Overcoming our digital addiction

Issue #62

Good afternoon! This week sees the launch of a new mini-interview section. Each week a different person will answer the same seven thought-provoking questions. There’s also my book notes on Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, and my selection of articles from around the web. And, in ‘first thoughts,’ I share some of the recent changes to my spiritual practices. Enjoy 😊 –Sam

First thoughts

I've started doing the sign of the cross recently. Once or twice a day I pause for a moment and cross myself. 

Despite being involved in church my whole life, I've always been in churches where this kind of action was deemed ‘religious’. And not in a good way. 

Religious practices like these were mere rituals. We ‘better’ Christians had a relationship with God and didn't need such things. 

The same applied to practices like kneeling. Prayer was about a conversation with God – you don't need to kneel to do that.

Prayer was always spontaneous too. We said our prayers. Reading prayers from something like the Book of Common prayer was lifeless in our minds. Why would we use someone else's words to talk to God?

And yet, these last few years, some of these ‘religious’ practices have become sources of life for me. All while the spontaneous, personal relationship approach has lost much of its meaning. 

Making the sign of the cross has become a powerful means of centering for me. It offers me a moment to pause and remind myself of my true identity. And that I'm part of something much bigger than just me, myself, and I. 

The prayers written by others have become a great source of inspiration too. J Philip Newell’s prayers in Sounds of the Eternal have become part of my daily life – both for me and my family. 

I say all that to say this. I went through a several years feeling lost. The spiritual approach that had sustained me most of my life wasn't working for me anymore. But I didn't know any other way. 

It's been a true joy to discover many of these other ancient spiritual practices. And to realise that there can be as much life in these as there were the practices that sustained me in the past.

Insightful articles

  1. Steve Jobs never wanted us to use our iPhones like this
    When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he didn’t envisage us using them they way we do today. Newport argues we’d benefit from going back to Jobs’ original vision: ‘If you return this innovation to its original limited role, you’ll get more out of both your phone and your life.’
    Cal Newport, New York Times

  2. Huge study finds professors’ attitudes affect students’ grades
    “If a student has the perception, for any reason, that they aren’t expected to succeed, that can drain enough motivation to ensure that they don’t.”
    Scott Johnson, Ars Technica

  3. The science of better meetings
    Meetings are necessary but rarely fulfilling. They usually last too long and are mostly enjoyed by the person leading the meeting. Those attending? Not so much. Interestingly, ‘sit-down meetings last 35% longer than those held standing up, with no gains in effectiveness.’ This is just one of various interesting ideas for improving meetings.
    Steven G. Rogelberg, Wall Street Journal

  4. Do we write differently on a screen?
    I loved this essay, exploring the impact of technology on the writing process. Parks concludes by saying, ‘Curiously, the apparent freedom of e-mail and the Internet makes us more and more conformist as we talk to each other unceasingly.’
    Tim Parks, New Yorker

Book notes

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Sometimes you read a book, and it can be a great book, but it doesn’t change anything. You’re glad you read it, but life carries on as it was before. I don’t think that’s possible with Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. In fact, you’re very likely to come away with an action plan. And a pretty revolutionary one at that.

Regular readers of this newsletter will have noticed my move towards digital minimalism for some time. And in many ways, reading the book has validated practices I’ve been integrating over the last year or so. But this has challenged and prodded me even further.

It’s worth stressing that digital minimalism isn’t about becoming anti-technology. It’s about being intentional about our use of technology and putting it in service of our life values.

And that’s a critical point. This book is not a collection of tips and tricks for trying to be a little less addicted to our smartphones and social media. There are some great ideas to take away. But that, Newport argues, is not where to start. 

Technology’s hold over us is too great to resolve with a few tweaks here and there. We succumb to our smartphones and social media accounts not because we’re lazy or weak but because these tools are designed to get us addicted.

So we need what Newport calls a philosophy of technology use. We only use those tools that explicitly support our values and then happily miss out on everything else. That there is some value in many of these tools, doesn’t justify their use. Digital minimalists have higher requirements before embracing a service or app.

When it comes to actually starting to make changes, Newport says we need to be radical. Gradually changing habits doesn’t work. He suggests start by taking a 30 day break from all optional technologies. And we have to make sure we’re strict about what we label optional! 

If not using an app, website, or service for 30 days won’t significantly disrupt or harm our personal or professional life, it’s fine to quit for 30 days. We mustn’t confuse something being convenient with something being critical.

Then – and this is key – during this period, we need to identify other meaningful activities and behaviours. In other words, we need to fill that time we’re saving with something else that’s satisfying. 

The third step, at the end of the 30 days, with a new perspective, is to slowly reintroduce those technologies that truly match our values. And only those. 

On paper it sounds easy. But we all know that’s not the reality. So why is it necessary?

A key reason we all need to rethink our use of technology is because it is undermining our human need for solitude. And solitude isn’t about being alone. It is, according to Newport, a ‘subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.’ 

In other words, we need time alone with our thoughts. It’s critical to our well-being. And technology is massively undermining our time alone with our own thoughts. The iPod arrived and many of us now live with headphones streaming music in our ears. The smartphone arrived and we can’t stop glancing at our screens. We don’t give ourselves a moment to be bored. We fill our minds with stuff non-stop. 

How do we counteract this? Newport proposes – shock, horror – sometimes going out without our phones. And having time each day away from our phones. He also suggests we make time for long walks (without our phones!) so we have space to be alone with our thoughts. And then he encourages writing in a notebook. Collecting thoughts. Processing complicated decisions or hard emotions. Or capturing a surge of inspiration.

There is much more that Newport covers, but I hope this provides something of a taster of the book. This book is timely. Its arrival is necessary for these days we’re living in. Anyone interacting daily with technology and social media will find it helpful.

We won’t all want to become digital minimalists, of course. But I’m convinced we’d all find it helpful to ensure our use of technology is intentional.

Interesting people

Octavio Cesar Martinez lives in Whittier, California and is an author and speaker. Formerly, he was an Account Executive, Chaplain and Pastor. His books include ‘Habits: Six Steps to the Art of Influence’ and ‘It Was A Beautiful Day When My Father Died’.

What’s a book you’ve read – recently or otherwise – that has significantly affected how you see the world?

FACTFULNESS: 10 Reason Why We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

This book confirmed what I suspected, things are not as bad as we think, and on a global scale, actually better than we think. Written by Hans Rosling – of TED talk fame – who clearly lays out how our instincts to believe the worse contributes to our incorrect conclusions. 

What’s the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve had to overcome in getting to where you are today?

Ha… myself. I think this may true of most people. WE are our worse critics, and often plagued by self doubt, fear. Pushing through that has been the biggest obstacle and challenge.

Second, believing the work that matters to you, will matter to someone else. As a speaker, teacher and author, this is the next obstacle and challenge. 

What aspect of your job is the most interesting?

Learning how people think, grow and thrive.

What's a goal or dream you have that you haven't pursued yet?

I wish to complete a Masters in art history, and become a better representational artist.

What cause or issue are you personally passionate about at the moment?

I am committed to the growth and freedom and every person.

I am committed to helping people find the best versions of themselves.

What do you do when you’re in need of joy, peace, calm, or focus?

Work… so I will…
create a presentation,
or clean my home… kids use to say they knew when dad was in a mood because he would be cleaning the house. 😉

What's something that costs £20 ($25) or less that you think everyone should get?

The Bullet Journal Book.

Stay connected

If you’d like to connect with Octavio, you’ll find him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. His website is OctavioCesarMartinez.com.