. 

“It’s a little bit Buddhist in the way that you’re not holding on to this person for any type of future relationship. Nor do you have a past with this person,” says Sagar Bhatt, the app’s creator. Bhatt likens the exchange to a conversation between two people on a plane—a temporary relationship that usually ends upon arrival. Many studies have concluded that talking to strangers can be good for one’s well-being; Landed taps into that but takes things one step further by removing as many distractions as possible.

Without any visuals such as buttons or the option to follow someone, the app is intended to foster attention and personal connection. Bhatt didn’t necessarily set out to launch a mindfulness app, but in its own way, Landed kind of is one. Landed is also, importantly, an app for practicing gratitude

“A true gratitude practice, when done skillfully, brings you closer to the truth, rather than further away from it, because we tend to have a negativity bias,” Bhatt explains. “Our view of our own well-being often dwells on envy, resentment, everything we don’t have, and everything that’s going wrong. We often overlook the very basic things that are nourishing us.”

Gratitude is also an effective way to connect.

“If left to our own devices, we don’t always know how to talk to each other,” Bhatt says. The hope is that Landed’s simple instructions to focus on gratitude, combined with the absence of other features, will cut through any pretense and give users a more direct path of contact with one another.

As Bhatt puts it, “You’re not getting someone’s opinion, you’re not getting someone’s take on the news, you’re not getting someone’s performance.” 

Bhatt, who isn’t a developer but a comedian by trade, happens to know something about performance. But when he started opening up to audiences on stage and exploring some of his own anxiety and self-defeating impulses, as he says, he became increasingly interested in moving away from performing and closer to deepening his internal exploration. A mindfulness practitioner for ten years at that point, he decided to do a teacher training program with the Interdependence Project in New York City. In January 2021, he launched a podcast called The Anxiety Lab about how mindfulness and Buddhist wisdom can help relieve anxiety, and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he started cooking up the idea for Landed. It’s his “latest exploration of ideas,” as he puts it.

A fan of audio messages as a medium, Bhatt prefers voice notes to text messages and is known to send the former back and forth with friends. “I always feel like there’s so much more of me that the person is receiving than if I’m just sending a text. It’s the pauses, the awkwardness, the subtleties, the stumbling around—that’s when you’re really contacting someone’s humaneness.”

When he conceived of an app that would send voice messages back and forth between individuals, he tried out his idea by sending anonymous messages from one friend to another. “The response was electric,” he recalls. Next, he thought about starting with a gratitude prompt, and he’s been Beta-testing his app ever since. 

I tried out Landed last week, and as someone who admittedly resists conversations with strangers, I wasn’t sure how I’d respond. On Sunday, when I answered the prompt, I was grateful, as it were, to be held accountable for a gratitude practice I’ve always aspired to maintain. When I listened to my match’s audio message on Tuesday, I was surprised to find so much value in hearing someone else’s list. It was an unexpected level I hadn’t really considered ahead of time, but it was an immediate mood booster and made me feel grateful all over again. When my match followed up with another message, I didn’t respond right away. I didn’t want to. But over the course of the day I felt more and more intrigued and gave it a go. I may not continue to converse with matches, but I’m already looking forward to sharing and receiving messages of gratitude next week. The continued conversation is a bonus option, and maybe I’ll feel more talkative next week. But the initial recitation and receival of gratitude is enough; it’s quite powerful on its own. 

It was liberating and even a little disorienting to try a social or messaging app that doesn’t measure anything or incentivize the construction of a self-image. “The Buddhist teaching that clinging to the self causes suffering is so apparent in most social media dynamics, where we get to present a false self to another person, then believe our false self,” Bhatt says. That Landed manages to avoid that reification of the self while simultaneously fostering personal connection is a feat. It’s one for which users, like my match for the week, who made a point of saying as much, will be grateful.

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