It’s time for a better leisure life

Issue #63

Happy Friday! This week I share some thoughts on rethinking leisure. There’s the usual selection of articles grabbing my attention around the web. And I share some book notes on a fabulous novel I’ve just finished. Enjoy 😊 –Sam

First thoughts

In last week’s book notes on Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism I didn’t get to cover one key aspect of the book. And that is the importance of a healthy leisure life. 

The premise is simple. If we want to be able to minimise the role of technology in our lives, we need to fill it with other, better activities. Without this, we’ll inevitably succumb to the temptation to fill every bored moment with more glances at our screens.

Newport actually argues that we should make plans for a better leisure life before we start digital decluttering.

As to a higher quality leisure life, we should focus on demanding activity over passive consumption. Binge-watching Netflix is not high-quality leisure. Sorry!

So what is? Craft is a good example. And this doesn’t have to be making something. It could be behaviours too, such as learning a song on the guitar. Fixing or building things is good too. Newport suggests we learn new handy skills on a regular basis.

What else? Rich social activities. This could be playing board games. Social fitness. A charitable project with others.

There are two criteria for these rich social activities. First, it’s about spending time with other people in person. And second, there is an activity with some sort of structure that goes with the social interaction. 

In other words, it’s about doing something meaningful with others. 

How do we move towards this kind of richer leisure life? Join stuff! A volunteer group. A choir. A social fitness group. A theatre group. A church. There are lots of opportunities. And, ironically perhaps, technology makes it easier than ever to find out about them. 

What about lower-quality leisure, like Netflix? It’s fine. To a degree. But we should schedule it. Have set times – and a set amount of time – where we allow ourselves these moments of lower-quality leisure.

If this all sounds challenging, it’s because it is. For me at least. But I’m convinced the rewards of better leisure life are worth it.

Insightful articles

1. Digital minimalism for parents

Without wanting to appear too much of a Cal Newport fan boy, this recent article explores what digital minimalism looks like when you’re raising kids. Expect to be challenged!
Cal Newport, blog post

2. ‘I don’t like your work’

We all need to be reminded sometimes that if someone doesn’t like our work, it doesn’t mean they don’t like us. The ever-wise Seth Godin reminds us that, ‘if someone cares enough to dislike our work, the best response is, “thank you.”’
Seth Godin, blog post

3. The group that broke British politics

Forgive the political interlude, but this is a thought-provoking look at the damage Jacob Rees-Mogg and the European Research Group have done to British politics. Regardless of politic viewpoint, ‘the ERG has normalised behaviour that a few years ago would have been seen as unacceptable.’
The Economist

4. The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America

This is a brutal, insightful piece. To which John Gruber rightly observes: ‘there is something fundamentally wrong with a platform that – while operating exactly as designed – requires thousands of employees to crush their own souls.’
Casey Newton, The Verge

Book notes

The Story of a New Name

by Elena Ferrante

It’s several years since I read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. That novel, now an HBO television series, is the first of her set of four ‘Neapolitan’ novels. 

I read My Brilliant Friend at a time when I was rediscovering fiction after years of reading very little. I enjoyed the book. Really enjoyed it. But I didn’t feel like I had to keep reading the series.

It was watching HBO’s brilliant adaption of that first book recently that brought the story back to mind. And entering again into the lives of Elena Greco and Lina Cerullo – the two main characters – got me wanting to carry on with the story.

And so I’ve just finished book two, The Story of a New Name

It is unusual in a series of books that I ever like a subsequent book more than the first. But this is one of those rare instances. I enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait to start the third.

The books follow the lives of Elena and Lina, two friends, growing up in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950s. And the telling of the story of the ups and downs of their lives, and their friendship, is mesmerising.

Trying to describe the storyline feels impossible. I don’t feel I can come close to doing it justice. And, in truth, it is the richness of the characters, the depth of them, that makes the book impossible to put down. 

Ferrante’s writing is compelling. Her ability to capture the emotion and intensity of friendship, relationships, love, growing up, and more is stunning. 

I can’t put into words fully the why of my love for this book. I can only say that love it I did. If you’re looking for something rich, deep, profound, and enthralling, Ferrante’s Neapolitan series is worth your time.