So here are two very different books on a similar zeitgeisty topic – and one very close to my own heart: thriving in the digital age.
Manage Your Day-to-Day is a collection of essays and interviews edited by Jocelyn K Glei and published by 99U, which on publishing platform Behance refer to as their “missing curriculum that you didn’t get in school highlighting best practice for making ideas happen”. A such, it has something in common with ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, which essentially discussed the new approaches to work being trialled by 37 signals. Thought leadership and brand building hand-in-hand.
Because Manage is an anthology, it’s arguably less of a single, coherent argument than ReWork, but it’s thoroughly engaging nonetheless, with some real insights. The collection breaks down into four sections: “Building a rock solid routine”, “Finding focus in a distracted world”, “Taming your tools” and “Sharpening your creative mind”. So like I said, pretty zeitgeisty, but nonetheless recommended reading for anyone feeling assailed by tech, comms and workload – which would be most of us, I’m guessing.
The best essay here, for my money, and certainly one of the most beautifully written, is by film maker and designer James Victore. On the subject of meditation he has this to say:
“There are no shortcuts. And any technology-aided shortcut robs you of the work. Recently a concerned friend of mine suggested an app that coul help my meditation practice. I try to be open to new ideas, but this seemed like a choice between playing Guitar Hero and actually learning to play guitar. Maybe the work of developing a good meditation practice is worth it. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there are skills I can develop – unaided – that will only make me stronger. Why adopt a crutch only to let your muscles atrophy? Why cheat yourself of the effort? The work, the process, is the goal. It builds character. It makes us better.”
This really resonated with me. Not that I have anything against the likes of Buddhify, and the brilliant Buddhist Geeks frequently looks at how tech can enhance contemplative practice. But when I hear Dave Asprey going on about 40 Years of Zen or Holosync I start to wonder whether too much goal orientation is slightly getting in the way of the real deal.
And he signs of with this:
“Not everyone will be capable of shouldering this task of responsibility or of being a good example for their children. But the heroes of the next generation will be those who can calm the buzzing and jigging of the outside direction long enough to listen to the sound of their own hearts, those who will follow their own path until they learn to walk erect – not hunched over like a neanderthal, palm gazing. Into traffic.”
Those are my italics and I put them there as that line reminded me of the point I made at the end of my recent presentation in Brighton about kids and tech – that we, as adults, need to set an example to the next generation by developing our own skillful practices with regard to technology.
Arianna Huffington’s Thrive is a very different book. Let me get out of the way, first, three problems that I have with it. Firstly, there’s way to much Oprah and Deepak Chopra in here; it gets dangerously close to the whole spiritual materialist lobby for my own tastes. Next, as a good friend and fellow novice contemplative put it to me, isn’t there something inherently dogdy about using mindfulness practice to make Western capitalism work that little bit more smoothly? And finally, more personally, I’m always a little wary of immensely wealthy and successful people pointing out that there’s more to life than wealth and success…
But, but… I think I’m being unfair here, because Thrive is, for all my caveats, a very honest book, one that’s extremely wide ranging in its references, from classical poetry to neuro-science, and is, in any case, written for a mainstream audience who might well be encountering many of these ideas for the first time. Maybe Huffington, an experienced journalist, the author of 14 books and of course a very public figure, is exactly the right person to bring this message to a wide audience.
So what is this message exactly? Huffington terms it the “third metric”, to accompany those other measures of success in the world: money and power. She argues that to truly thrive we need to tend to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being at least as attentively as we do to our professional lives – and probably a lot more so.
She divides the book into four broad headings: “Well-being”, “Wisdom”, “Wonder” and “Giving”. She illustrates each with a wealth of citation and practical advice that advocates, among many other things, a regular meditation practice, walking, getting enough sleep (hint: almost certainly more than you’re getting), curiosity and learning, the avoidance of digital distraction and, er, getting a pet. (On the subject of the last but one, I was really struck by Huffington’s observations about her peers, who seem to be, to a person, utterly addicted to digital connectivity, and twitchy if left without a device for more than a few minutes. I know it’s bad amongst many of my contemporaries, but this is of a different order of magnitude.)
So, my snitty, snobby misgivings aside, this is a clear, accessible read and helpful compendium of advice for doing more than simply “coping” in the modern world. (And my thanks to Sarah in particular for talking me down off my high horse on several occasions and pointing out for whom this book written, and the value it might bring them.)