Deep Work book review

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted WorldDeep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Deep Work, Cal Newport synthesizes a set of tested hacks for helping people accomplish tasks requiring significant amounts of focused intellectual energy, which he calls “deep work.” The first part of the book lays out the argument for why we would want to pursue deep work and enhance our ability to do it. Newport constructs a compelling narrative using biography, autobiography, philosophy, and psychology to make his case. The backdrop to his argument is the economic imperative that knowledge workers need to distinguish themselves from the growing automation of white collar work.

The second part of the book categorizes his hacks for deep work into four “rules”: Work Deeply, Embrace Boredom, Quit Social Media, and Drain the Shallows. Work Deeply helps the reader consider how they want to bring deep work into their lives and schedules. Embrace Boredom suggests ways to think about the intensity of work as well as the intensity of non-work or leisure time and how these both need to be taken seriously. Quit Social Media is about limiting the distractions the internet poses to deep work. And Drain the Shallows addresses ways to prioritize your work so that your day to day emphasis remains on deep rather than “shallow work,” like email, meetings, and logistics.

As someone who studies social media, I must point out how the section on quitting social media comes across as a little old-fashioned and curmudgeonly, to which Newport has no problem admitting. His point that these are new and insidious distractions from work are well taken. The journalists and authors he idolizes are those that are particularly down on things like Twitter. Because social media has changed the nature of many types of work, it’s hard to say how escapable they are. The suggestions the book has for deciding whether or not they are important to you may help some people but may not offer the answers knowledge workers deeply tied to social media through their work need. Once again though, the point is well taken.

Altogether, I found the book a compelling program for developing the capacity to do work that you find meaningful, that brings you professional success, and that ensures that you have work/life balance. In fact, it does a nice job of arguing that work/life balance is critical to accomplishing meaningful work. The examples of deep work are heavily biased on writing, which makes sense given the autobiographical aspects are from an academic and author. Newport does touch 0n the broader idea of deep work as craftsmanship, whether it’s sword-forging or farming. Coding—the author is a computer scientist—is used as an example several times but it’s never examined to the same depth as writing. The fact that the book is strongly tied to a particular form of knowledge work that produces new ideas in written form may mean readers from industries with other emphases get less out of the book (although, writing up new ideas is a standard transferrable skill across disciplines).

As someone who is currently writing their PhD general exams in a computer science-related department at MIT, I found the book super accessible. Cal Newport starting developing his routines and rules whilst doing a PhD in CS at MIT, and his current life as a professor has a lot of overlap with my own. However, the book is meant for a general audience, and he uses interviews with people from a handful of non-academic industries to make that point. Because of the similarity of my background to the author’s, it’s hard for me to know how well he succeeds at making an argument and rule set for deep work that’s generally representative. For others like me at least, I strongly recommend Deep Work as an easy to read and well organized set of strategies. I’m eager to apply them to my own life.

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We Make the Road by Walking book review

We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social ChangeWe Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change by Myles Horton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is the most useful book on education I have read and one of the top five most useful books on social change. The dialog between Myles Horton and Paulo Freire is so rich and grounded, exemplifying their styles of progressive/popular education. Freire is definitely the more academic of the two and he so lets himself speak in more abstract, theoretical terms while Horton always stays close to core anecdotes or experiences.

I had previously read Horton’s autobiography The Long Haul, so I knew what to expect. But this book breaks his story into thematic chunks, punctuated by shared reflection with Freire which really animates the insights of his work. You really get to the heart of these giants of adult education, literacy, and social change, and why they see themselves first and foremost as educators in the progressive/experiential mold and how that is central to their social and political agendas.

This book is deeply inspiring to me as I try to sort through what the future of civic education might look like, and how to think about what it means to be doing change work in order to bring about a more inclusive and better society.

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Holding Civic Tech Accountable for Civic Learning

Presentation Recording

Slides

http://web.media.mit.edu/~erhardt/slides/DML2016-Ignite-Graeff-CivicLearningTalk.pdf

Abstract

We should optimize the design of civic technologies for developing effective citizens; I argue we must put civic and political learning at the core of how we evaluate civic technology’s impact. This will require new definitions and measures that capture the complexity and needs of contemporary, digitally-mediated democracy.

In this talk, I will propose a research agenda for civic learning including definitions, measures, and design goals for our community to explore.

Recent work by Bennett (2007) and Cohen and Kahne (2012) has helped push scholar and practitioner communities to understand how citizens, especially younger generations, are changing in their civic goals and practices—often using social media to consume and share political information, express their voices, and organize civic and political communities. Unfortunately, we lack a definition and operationalization of how “users” grow into the citizens contemporary democracies need. Research should be attempting to tie designs holistically to gains in targeted skills, experience, and self-efficacy.

We must develop and validate measures for civic learning by combining rich qualitative understanding with trace data to evaluate users’ civic trajectories as they explore tools and platforms; and these must scale as large as Facebook and across the diverse contexts in which users are embedded world-wide.

Youth Digital Activism (United Nations World Youth Report)

Full Report

Link to UN World Youth Report PDF

Presentation at the United Nations

Starts at 27m 40s

https://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1722935254001/?bctid=5037493690001&autoStart=false&secureConnections=true&width=432&height=232

Introduction

The terms “civic engagement” and “activism” traditionally evoke images of voting and volunteering for campaigns or marching in the streets, banners hoisted high. While these are still fixtures of political participation, a broader set of practices enabled by digital technologies is being created and applied by young people. Cathy J. Cohen, Joseph Kahne and others call this broader set of practices “participatory politics”, defined as “interactive, peer-based acts through which individuals and groups seek to exert both voice and influence on issues of public concern”. They emphasize that “these acts are not guided by deference to elites or formal institutions”.

This is part of a larger trend of youth avowing low confidence in national decision-making bodies and disaffection with elected officials and their ability to address issues. The biannual Harvard Institute of Politics poll indicated consistently declining levels of trust in government institutions among 18- to 29-year-old Americans between 2010 and 2015. According to a 2013 LSE Enterprise study, when European 16- to 26-year olds reflect on voting and institutional politics, they find “the political ‘offer’ does not match their concerns, ideas, and ideal of democratic politics”. At the same time, there are high levels of youth participation in issue-oriented activism, boycotting and buycotting, and protest activities. W. Lance Bennett refers to this new generation of young people as “actualizing citizens”, “who favour loosely networked activism to address issues that reflect personal values”, in contrast with “dutiful citizens”, who maintain a more collective and government-centred set of practices. Similarly, Cohen and Kahne found that interest-driven participation was a strong predictor of engagement in participatory politics among American youth.

If one thing defines this era of youth digital activism, it is the ability to make and widely share media. It is possible for “widely distributed, loosely connected individuals” to work together to solve a problem or create something new—a practice called crowdsourcing or peer production—because the costs of building loose networks of contributors and disseminating information digitally are nearly zero. When people make their own media they can assert power by framing issues in ways that compel others to change their minds or to adapt to new realities and perspectives. This form of “media activism” is not a new theory of change in itself; however, its practice is being transformed by the use of digital technologies for coordination and amplification. Agenda-setting power is shifting to a broader set of political actors with the necessary tools, savvy and timing.

Mobile computing, in particular, is allowing a new generation of citizens to access the Internet and enjoy lowered coordination costs. In Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, 9 in 10 Millennials have a smartphone and spend 50-100 per cent more time on their mobile device than on a desktop computer. Affordable wireless Internet access and mobile phone ownership around the world constitute the most potent force for expanding the pool and potential of young digital activists.

However, the young people best poised to transform the practice of democracy around the world are those who not only create media but also build the tools and platforms through which they are made, shared and organized. Lilly Irani calls this new movement of civic hacking and cultural remaking “entrepreneurial citizenship”. This represents a small but powerful cohort that is taking its cues for solving the world’s problems from Silicon Valley and identifying primarily as social entrepreneurs and designers and secondarily as political or as activists.

These new forms of digital activism are not without problems and controversy. Many youth are still excluded from civic and political participation. That is why it is important to comprehend the wide range of contemporary tactics, tools, and trends and the unique challenges youth digital activists face in connection with current laws, norms, market forces and educational practices. The current thought piece outlines those trends and challenges but also highlights relevant opportunities and offers recommendations for supporting youth digital activism.