If you’re already a Brian Solis reader, get ready for a surprising turn. And if you’ve never read a Solis book before, his eighth and latest is the one to start with. Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life launched at SXSW in Austin last month, and it promises to help us wake up from our tech-addicted comas and rediscover creative, empowered lives.
Solis is principal analyst at Altimeter, the digital research group of Prophet. He’s spent his last seven books analyzing the impact of disruptive technology on business, markets and society.
Now, he’s turned his research powers in a different direction. Lifescale asks what happened to our attention spans and creative capacities, when we, as humans, were disrupted by “disruptive technology.” More so, he ventures on a real world journey that looks beyond digital detox and minimalism and what we can do to reclaim quality of life in our tech-saturated world…without abandoning tech.
Looking Behind the Tech Wizards’ Curtain is ‘Really Scary’
Solis gives us the unvarnished truth behind tech use. He draws from the testimonies of tech execs, social media engineers, designers, and other architects of the attention industry, which he describes as “really scary.”
The problem with Silicon Valley tech culture isn’t necessarily that it’s manipulating us like pliable little lab rats (which it is). The problem is, when we’re hooked on tech, we’re not our best. “Nobody’s necessarily trying to make us unhappy,” says Solis. “But they do want us addicted to tech, and tech addiction is draining away our happiness, along with our focus and productivity.”
Solis offers personal solutions, prefaced with a silver lining. “It’s all voluntary,” he reminds us. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“Our minds have been tampered with in the past decade, and it’s having a clear impact in our productivity, not to mention our ability to live with agency and purpose,” Solis says.
Living with purpose is a central theme of Lifescale. Solis pits it as one of the key things we can do to live a happy, motivated life. And the first step to living with purpose, he says, is to reclaim our attention.
Those Social Media Notifications Are More ‘Horribly Damaging’ Than We Know
Solis describes social media notifications as “horribly damaging to your productivity,” a “self-defeating temptation meant to fool you into believing that you only matter when people are reacting to or reaching out to you.” He reminds us that they were intentionally “designed to create an intoxicating feedback loop of rewards from internal stimulants that make us feel good because we’re being noticed, and people want our attention.” But these stimulating dalliances carry a heavy cost.
“Research shows that when you switch away from your primary task to check email, respond to a text, check your social media status, or whatever, you add to the total time it takes to complete your main project by an average of 25%.”
That means that keeping Twitter open in another tab will virtually guarantee we’ll be working past the time my laptop battery dies or the cafe I’m working in closes. I’ll have to take my work home, which will cut into family time and erode my sense of well being as it cascades into impacting my energy levels tomorrow morning, rippling throughout the rest of my day. Hang on, I have a Twitter notification.
Well, that was five minutes I’ll never get back. But more importantly, it drained my momentum. According to Solis’s research, it will take my brain 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully return to writing after this distraction. This is why simply tabbing-over to check can increase a project’s time by a quarter. You can do the math to determine what impact these social media distractions are having on your bank account.
Solis’s solution? Commit to working in blocks of time, which he calls “sprints,” in which you physically and digitally set up a do-not-disturb work bubble. Close the door. Turn off your phone, Bring a snack. And turn off notifications.
The Data Supports Our Ability to Have Creative, Happy Lives
Solis isn’t a self-help guru, and that’s one of the best things about his book. He approaches wellness and life goals from the standpoint of research. The numbers are revealing, but they’re ultimately encouraging.
Because all of this tech addiction is voluntary. Equipped with good information on how these technologies mess with our minds, we can all make better decisions about if, when, and how much we engage with technology. Then we can all enjoy more creative, productive lives.