Four reads to help you kick the screen time habit

Wednesday 12 April 2023

A graphic reading "four reads to help you kick the screen time habit" in a text bubble. The corner of a book can be seen poking into the graphic from off screen.

What’s your screen time average at this week? Four hours a day? Five hours? Is that way too high or are you sitting here thinking “those are rookie numbers”? Inspired by a story in The New York Times about a group of teenagers swearing off smartphones, we thought we’d take a look at some relevant reads for those of us trying to dial back on the phone use.

Stolen Focus - Why You Can't Pay Attention
Johann Hari

Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

A standout section of Stolen Focus is where Hari interviews James Williams, former Google strategist, who says “we should imagine ‘if we had a GPS and it worked fine the first time. But the next time, it took you a few streets away from where you wanted to go. And then later, it took you to a different town.’ All because the advertisers who funded GPS had paid for this to happen. ‘You would never keep using that.’ But socials media works exactly this way. There’s a ‘destination we want to get to, and most of the time it doesn’t actually get us there – it takes us off track. If it was actually navigating us not through informational space but through physical space, we would never keep using it. It would be, by definition, defective’.”

The promise of social media is written on the box. But does social media really bring us closer to friends? Covering not just social media and phone use, but other societal factors harming our ability to focus, Johann Hari has a knack for distilling complex, wide ranging ideas into a compelling singular argument. There’s a case to be made that he diverges from the traditional journalistic model of unbiased reporting and writes from a persuasive, often personal viewpoint that explicitly advocates for a cause, but this is a passionate and affecting book.

How To Break Up With Your Phone
Catherine Price

How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price

Split up into two parts, the first half of How To Break Up With You Phone takes you through the rationale for less phone use with some eye opening statistics and arguments. In part two, you embark on a 30 day plan to use your phone less. If your goal is to take a long hard look at how much you use your phone and aim for more moderate, mindful use, this is a great read.

The Extended Mind - The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain
Anne Murphy Paul

The Extended Mind by Annie Murphy Paul

Nietzsche said “only those thoughts that come by walking have any value”, and one of the unheralded drawbacks of using technology too much is how often we miss out on the cognitive benefits of using our bodies. You hear how a medical practitioner discovers they’re noticeably better at detecting anomalies on an X-ray while on a treadmill, actors perform vast feats of memorisation when the words are connected to a motion, and speakers become more eloquent when making use of gesture.

Here author Annie Murphy Paul expands on these idea with fascinating research and examples that will change the way you think about thinking and have you reexamining where devices fit in with that. If you want a taster check out the interview with her on Ezra Klein’s New York Times podcast, where as Klein puts it, Paul’s book is “a radical critique of not just how we think about thinking, but how we’ve constructed much of our society”.

Digital Minimalism: On Living Better With Less Technology
Cal Newport

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Computer science professor Cal Newport is sort of a productivity guru – but not in that hustle culture, work your way into the ground way. Digital Minimalism makes a case for how many new technologies are actually hindering our ability to produce valuable work. His other book Deep Work is another fantastic read that will change the way you think about work and probably make you want to lock your phone in a safe.

Want more like this? Here’s five bonus reads you can find in our catalogue:

Irresistible : why we can't stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching

The Internet Is Not The Answer

The Know It Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball

Mindf*ck: Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World

The end of absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection 


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