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How do we live a life less digitally saturated?
You've probably figured out by now that I'm a big fan of turning devices OFF. (Or, at least to airplane mode.) I've got an entire website dedicated to my quest for a more analog life.
As I've struggled to find a balance between online and real life, I've read a lot of books. Here are the ones I've found the most helpful. (Some of them are downright revolutionary!)
These books explain the many reasons* much better than I can...
First Person (and very present)
Great memoirs from a fellow traveler:
The End of Absence and Solitude by Michael Harris are two of my favorite books of the last few years. These memoirs resonated with the part of me that has been grieving a disappearing world. It was a world without devices in public or at dinner tables or in the park. It was a world that allowed us to wonder about questions for a while, instead of immediately checking Google. It was a world that brought opportunities for revelation and inventiveness disguised as boredom. Now, we avoid boredom by staring at continually updated streams of "content." Now, we no longer daydream, we scroll.
If you're nodding your head right now, you need to read these books.
It's not that Harris wants to go back to a time before the Internet. He's not a neo-Luddite or an anti-technology zealot. He longs for the beauty of a former world that is not necessarily better because of the tech that replaced it. He and a growing number of us mourn the loss of solitude, stillness and wonder. It's not that we don't want the Internet. We just don't want it to be ever present and always ON.
Don't Say He Didn't Warn Us
What tech is doing to us:
I'm not going to sugar-coat this author recommendation... Nicholas Carr is harsh and will freak you out. But I think it's important that we look at how technology is changing what it means to be human.
In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Carr lays out a frankly terrifying argument for logging off as much as possible. Yes, Google is making you stupid, and Carr has the receipts to prove it.
A finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, The Shallows has been described as a kind of Silent Spring for the literary mind.
The Glass Cage: How Computers are Changing Us picks up where The Shallows leaves off, and it might be even more disturbing in its analysis.
The Glass Cage goes beneath the surface of smart tech, robotics and self-driving cars to explore the hidden costs of granting software dominion over virtually all aspects of our lives. Yes, after reading this book you'll be shouting "Alexa! Go away!"
Carr explores the history that brought us to our current, dizzyingly digital place -- from nineteenth century textile mills all the way to modern jets flown on autopilot. (Guess what? Autopilot is making pilots less capable of actually flying planes.)
I don't really know what to do with the information in this book since Big Tech is hell-bent on adding AI to everything, but I appreciate the warning. I am now avoiding a lot of the "smart" technology that seems to be making everyone stupid.
I consider both of Carr's books must-reads.
We Can Fix Things
Getting back to deep work and digital minimalism:
Cal Newport is a millennial with no social media who has managed to have a very happy life and a very successful career. His books showed me that what I thought was innocent phone use was instead a compulsive behavior that had damaged my ability to deeply focus.
My phone was undermining my creativity and writing ability. It was even affecting my memory. I didn't realize it, and I would have laughed and thought you were crazy if you suggested it, but it's true. (Read more about my story here.)
These books were my first steps toward reclaiming my mind and jump-starting my creative soul! Newport is the Marie Kondo of the digital world, and his books won't scare you like Carr's. Read these for hope, especially if you can't handle Carr's dystopian thesis. You'll find the step-by-step plan you need to get back to being able to concentrate, create and dive deep into your work without having to shun all technology or cut the electricity to your house. You can find a way to live more digitally minimal without necessarily deleting your accounts. (But for God's sake delete Facebook. I mean REALLY.)
By the way: the audio versions of Newport's books are great!
Say it With Me: I am Powerless Before Tech
Why we're all addicted to our devices...
Reading Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter finally removed any notion I might have had that constant internet and phone use is innocuous. Sorry guys ... there's no getting around the data. Our digital tech is addictive, and designed to keep all of us logging on, scrolling and hitting those like buttons.
Our devices aren't just tools of convenience, they are drivers of behavioral addiction. According to diagnostic criteria, at least half of the American public is addicted to at least one digital behavior.
Alter explains how to get the digital monkeys off your back and mitigate the damaging effects on your well-being, health and happiness.
Read this to educate yourself. If you're a parent, read this to save your kids.
(You can watch all three of the above authors speak here.)
They've Got You, and They Aren't Letting Go
How Big Tech Keeps Our Attention...and Why:
The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads is a fascinating history of media manipulation. They might not have been able to data-mine us, but advertisers and merchants have been tricking us into paying attention for decades. In our present information economy where we are plugged into virtually unlimited information (and misinformation,) our attention has become the ultimate commodity. Each time we stare at our screens we are barraged with efforts to harvest our attention.
Tim Wu's deep dive into the nitty gritty of this dirty business is a tour de force, and well worth your time. (Revelation: this isn't a new thing, but the industries that thrive on our attention have finally found the perfect technology to capture us. Think about it... when are you not on your phone?)
This book really helped me understand our current information age, and why it is about much more than information.
I loved the audio version of it, too.
Toward a life analog...
Getting Back to Basics
The beauty and value of analog things:
If you love vinyl records, film photography and fountain pens, you'll adore The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax. In this gleeful celebration of stuff-not-digital, Sax writes about some of the wonderful analog-era things that experts tried to convince us we no longer wanted. Guess what? Those experts were wrong! We want them!
Sax reveals a deep truth about how humans shop, interact, think and feel. Those of you reeling from the fizzle of a failed tech utopia will love all the stories in this book. In case after case, the analog is outselling the app and the tangible is surpassing the virtual. Sax covers success stories from entrepreneurs to small business and all the way up to big corporations. Time will tell how it shakes out, but Sax offers plenty of evidence to support the idea of a world that happily includes both paper books and Audible, both Candy Crush and wooden chess boards, both online and in person, both virtual and real.
There is a big future in things we thought were in the past, and I'm there for it.
Find these and many more #slowtech book recommendations in my library section of lifeanalog.com.
*the many reasons to unplug: breaking or avoiding addiction, rewiring synapses to deeply focus, healing thumb tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, improving creativity, enabling "Eureka" moments of insight, elevating mood, optimizing close relationships, facilitating more meaningful communication, avoiding surveillance, limiting propaganda, opting out of data-mining and excessive advertising, stepping away from social media echo-chambers, rejoining your local community, improving health, allowing deep work, promoting more restful sleep, mastering more skills, rediscovering wonder, feeling more human...just to name a few.