I have been looking forward to this book since Alex first told me he was working on it (he was kind enough to agree to serve on the advisory board for a project I planned).
The book doesn’t disappoint. OK, that’s an understatement. It’s one of those books I wish I had written.
Even though this is a book about the dangers of technology use, it is not one of those panicked, hopeless, technology-hating arguments. It is a guide for making the best out of technology – for using it rather than being used by it.
The book’s premise rests in the idea of the extended mind, a concept Alex reframes as entanglement with technology. At its best, entanglement is a state of feeling the body and mind being pleasantly and seamlessly extended by technology – perceiving technology as part of oneself, just like a skilled skier perceives the skis as part of herself when zooming down a slope. This kind of entanglement has been happening since the beginning of history and tool use. Whether you use skis, an axe, a bicycle, a pen, a car, or a computer, you can have that sense of it extending your human abilities, being a part of yourself. However, there are times when entanglement goes wrong, and technology feels like a pair of broken, uncomfortable, awkward high-heel shoes. Then, it becomes an extension of yourself that hinders movement, an arm that doesn’t obey the brain’s commands; a cause of frustration and stress.
The book is grounded in solid Western empirical research as well as Eastern thought and practice. It combines the two to propose a guide for the positive kind of entanglement. In the last chapter, it offers 8 principles for doing so:
- be human
- be calm
- be mindful
- make conscious choices
- extend your abilities
- seek flow
- engage with the world
- restore your capacity for attention
The book ends beautifully and hopefully:
“You are the inheritor of a contemplative legacy that you can use to retake control of your technology, to tame the monkey mind, and to redesign your extended mind. Connection is inevitable. Distraction is a choice.”
The question remains, how easy and feasible is the plan proposed in this book? I find it feasible, but not necessarily easy. It requires some training of executive attention (aka mindfulness) that might take a while to develop, and demands commitment to regular practice.