Be Smart(er) about Your Tech with These Books
About what we've lost, how to quit our phones, and how to get back to brilliance
With the news of the world being what it is for the last *checks watch* decade, I’ve found myself pulling further away from the internet—and especially my phone.
It hasn’t been easy. Katie Hawkins-Gaar wrote in her beautiful newsletter My Sweet Dumb Brain about her own journey, which sounds idyllic to me, but is just as difficult. This line really struck me: “Abandoning the chore of being on social media feels like I suddenly stopped showing up to work.” Yes. I feel this, exactly.
What feels like eons ago but was actually only four years ago, being constantly online was literally my job. I worked on the copy desk of a newspaper and often had the nation/world shift, which required a semblance of understanding of, well, everything going on in the nation and world. My Twitter feed became the worst place to be. The internet was work.
Bo Burnham’s Inside (remember when I was obsessed last summer?) and The Social Dilemma, a documentary that interviews a swath of former Silicon Valley giants about the dangers of social media, have spurred me into action. When the people who created the thing don’t allow their children to use the thing, you should maybe follow their lead.
As a gal who once launched her parents into a spiral of anxiety when her Find My Friends dot stopped moving in the middle of the interstate during a snowstorm, I felt this article about location tracking apps real hard. The goal is to make your parents or spouse or kids feel like they know you’re safe. You don’t need to send a text saying you made it home—they just watched your little dot make its way there. But if one day your phone dies or you leave it on the bus, it has the opposite effect. Same goes if your dot is at home but you don’t answer your phone. We’re simultaneously hyper-connected and disconnected from each other.
The most common refrain about the attention economy is this: If the thing you’re using is free, then you are not the customer. You are the product. Your attention is being bought. Your sense of safety and well-being is at the whim of someone else—or worse, the algorithm.
So let’s fight it. These three books have been especially eye-opening for me.
100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet by Pamela Paul
This delightful collection of short essays covers the seemingly mundane facets of life that no longer exist. The kitchen phone. High school reunions. Letters to the editor. Paul doesn’t take crotchety stances on these things; she’s merely reminiscing on things and sensations that have rapidly changed as technology has grown.
How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price
If you’re looking for comprehensive guide on severing from your phone, this is it. The immediate action I took from this book was so simple: Turn off the badge icon on any app other than phone and messages. I no longer have a red balloon screaming at me to open my email or Instagram or GrubHub or anything and it’s so freeing.
Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi
I read Bored and Brilliant years ago and still think about all the time. Our devices have shattered the ability for us to feel bored. Every moment is commodified. Our brains no longer wander. Each chapter is filled with science and psychology and includes steps to take to win back your boredom.
📚 Because I can’t stop reading books about tech, I made a Bookshop list with even more that I’ve read and found insightful or helpful.
Do you have a favorite book about the internet or social media or surveillance capitalism? Please tell me all about it and how it’s changed your views (or not) in the comments!
The 20 Most Influential Memoirs of All Time (Book Riot)
I tasked myself with whittling down a massive list of “memoirs I really love” to “the 20 most influential memoirs,” and now, I present to you the fruits of my labor.
If you like smart, spicy takes about the lit world, the hustle, pop culture, and money, you need Not Controversial in your life. Every week Nia Carnelio sends out a thoughtful piece about things that aren’t supposed to be controversial but still are. A recent favorite: No rest for wicked (or anyone really).
In case you missed ’em, or want to peep the archives:
Last month, I asked y’all for your favorite books about creativity and Betsy Marro, who writes Spark, a newsletter about books and writing, had a delightful response: “I, too, loved Steal Like an Artist. I’ve given it as a gift to several people and keep reading it before I give it away.” What a great little gift tradition!
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Thank you for the shoutout, Ashley! 🥰 Figuring out my relationship with technology and social media is an ongoing challenge. I love that you’re thinking deeply about this!
Loved your list of memoirs. I've only read a couple of them. I need to do better than that!