Can Technology Help You Read More?

Chris Dancy, author of Don't Unplug, makes a case for marrying books and tech.

Chris Dancy

The first time I got a notification from Amazon alerting me that an eBook I’d finished had recently been updated, I recoiled. “BOOKS DON’T REFRESH,” I thought to myself. Throughout this decade, it seems that each year there’s some new book-tech to make the process of consuming our tomes more manageable.

For the better part of the same period, I’ve measured everything around me. If you pause this article and google “most connected,” you’ll see that I’m considered by Google’s algorithms to be the “world’s most connected person.”

What exactly does this mean? Simply put, I decided to take control of the data I was putting out into the universe and make it useful for myself. What could you do with your life if you knew as much about yourself as the internet does?

From merely tracking visited websites to the complicated nature of heartbeats during intimate moments, there’s no stone I left unturned during this pursuit to optimize my life. While the lessons I learned are vast, they can be easily summarized into three simple points:

1. We don’t know how to measure what we care about, so we care about what we measure. This is the biggest challenge to our overly connected lives. While I did become more prosperous, thinner, and successful, I was not any happier knowing the intimate data of my life—in fact, I had “data PTSD.” Sometimes our web cookies are best left in the jar.

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2. We don’t get better by counting steps; we get better by taking them. It’s often thrown around business-leadership circles that the secret to success is quantification, but I can assure you: you need to act and then measure. Sometimes, the chicken needs to lay an egg before you have breakfast.

3. We need to start scheduling our values instead of valuing our schedules. In a time when everything runs on demand, it’s hard to “find” time to do the things we value (see point 1). By merely listing your values and then making sure you leave time in your day for them, you’ll start to take command of your technological landscape.

So what are some things you can do to hack your reading? Well, first make sure you value reading. Reading is like meditation for me; I know that I’m less angry, move slower, and think better after a good 30-minute session. If you do value reading, then you’re on your way to reading more.

Next, consider ignoring new books that are recommended to you through algorithms. Confirmation bias happens, and it can be a real flaw in our desire to learn more. When we get caught in a cycle of reading only what we enjoy, we naturally start to avoid reading out of the desire to not be bored with our M.O.s. Instead, pick up a book you wouldn’t usually read, listen to, or share. Books that don’t initially interest us are the salad of a healthy reading diet.

Next, consider tracking your reading time. I use an app called Life Cycle: it’s a simple donut graph that shows me where my time goes each day. At the end of each month, I make sure that the things I value don’t decrease in the total percentage of my time. I value friendship, intimacy, and meditation; the moment those start to decline, I know it’s time to focus on those activities more.

Consider the medium. Digital, print, audio—each have significant advantages and lessons to deepen your reading practice. One of the things that I adore about digital books is highlighting sections and then comparing my favorite parts to the wisdom of the crowds. Print books will always be the stopping point for what I value: the smell, the feel, the sound of pages turning.

In my book Don’t Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours Too, I talk about how I hacked my sleep and attention using audiobooks. Audiobooks have this remarkable ability to change speed. Why would you want to change the speed of an audiobook? Well, if you’re struggling with a bout of insomnia, listening to a book on three-fourths speed will help slow your mind before bed. The exact opposite problem is when you can’t focus on a book because you’re trying to multitask. In that case, I put books on double speed. That requires me to hang on every word.

Finally, don’t ignore the obvious environmental conditions around you. Today, our smartphones can measure light, sound, and even barometric pressure in the physical spaces in our lives. Consider downloading a photography app to measure light (I prefer to read in 120 LUX) and a sound app to check out the ambient noise in a room (65 dB, please) for a good read.

While I’ll never consider myself a reader or a writer—my imposter syndrome game is strong—I do consider myself an advocate for you, the reader. And in that way, please: don’t unplug.


Featured Image: Pra Chid/Shutterstock; Author Photo: Musse Hasselvall

CHRIS DANCY is touted as the “Most Connected Man on Earth.” For 25 years, Dancy has served in leadership within technology and healthcare, specializing in the intersection of the two. He has been featured on Showtime, Businessweek, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, BBC, Fox News, and Wired. Corporations that have hired him to speak about the future of tech and health include Microsoft, Fitbit, and Humana. He divides his time between Houston, TX, and New York City.

About CHRIS DANCY

Chris Dancy

CHRIS DANCY is touted as the “Most Connected Man on Earth.” For 25 years, Dancy has served in leadership within technology and healthcare, specializing in the intersection of the two. He has been featured on Showtime, Businessweek, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, BBC, Fox News, and Wired. Corporations that have hired him to speak about the future of tech and health include Microsoft, Fitbit, and Humana. He divides his time between Houston, TX, and New York City.

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