Lately, I have been reading a lot about the use of smartphones and their impact on everything from our attention span to our ability to bond with our children. As someone who works in a communications role, in the technology sector – I know first-hand how all-consuming digital technology can be. It has made me curious about practical ways we can try to break these relatively new habits… and what might be compelling enough to make us want to do so.
Let’s just give it some perspective. According to recent research by Pew, almost 80% of adults in the US own a smartphone. Half of all young adults live in a household with three or more smartphones. In the UK, more than half of everyone surveyed in a report by Deloitte look at their phone within 15 minutes of waking, and for most smartphone owners, checking their phones is among the first and last things they do in a day. In the US, 12% of smartphone users believe it is ok to use it during a family dinner. There is credible research that shows a strong correlation between ‘screen activity’ and an increase in teen depression, including suicide attempts.
It speaks volumes that a former well-respected manager at Google has created a movement to create awareness about the dangers of the ‘attention economy’
It speaks volumes that a former well-respected manager at Google has created a movement (Time Well Spent) to create awareness about the dangers of the ‘attention economy’ and the constant drive to suck people in (all driven by advertising revenue – if you want to read more about it this is a good post). He’s campaigning for tech companies to act more ethically and acknowledge the dangerous paradigm these applications (like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram an Snapchat) are creating. One could write an essay about the dangers, but what can we do to start combatting the effects of the ‘digital attention crisis’ today?
“Sooner or later, everything old is new again” Stephen King
People often dismiss Hipster culture as just another passing fad, with the word used to describe someone as overly trendy or pretentious (sorry, hipsters), but I think it demonstrates a real craving for things that are real. It signals a return to an appreciation for things that require the investment of time – single origin coffee, artisanal food, comfortable, informal meeting places that inspire long and thoughtful conversations. It’s all the things we have lost in our relentless pursuit for faster, better, and smarter… everything. And you know what else we’ve lost? Our love of books.
Don’t get me wrong, many people today have an insatiable desire for information, but few make the time to delve deep into a book. While I have nothing against the likes of Blinkist and Get Abstract (in fact I either use or have used both), they make it easy for us to submit to our desire for instant gratification. And in some ways, they also deprive us of the deep thought and reflection that comes with reading a whole book, taking time to reflect on it, discuss it, challenge it and make notes about it.
As a lifelong book lover, I had a long and complicated battle with myself when I first moved over to Kindle. Eventually, I did it because it enabled me to feed my love of books anywhere and everywhere. But I can’t bring myself to read my books on the Kindle app on my iPad. Or if I try, I notice that the pull of Facebook, Instagram, my email or even house-hunting apps that are just one click away – is too strong to resist.
“The book you don’t read, won’t help.” Jim Rohn
I’ve given lots of thought to how I can help inspire people to read – and to get over the ‘I don’t have time’ hurdle. I’ve written before about the values of reading for leadership. Primarily with business people in mind, if you find yourself looking down more than you look up (or into the eyes of another human) it might be interesting to run a little experiment with yourself. Try reading just one of these recommended books below, and make a little note of how often you refer to it (or even think about it) in the weeks when you are reading it (or in the four weeks after). I think you might be surprised.
A beautifully written and utterly unputdownable glimpse into our future, by the writer of the bestselling Sapiens (in fact, if you haven’t read Sapiens, you might want to start with that first). Author Dr Yuval Noah Harari has a PhD in History from the University of Oxford and now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specialising in world history. This book is guaranteed to challenge your thinking in your business, and in life in general. It WILL make you smarter.
This will make for uncomfortable reading for many people – or, at least it did for me. It’s the detailed story behind one of this decade’s most high profile sexual discrimination cases, told by the woman at the heart of the case, investor Ellen Pao (formerly of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers). If you want to know more before you pick it up, you can see our review here.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Including this book here was inspired by the fact that our book review of it was the most popular review on our blog in 2017. The topic has clearly hit a nerve. This is more of a life book than a business book. Mark Manson’s rude but terrific insight into life will open your eyes and make you think about things in an entirely different way. It’s as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Be warned – not for people who don’t like swearing.
So there you have it. Our little attempt to inspire more reading, more thinking, and more time spent disconnected from the digital deluge. If you read any of these, drop us a note in the comments below – we’d love to know what you think.