September 19, 2021

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This Book Author Suggests A Radical Step To Deal With Digital Distraction

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Will single-use devices ever make a comeback?

I doubt it, but let’s stay hopeful.

The Amazon Kindle is one good example of a device that is really only intended for book reading. A few years ago, phones that were limited to basic texting and calls were popular, right up until they weren’t popular. I’ve sometimes made a task list on my phone of only the things I know I can finish in a few hours, and nothing more.

A book author named Oliver Burkeman suggests setting those types of limits on our technology, devices, tasks lists, and social media use.

This is counterintuitive to the digitally obsessed. We think we have to be always on, finish every task list, and keep tabs on our social media feeds at all times.

Burkeman hints at using devices and apps that are not as multi-functional and designed for specific tasks as a way to combat the allure of technology, including social media, that makes us think more is always more. 

“Most of us are driven and have self-worth. It is really good to keep track of the things you actually did today,” says Burkeman in a video chat recently. “You are kidding yourself [if you think] spending a day on a thousand things is getting you somewhere.”

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His recent book says setting limits is a natural response to thinking you have to fill up every minute of your day. Instead, he says limiting yourself (and even deciding what you know you won’t finish) is a good match for people with finite brain capacity, skills, and experience at work. Meaning, all of us.

My takeaway from the talk and the book is that it’s a good idea to view social media and other digital tools as finite and meant for a certain type of work, but they won’t help us in every area of life. They are not meant to help us with accounting or earn a degree in college. (With apologies to those earning a degree in social media marketing, if that even exists.) Limited devices with limited functions require limited attention.

In his book, Burkeman says so many things in life are finite, such as money and time. Social media creates the illusion that there are no limits, and that’s obvious to anyone who has checked the total number of tweets sent per day. (It’s about 500 million by the way.) Yet, we could never read them all, connect with everyone, or tweet enough to keep up. Why not set limits on our usage?

“What matters is not how many Facebook profiles you have but how many profiles link to yours,” he says, suggesting that the pursuit of those connections is never ending. There is always someone else out there who needs to know about you. Billions of people.

I like the entire concept of the book. We are finite people. We are limited, so we might as well accept that now. We can’t read all of the tweets. Why not read only a handful? The allure is always that we have unlimited time and can accomplish everything, which then leads to a life that is about accomplishing nothing because we’re trying to do it all.

After reading his book and watching his video, I am now about to go back to a finite view of technology. I might even buy a Kindle again.

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