My brother is a Seattle-based high tech guy whose job I cannot explain, let alone fully appreciate. Something to do with architecture software and languages. When he tries to tell me about it, I often get lost. But he’s patient, I’m a willing student, and sometimes we reach a Venn diagram overlap of understanding.
Even though he’s a techie in his work, he’s a Luddite in some ways. He still uses a flip phone for calls and texts. That’s it. No social media, no news, no movies. We’ve teased him for years but he loves his retro phone, partly for its simplicity and the pocket of isolation it gives him.
He’s not pinged with headlines or reminders. And recently, I realized he might be on to something.
As our relationship to technology becomes ever more complex and the range of products and services seem overwhelming, I’m finding evidence that some people want out or to scale back.
In his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” Cal Newport claims that we spend too much time doing “shallow work,” where we are distracted, doing email or interacting with our phones in ways that don’t add value to our organizations or our lives.
What he describes as deep work, in contrast, demands focus and chunks of time and can yield high performance and value. In essence, it involves creating pockets of isolation to generate major gains. Removing distractions like social media, according to Newport, helps free up the time and brain space we need for deep work.
So maybe my brother has the right attitude: go simpler on tech, gain pockets of isolation, and spend more effort on what will matter in the long term. Might give it a try.
Nancy Napier is a distinguished professor at Boise State University; firstname.lastname@example.org.