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Reviews

Don’t Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours Too

Chris Dancy is a die-hard techie and a self-proclaimed consumption-aholic. Known as “the most connected person on earth” (21), Dancy used up to 700 sensors, devices, applications, and services to monitor, evaluate, and change his life—from his eating habits to his spirituality. Don’t Unplug consists of five main sections covering Dancy’s life from birth to age fifty. He shares a lot of his personal life in the book, which brings out feelings of sympathy, empathy, and pity in the reader. In each of the five sections, Dancy first shares his personal stories, and then offers his take-aways and advice from the experience. Dancy considers himself to have an obsessive and addictive personality. “By 2011, I understood that if a substance or situation could be abused, I would find a way to do so” (53). As you read the lengths Dancy goes to tracking his behaviors, it leaves you in no doubt that he did tend to take things to the extreme in every instance.

“Part One: Bits and Bytes (1968-1998)” covers from birth to age thirty. Dancy discusses his childhood and briefly describes his dysfunctional family life and how his upbringing influenced his adult habits. He inherited his love of organizing and calendaring from his mother who would calendar all special events, holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays on a Hallmark calendar every year. His interest in technology can be attributed to his father who “kept the family in perpetual debt with his desire to purchase the latest consumer electronic or new accessories for his motorcycle” (6). In 1983, at age fourteen, Dancy began working with computers. His father worked in a used car dealership that had a computer with Lotus 1, 2, 3, a simple DOS spreadsheet program. Being an organizer, he soon used his father’s work computer after school to create lists for his mother and to organize his life, including his extensive Michael Jackson memorabilia collection. Forced to drop out of college after his first semester because his mother misused his college scholarship money, he was soon helping family friends set up computers for their businesses. It was during this time that his unhealthy lifestyle of smoking, Diet Coke, junk food, alcohol, drugs, and sitting in front of the computer eighteen hours a day began catching up with him. He had his first full-blown panic attack. He self-medicated with more illicit drugs until he became dependent on Xanax and ended up using antidepressants and benzodiazepines for the next twenty years. By age thirty, his body was failing and he was a workaholic.

“Part Two: Data (2008-2010)” discusses social media, entertainment, and opinion. Dancy’s journey to connectedness began one day in 2008 when he could not find a post he made on his Myspace page. He started tracking his online interactions by setting up an RSS feed and having every online interaction (social media posts, emails, online music downloads, etc.) create an entry on his Google calendar. Between 2008 and 2012, he had ten Twitter accounts, two Facebook accounts, two LinkedIn accounts, and multiple blogs. He always saw social media not as a way to connect to friends but as audience platforms. He began to track the likes he got for posts. He noticed that he got more likes when he posted drunken, out-of-control pictures than when he posted healthy pictures like when he decided to quit smoking. Once he realized how social media influenced his actions, he decided to see how he could influence other people on social media. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I stretched as far as I could to game all my relationships” (39). Realizations that Dancy gained from monitoring his social media usage include selectively choosing what social media you connect to, cultivating your friendships offline instead of online, and creating guidelines for your relationships on social media by using specific social media outlets for specific types of relationships. While monitoring his entertainment consumption, Dancy noticed that when he prepared to binge watch something, it would feed other bad habits such as smoking, eating junk food, and consuming large amounts of Diet Coke. By changing his entertainment habits, he could also change some of his other bad habits.

Dancy also talks about his rage issues. One way he expressed rage was by placing anonymous, angry reviews on Yelp. This behavior would also bleed over into other aspects of his life. “The feedback loop of crushing people online with data was toxic. Immediately after my searing posts went live, I would overeat. Then I would waste countless hours online, checking on how my reviews were doing. From there, I would stop listening to music I enjoyed, start to sleep poorly and, within 48 hours I would start to be toxic to the people in my real life” (76). Dancy found that by not allowing technology to replace face-to-face interaction, we keep our compassion and ability to be kind and understanding to other people.

“Part Three: Information (2010-2012)” covers content, work, and money. This section discusses how to use social media to increase your marketability. Dancy used social media and other online platforms to build a portfolio of things that displayed his interests and passions. He also used web alert tools to notify him when new articles and other career-related information became available. This allowed him to stay current with trends in the industry. Dancy also collected work statistics so he could see when he was productive, how much he accomplished, and how and when he procrastinated. He was able to determine when the best time was for him to focus on creative tasks as opposed to answering emails. While Dancy’s work could be considered brilliant, he was often sent to human resources because he did not play well with others. Because he had a huge following online, he tended to treat his co-workers discourteously at best. After being let go from several jobs in a short amount of time, Dancy soon learned, “Don’t let your online shadow cover up your real-world worth” (150). Like most other things in his life, Dancy could not control his spending habits. Through his technology usage, Dancy was able to connect his emotions as well as his eating habits with his spending. He was able to monitor his convenient spending, recognize his triggers to irrational spending, and change his spending patterns.

“Part Four: Knowledge (2012-2014)” covers health and environment. In this section, Dancy advocates learning to manage your health in one of four areas: activity, nutrition, sleep, and meditation. He also discusses not depending solely on technology to take over your behavior when it comes to your health. “No app or wearable can help you understand consequences better than the one you have between your ears, yet we still are slowly allowing ourselves to become dependent on the nudges from technology” (147). Smart devices take away our choice. “In the next five years, many of you will start interacting with technology using your voice. Your ‘defaults’ will be chosen for you by your habits. Your ability to navigate the world and understand your choices will be defined by the tech companies you use. More urgently, your access to services, people and tools will be defined by the relationships those tech companies have with other tech companies” (176). Be smart with your tech choices. If you want to have access to the data collected, only buy devices that allow you access.

“Part Five: Wisdom (2014-2016)” covers spirituality and self-love. Dancy recommends changing five things on your phone to gain back control. First, remove any labels that show how much battery you have left to reduce anxiety. Second, change your time format to military time if that is not the standard to force yourself to slow down and confront your crazy schedule. Third, clear your home screen of any widgets. Fourth, organize the apps on your phone by their icon color to help your mood. Fifth, use different but complimentary lock screen and wallpaper to help broaden the depth of feelings. He also suggests rearranging your phone apps by putting the most used out of reach and the apps you would like to use within easy reach in order to force you to think about what you are doing. Use alarms and tasks on your calendar to live more in the now and to prompt you to be mindful of desired actions and responses in the future. After compiling data on almost all aspects of his life, Dancy decides that the last thing he needs to confront is his lifelong struggle with depression, anxiety, and rage. He begins to remember episodes from his past and logging them electronically. He would then bring up the notes when he began having an attack so he could review his symptoms and compare his past experience to how he was feeling at that moment. He would then realize that he had done this before and was able to work through it. Another way he started handling his suicidal thoughts was googling it and reading about other people’s struggles with anxiety and depression. This helped him feel like he was not alone and helped him through the dark times.

While it was interesting to read about the different technology and the way Dancy used it to learn more about himself, hearing his story was a bit like a train wreck where one just cannot look away. Dancy comes across as an arrogant jerk through much of the book, but it did make one curious to know if all of this self-awareness has really changed his personality at all. It almost makes one want to watch his interviews, listen to his TED talks, and read his interviews to see if he really has used technology to become a better version of himself. It is amazing to see everything he did to compile this data but one can assume that most people would not be that dedicated or have the technical knowledge to accomplish what he did. Some of the information in this book is helpful to the average person, but a large part of it seems completely insane and very much out of the realm of reality. Readers who are interested in self-help topics and technology will be interested in buying this book.

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