Digital Connectivity is Overrated

Image by Simon Hu from Pixabay

Cal Newport relays a story from a reader named Peter who recently visited the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site in Stonewall, Texas. LBJ had a phone installed poolside while serving as president in order to remain accessible. A tour guide told visitors this story, who responded with laughter. We all have phones now. Everywhere.

Newport observes:

In an age of smartphones, everyone has access to a phone by the pool. Also in the bathroom. And in the car. And in every store, and on every street, and basically every waking moment of their lives. The average teenager with a iPhone today is vastly more connected than the leader of the free world sixty years ago.

I thought this was a good reminder of the head-spinning speed with which the connectivity revolution entangled us in its whirlwind advance. We haven’t even begun to seriously consider the impact of these changes, or how us comparably slow-adapting humans must now adjust. Be wary of those who embrace our current moment as an optimal and natural evolution of our species’ relationship with technology. We still have a lot of work ahead of us to figure out what exactly we want. After sufficient reflection, it might even turn out that taking a call by the pool, LBJ style, isn’t as essential as we might have once imagined.

And this is exactly right. Who knows what we’ll think about the smartphone in another ten, twenty, or fifty years?

We may discover that our obsession with social media has proven even more destructive, harmful, and wasteful than we perceive it to be now. The smartphone has affected how we consume news, who and what we consider a friend, our social expectations, our speed of life, our perception of the “good life,” and our emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. We may find that a flourishing human life doesn’t depend on the connectivity created by digital technology, but is found instead in something older and much less dependent on a screen, an electronic portal allowing us to transcend time and space.

What would that be? Unmediated human connection; flesh and blood presence, conversation, and shared activity. Doing things together in the concrete, rather than the digital.

Newport is careful. He says that digital connectivity may prove to be less essential than we imagined. It will still have a place. But it may be better to begin finding ways now to lessen dependence on our smartphones, create space for solitude and silence, designate spaces and zones where digital connectivity is no longer expected or required, and invest our energy in connecting face to face with family members, neighbors, and others living nearby.

Cal Newport: Time Management

I liked Digital Minimalism and Deep Work. I’ve been listening to Newport’s Deep Questions podcast. Sharp guy.

I have a lot going on, and I think often about stewardship, productivity, and flourishing. Newport talks here about how to capture ideas, how to configure that information, and how to be in control off the decisions you make in utilizing your time. That’s a three point outline, and it’s alliterative. Those are both things I like. Anyone who has ever heard me give a talk knows this is true.

Cal Newport is the grandson of Baptist theologian and apologist John Newport, and while Cal doesn’t identify with a particular religious tradition, he does spend time contemplating the “big questions.” Fun fact: John Newport was at Baylor from 1949-1951.

Maybe Cal’s love for alliteration is related. Check out his website here.

What is ASMR?

According to Cal Newport:

Around 2010, a curious new term arose in obscure but energetic internet chatrooms: autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR, as it was soon abbreviated, described a peculiar form of paresthesia experienced as a tingling that starts in the scalp and then moves down the back. It’s often triggered by specific sounds, like soft whispering or a paintbrush scraping canvas. Not surprisingly, those sensitive to ASMR sometimes found Bob Ross reruns to be a reliable source of the effect.

Examples include Charles Dickens’ writing room (above), Newt Scamander’s study (Harry Potter universe), and this strange collection of sights and sounds: