It’s a happy coincidence to start my blog dedicated exclusively to books with a book that is teaching me to take a new look at the business of thinking, writing, reading, working deeply in this tech-crazy day and age.
Or, I could just say the book is having its impact on me – it is Deep Work by Cal Newport.
The tech age or the Internet age or the Digital age is essentially an age of distraction. Even as I write here, I’ve found out that Shah Rukh Khan is going to skip some bash Salman Khan is throwing. Pushing this distraction back and coming back to Deep Work, this age of Distraction has spawned a new categorization of work – deep work and shallow work.
Shallow work is what a large majority of desk workers like us do while Deep Work is: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Oh, and this just in: L K Advani feels like resigning. Also, RP says Hi, Wassup?
So, I have two decisions to make: Whether to retweet LKA’s noble thoughts and whether to engage RP in what seems like a routine but not urgent friendly conversation. Tough calls both. In this hyper-connected world, I take about 100 such decisions daily, over and above all the truly necessary ones – masala uttapa for breakfast or sada dosa? Coffee now or later? Must order a kitchen gadget – now or later? which brand? what price? So yes, whether all of this counts as work, and of course, some of it does, but is it deep? Most certainly not.
Finally, thank God I’m not a surgeon. Now going back to Deep Work,
Deep Work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity.
Intellectual capacities of most of us are being severely challenged by this onslaught of technology. I have noticed that for some time now I have been finding it difficult to retain a lot of what I’m reading. In my case, I’d think measles on my wedding day a less painful prospect. And the reason is that… MK Stalin wants a White Paper on Jayalalithaa’s death. Again, decisions to be taken: Read it first and then continue writing this? Just like and RT? I could become the first one to do so. It goes on.
Newport elaborates on the idea of Deep Work and its significance by citing the working style of Carl Jung, Michel De Montaigne, Woody Allen, J K Rowling… all of them stalwarts in their respective fields. They are people who recede into their corners to ponder and to come out with something that impacts the world.
While J K Rowling largely stays away from Social media and sticks to pen and paper (her last book was penned in ink and was flown to the publisher under the strongest of security arrangements), Newport clarifies that Deep Work does not have to be a result of technophobia, citing how Bill Gates also conducts “think weeks” twice a year, to isolate himself and think and read big thoughts. Ditto Neal Stephenson, the acclaimed cyber-punk author, on whose official website is this explanation Why I am a sociomediapath when you try to reach his social media handles.
The reason is right here with us: Knowledge workers are losing their familiarity with deep work because of network tools.
I think it’s not just deep work, we’re now becoming incapable of deep anything. Our IMs, news updates, chats, emails, messages, etc have invaded everything from movies at the cinema to breakfast with friends, to shopping, to watching a favourite serial on TV, everything. Even sleep.
It’s not just work that has become shallow, as Newport has pointed out. Every thing has become shallow. Just this morning, my yoga classmate had chosen his cellphone to accompany him on his yoga mat. He had thoughtfully put the phone on silent mode but it did buzz thrice and each time it did, he went off-pose or off-asana to un-buzz it. It’s not really that it disturbed us, that it did so even if it didn’t ring, it certainly did him a lot more harm: interrupting his practice – I’ll bet every time his phone buzzed, he thought of what the person might have to say to him at that early hour. It took him – and us – away from the regular flow of things.
That moment was a learning for me. So many times, I’m like that guy.
I hope to do more to get into the deep of things more. You?