The evidence isn’t just anecdotal: a 2016 report sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Cancer Institute showed a significant association between social media use and depression. But the machines need not win, say the authors of forthcoming titles that aim to help readers manage their social media practices and find creative ways to enjoy more time offline.
Technology consultant Tchiki Davis, in Outsmart Your Smartphone (New Harbinger, Nov.), offers advice on using technology in ways that promote happiness; psychologist Melanie Greenberg contributes the foreword. Self-control isn’t the problem, says Ryan Buresh, acquisitions editor at New Harbinger: the most popular apps are designed to keep users hooked.
“We don’t want to pathologize this,” Buresh says. “This isn’t a tech detox. The authors live in reality. You can’t throw your phone in the ocean; you have to set boundaries so that you’re not at the whim of your phone.”
The idea of accepting the centrality of digital culture but navigating it confidently recurs in Keep Calm and Log On by Gillian “Gus” Andrews (MIT, Apr. 2020). The author, an information security expert, draws on academic research in media literacy, communications theory, and more, translating it for a general audience and giving tips on what she calls digital mindfulness. “This book is a guide to living through this digital revolution without getting trampled,” she writes.
Broadcast journalist Celeste Headlee, cohost of the new PBS program Retro Report, implores readers in Do Nothing (Harmony, Mar. 2020) to close the productivity apps and stop seeking approval through filtered photographs. She examines how software designers exploit people’s fears of being left out or left behind, and counters with steps for going analog and taking the media out of one’s social life. “A return to our own basic humanity is overdue,” she writes. “It is now a question not of preference, but of survival.”
The fear of missing out that Headlee addresses resurfaces as its inverse in JOMO: Celebrate the Joy of Missing Out by Jessica Misener (Adams, Nov.), which embraces the relief a person feels when a friend cancels plans, providing an unexpected but welcome excuse to stay in. Misener details some 350 stress-free activities, most of them low-tech (hosting a game night; teaching one’s pet a new trick), that are intended, she writes, “to let your inner homebody run free.”
The point, says Brendan O’Neill, editor-in-chief at Adams Media, is to avoid activities that may spark social envy. “Everyone is constantly going, going, going,” he says. “JOMO gives everyone permission to slow down, say no to plans, and still have fun.”