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How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design Paperback – May 5, 2016
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A wide-ranging self-help guide explores the potential perils of the modern sedentary, screen-obsessed lifestyle and offers tips for achieving resilient health and memory.
Madden (The Durable Human Manifesto, 2013), a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the Society of Environmental Journalists, warns that with their current dependence on technology, humans are not only losing muscle mass and memory, but also opening themselves up to the possibility of being superseded by robots. She calls her proposed solution the "Triple Crown of Durability": self-reliance, genuine relationships, and curiosity. According to the author, the barriers to healthy development are considerable, ranging from the metabolic diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle to the eye strain caused by frequent screen use. She also frets over the energy emitted by Wi-Fi-enabled devices, which she rather whimsically refers to as "The Glow." A possible association between cellphone use and cancer remains controversial, but a few high-profile cases have made it at least seem prudent to use hands-free devices whenever possible and not store cellphones and tablets on one's person. Luckily, this book is not all doom and gloom: rather than leaving it at plain scaremongering, it lists straightforward mitigation strategies at every turn. Madden enumerates simple ways to add more walking and standing to each workday and suggests that cutting time with gadgets by spending more moments outside contributes to better health and sleep, especially for children. Many problems boil down to having an overloaded brain, she explains, so mindfulness and decompression through music, conversation, or exercise are essential. Anecdotes and everyday metaphors help to drive the lessons home. For instance, Madden was forced to pay better attention when she fell off her folding bike because she didn't secure the handlebars properly. She deftly equates sleep to the body performing a thorough cleanup of its systems like a dishwasher and compares working memory to an often leaky bucket. Sometimes the book seems overly indebted to opinions and quotations from other authors, but that doesn't significantly detract from how useful a compendium of knowledge it should prove to be.
An all-too-relevant and eminently practical book that offers health strategies in a gadget-packed world.
- Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
JENIFER JOY MADDEN has informed the world about health and well-being on news outlets from ABC News to The Discovery Health Channel; The Huffington Post to The Washington Post; to her website, DurableHuman.com. A member of the National Association of Science Writers and Society of Environmental Journalists, Jenifer is a multi-media reporter, design ethicist, digital communications professor, and award-winning community leader. But her most prized accomplishment is raising three loving, contributing, durable humans.
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It turns out there are a few tricks to preserving our essential humanity in a digital future. Madden offers practical advice on keeping social media in balance, mining the positive aspects of technology, and avoiding the predatory dangers that are lurking in the online world. She also has next-generation insights on “lost in the shuffle” values like getting enough sleep, the criticality of actual human relationships, exercise for the mind and body, and the restorative power of spending time in the natural world.
The ways our children take in and process information and communicate with each other and the world around them are changing so rapidly, moms and dads have a tough time keeping up and staying relevant. It takes about ten minutes these days to become “old school”. Luckily Jenifer Joy Madden is around to monitor the flood of trends and technology, and help parents navigate the changing information landscape their kids inhabit.
This book addresses many of such questions and catalogues many of the components of the modern life puzzle and provides examples of possible remedies for them. In a way, this book is a catalogue of common sense, which in the modern times is becoming the more and more elusive commodity. That is, the common sense is under the siege from all sorts of factors (e.g., the digitalization of our lives). It could almost be said that the more the reader finds common sense in the content of this book, the more the reader is closer to be a durable human.
The book names Self-reliance, Genuine relationship, and Curiosity, as the three crown jewels of the durable human. It is important to note that the three are aimed to work together. While we all are different, which reminds me of the famous scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Bryan”, where the crowd shouts the slogan “we are all different”, a single voice from the crowd exclaims “I am not”, and while we all may have different approaches or even attitudes for all three, they all are required to complement each other for a person to be durable. Self-reliance, for example, doesn’t mean isolating oneself from the rest of the society. Evan the highly self-reliant person would need to communicate with the rest of the society, i.e., develop a genuine relationship. The curiosity jewel is as important as it spearheads the other two. There is something that reminds me what Markquez once said about dreams: “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
The book points out an almost uncomfortable fact: the probability of us ever had been born. In short, the probability is ZERO. Even after “improving” the odds by resorting to our parents-only chances, i.e., while abandoning the book’s Universe and atoms example, the chances of each and every one of us ever had been born is still inseparable from a zero. Take for example the fact that at the specific moment of the cycle in which we were seeded, the spermatozoon carrying the information leading to us, competed with tens if not hundreds of millions of others. And, had it been any other, it would not be us – our brother or sister, but not us. Considering all these chances, we all have won the lottery of life to which chances to win a regular lottery seem to be safe bet.
Now, knowing how rare we all are, the book continues with identifying the factors affecting us, including, for example, multitasking, sedentary life, sleep, smart phones, and connecting solutions for the issues arising from those factors.
At the times when it seems the time is passing much faster than it once was, the stresses of modern life tax us with the time we have available for anything. We adjust by resorting to so-called multitasking, i.e., doing several things at the same time (and often – all the time). As the book explains, the notion that we could multitask is an illusion. By “multitasking” we are basically not focusing on any single item that is part of multitasking. The result is predictably – lower performance, less attention to detail, lower satisfaction… And, more often than not, our attempts to multitask are compounded with the sedentary nature of those tasks. To paraphrase late Jim Morrison: maybe we can’t “break on through to other side”, but, as the book exemplifies, we could break the monotony of sitting and move around, unglue our eyes from the computer/telephone resorting to the 3 x 20 (after 20 minutes focus on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds), or simply stand by the computer rather than sit all the time. Once taken for granted, sleep too is becoming the victim of modern day stresses. I could hardly believe when my wife, a medical resident at the time, called me one night in desperation that she could not fall asleep. Yes, there it is – it seems it is hard to get to sleep regularly without resorting to medication. Yet, the sleep is crucial for us to function.
It is hard, and perhaps too early, to evaluate properly the positive and negative effects of the ongoing “smart phone-fication” of the modern civilization. People glued to their phones, while walking on the street, while sitting at the airports, restaurants, while spending “quality” time with their young children, or simply while waiting at the traffic light driving their cars, are all but a common sight. It is almost comical to see the people rushing out of the plane, for example, just to check their phones. One would think that there is a reasonable chance the President might need their emergency advice and they want to be there when such a request comes in. Globally speaking there is even an impression that the smart phone craze has a pseudo-equalization effect on people living in different areas and different standards. For example, often a person will save for a substantial period of time just to be able to purchase the latest smart phone model. Not because he/she needs to stay in touch, but because such a model is something that even the wealthiest do not have yet!!?
As the book points out, there are ways out and around though. The joy of bicycling is one of them. The joy of paying attention to seemingly little things may be another. Focusing one’s curiosity in the process leads toward being the durable and in the process makes us happier too.
It is hard to capture all the moments addressed in the book, but even this small selection of a few of them, illustrates the need for all of us to pay more attention toward ourselves, others, and the environment we all share. There is a certain level of similarity between what Khalil Gibran accomplished by awakening with his poetry and prose something deep in the modern human, and something that Jenifer Joy Madden could accomplish with this book. For all these reasons, I would recommend this book to anybody to read; starting with my family first.