Rules or suggestions? Rules or suggestions? Rules or suggestions…? Oh, wait, these are “lessons.” Sure. We get it now:
by Dr. Jonathan Wai
I recently had the opportunity to talk with the technology journalist Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think. You can read the full conversation here. From that chat, I distilled nine lessons from Clive on how we can improve our thinking, with and without technology.
1. Spend Significant Chunks of Time Offline
“I think it’s good to spend significant chunks offline. For example, I don’t check my email on weekends. This means I’m usually off social media…I’ll text a bunch because that’s social for me and how I organize social behavior. But I tend to get more reading done and my brain gets pulled in a cooler direction. And a lot of people tell me they can’t do that because their boss demands they check email all weekend. And this shows that a lot of the problems of distraction we have are not really latent in the technologies themselves, they’re latent in the power relations that emerge from those technologies.
White collar workers now probably need to have a solidarity movement that equals that because their labor is now constantly squeezed by employers who have the ability to reach them 24/7. The smart employers…recognize that it’s actually bad for the caliber of their employee’s thought to be constantly pecked at like ducks all week long. And I think Volkswagen and a few other firms have instituted this policy of turning the Blackberry servers off after a certain hour at night and on the weekends, so there’s no email coming into their employees… this has been what the unions have been espousing for a hundred years, the weekend works. It’s a civic and social good and for an employer it should be a corporate good too. Let people disconnect from your corporate demands.”
2. Engage in “Cognitive Diversity”: Do Something Mentally Different
“One of the things I talk about in my book is the need for what I playfully call cognitive diversity. If you buy the idea that the way we communicate and write, express, and form our ideas online is qualitatively different from the ways we do it offline, and that those are productively or usefully different from traditional less social thinking offline, then it’s still incredibly useful to read immersively for eight hours, go for a long walk, or just argue about something drunkenly at a bar with a friend. These things are sufficiently different from the ways we conduct ourselves online, and it will drag your mind in usefully different modes of thought.
The same type of thing of just doing something different with your body, the reason why we get ideas in the shower is because we’re not working and our bodies are doing something totally different, it’s a new stimulus environment, and the stuff we’ve been ruminating on just assembles itself in a completely different way in our subconscious…So if you’re a person that works with words all day long like I do it’s really good to do something completely nonverbal in your spare time.