My next book is Indistractable by Nir Eyal. The book’s tagline is “how to control your attention and choose your life,” which is compelling! My early thoughts are mixed between grateful and skeptical.

Replacing distractions

In the introduction, Eyal tells a brief story about how he tried to replace online tools—by using a flip phone, by purchasing a typewriter, by disconnecting from the internet. But it never worked.

Removing online technology didn’t work. I’d just replaced one distraction for another.

This hits deep into my soul. I use Twitter to follow researchers, and I typically learn from my feed. So I don’t want to delete it, despite recognizing that endless scrolling isn’t good and that they’re trying to keep me there.

Then comes the explanation of what “indistractable” means. It’s:

  • Striving to do what you say you will do
  • Spending your time the way you want it
  • Being honest with yourself

Sounds great. I’ve never bought the “smartphones are causing distraction” argument.

A dangerous argument

One of the early criticisms I have is that Eyal is too quick to let Silicon Valley off the hook:

Solely blaming a smartphone for causing distraction is just as flawed as blaming a pedometer for making someone climb too many stairs.

I think the operant word here is “solely.” This is dangerously close to arguing that our phones are at no fault for distracting us all the time. But there are very smart people being paid lots of money to keep us looking at our phones!

In fact, Eyal advised them. His book Hooked is one of the most well-known books about the subject.

I still get the point. We need to figure out how to take control of our environment and to reframe distractions. It’s just not all our fault.

Complementary to mindfulness, not a replacement for it

Eyal decries mindfulness and meditation early on, saying he steers clear of recommending them, that they have “already been written about ad nauseum,” and that they likely didn’t work for readers (or him).

And yet one of the strategies he recommends is a classic mindfulness one!

Imagine there are leaves floating down that stream. Place each thought in your mind on each leaf. It could be a memory, a word, a worry, an image. And let each of those leaves float down that stream, swirling away, as you just sit and watch.

I first learned this in an emotional intelligence class teaching mindfulness and meditation. Noticing your thoughts and dismissing them is garden variety mindfulness. Eyal presents it as novel, but it is far from new.

Chapters for the distractable

The structure of this book presumes a distractable reader. With chapters that are under 10 pages, large-print quotes on every page or two, and a “remember this” checklist at the end of each chapter, Indistractable certainly knows its audience.

This is a very different feeling than a research book, like #republic. I can read this without committing my full brainpower to it, which is refreshing.

I also read this with some skepticism. I cannot help but feel that Eyal has something to sell me, and that this book is itself trying to get me hooked on something.

Perhaps he’s trying to get me hooked on being indistractable. But the book simply reads like marketing—that none of the other techniques for handling distractions have worked, but this one will.

To be sure, there is good advice in here. I’ve learned a lot in the first few chapters. But I don’t quite believe it is as groundbreaking as Eyal would like me to believe.

Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed the first section of the book. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.