One hundred and sixty years before the advent of social media, the Pope’s Global Prayer Network existed as a network of millions of Catholics around the world, all praying for a single purpose. In the modern era, it has evolved alongside technology: now you can literally see this network on Google Maps. The Vatican has its own video department which broadcasts messages from the pope himself. And an offshoot called Click to Pray literally lets you click to pray. The website lists causes the pope has prioritized, and much like Facebook’s Like button, you can tap it to add your prayer to a feed. In short, the Vatican has sped into the future when it comes to technology adoption.
But now the Catholic Church is taking advantage of technology more than ever by offering its first wearable. Called the eRosary, it’s kind of like a Fitbit for your spiritual health. It’s a $110 bracelet with 10 obsidian beads and a cross. The idea is the same as with any other rosary: that when you say prayers, your fingers follow the beads until you reach the end of the string and know you are done. But unlike the rosaries we’ve had for thousands of years, the eRosary was designed and developed by technology company Acer. You begin a prayer session by making the sign of the cross. That’s when an accelerometer inside detects movement, connects to your phone via Bluetooth and kicks off your session, tracking your progress as you go.
If you wish, the iOS and Android app allows you to follow the prayers displayed on the screen via audio. She will also teach you how to use the rosary in the first place. If you prefer a quieter experience, it looks like the app will track your activity invisibly, keeping track of your prayer like any fitness app would. (And in fact, the eRosary also tracks your steps, so it can easily replace any activity tracker you might be wearing.)
It should be noted that many Catholics are already using digital apps instead of physical rosaries. But far beyond Catholicism, disparate religions around the world, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, all use prayer beads to help guide people in prayer. It is amazing to watch this phenomenon unfold in such different regions and cultures for millennia, as if humanity itself had developed the perfect interface for worship and reflection using nothing other than a modified necklace or bracelet. Using simple beads to keep track of incantations reduces the cognitive load of prayer and creates an experience I would compare to meditation. (Famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once explained such an experience to me as a “microflow”, a kind of semi-focused state like scribbling that could allow the mind to wander and offer people a cleansing of the mental palate.)
It’s easy to be skeptical of any technology, let alone one developed by a church. Yet the truth is that we live in a Wild West of wearables and wellness, and the power of prayer to relieve stress is already well documented. I would buy the eRosary tomorrow, well, if I wasn’t agonistic.