Set down your phone — but perhaps after you read this.
Ahead of his presentation at 2019’s SXSW conference, cultural anthropologist Brian Solis joined Yahoo!’s JP Mangalindan, TechCrunch’s Josh Constine — and even Carlos Gil in a souped up and Instagrammable Cadillac — to promote the book launch for Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive and Happy Life.
Lifescale is Solis’ eighth book — or tome — if you prefer to use four letter words for physical literature.
In a departure from his previous works, in Lifescale Solis takes a step back, encouraging his audience to disconnect, unplug, decrease time on social media and generally remove constant distractions to regain the capacity to focus and create.
A twenty-year Silicon Valley veteran, advisor to dozens of startups, digital analyst/anthropologist — yes, it’s a profession and not just a degree, it turns out — and bestselling author, Solis tells the story of how technology affected his personal and professional lives and how it’s affecting everyone else.
“The expertise I bring to this project is from my background in tech and research. So many of us are stuck on a treadmill of multitasking, constantly putting out fires and unable to complete important projects because our attention spans have become so short,” he said.
Maybe it’s the Ritalin
Solis says he only figured out how much distraction was impacting his life when he failed to deliver what would have been his eighth book.
“Unlike the authors of some other self-help titles, I’m speaking less as an authority on the topics I’m exploring and more as someone who is trying different approaches and sharing what works and doesn’t. I’m also digging deeper to explore how to fix what’s broken and discover what I couldn’t see before. It’s a journey the reader and I are sharing. It’s personal. With each step, we’re learning, unlearning and growing together.”
If Solis is starting to sound a bit like “human guinea pig” Tim Ferris to you, maybe you’re on to something. Lifescale also shares a Silicon Valley insider’s understanding of the dark ways in which Facebook, Netflix, and thousands of game developers use manipulative techniques like persuasive design to distract and even addict us.
In the Doldrums
A keynote speaker and author of X: The Experience when Business Meets Design, Solis shared that a few years ago he found his work suffered while he was lost in a “sea” of to-do lists that were taking longer and longer to complete.
Looking to solve his problem, he began researching the issue. Lifescale evolved as his search for effective resources came up dry. “When I Googled potential solutions, ironically, they were helpful, but superficial in nature. The popular recommendations included turning the phone off, deleting apps, turning off notifications, downloading Calm or Headspace, practicing meditation and Yoga, going to Burning Man and the Esalin Institute.
“But they largely treated symptoms and didn’t do much about getting to the root of this problem and how we can work thorough it to really live our best lives,” — Brian Solis.
Solis’ research would eventually discover much more behind the struggles of multitasking and distractions. “I uncovered an alarming array of issues that range from insomnia, stress and anxiety to challenges with self-esteem, loneliness, insecurity, self-loathing, fear and depression,” he said.
When Brian admitted he had “issues”
Distraction became such a problem that he shifted gears to address the issue.
“In a way, I wrote Lifescale because I had to, as a way to understand my own issues and help myself regain the capacity for serious work, creativity and joy that I’d lost to the online world intent on abducting attention and monetizing it. The constant pressure to share and engage online, the false validation of likes and followers, the mindless scrolling that distracted me from my work and my personal life,” Solis said.
“It’s a guide for recentering life and rediscovering yourself, understanding how we gave into the seduction of all this new and intoxicating tech (and the tech to come) to connect with the values, purpose and vision to move us forward,” he said. “We all need a guide to take control of our lives and become the guiding light for those around us who are quietly struggling.”
Solis says he sees Lifescale and the process of “life scaling” as a movement rather than just a stand-alone book. He’s creating a newsletter, website, blog and academic curriculum to help life coaches share this work with a wider audience.
Overall, he’s (surprisingly) upbeat about society’s ability to manage its addiction to distraction.
“I believe, and I’m an optimist, that we still need tech. I’m not giving up my phone…I’m just going to be more mindful about how I use it.”