Offline: Free Your Mind From Smartphone And Social Media Stress by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner

The Blurb On The Back:

Are you being digitally manipulated?

Authors Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner have sparked an international debate by revealing the “mind hacks” Facebook, Apple, Google, and Instagram use to get you and your children hooked on their products. 

In Offline, they deliver an eye-opening research-based journey into the world of tech giants, smartphones, social engineering, and subconscious manipulation.  This provocative work shows you how digital devices change individuals and communities for better and worse.

A must-read if you or your kids use smartphones or tablets and spend time browsing social networks, playing online games or even just browsing sites with news and entertainment.

Learn how to recognise ‘mind hacks’ and avoid the potentially disastrous side-effects of digital pollution.  Unplug from the matrix.  Learn digital habits that work for you. 

You can order Offline: Free Your Mind From Smartphone And Social Media Stress by Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Imran Rashid is an IT entrepreneur and family physician who served as Head of Innovation for Aleris-Hamlet Private Hospitals.  Soren Kenner is an on-line marketeer and entrepreneur who used to chair McCann MRM EMEA.  Although sloppily written at times and somewhat general, this is an informative look at how tech companies work to keep your attention on their product and the adverse affects this might have on your emotional and mental health.

The book starts by providing an overview of the tech industry, which I have to say I found a bit sloppy, e.g. the authors keep comparing different companies’ worths with the GDP of various countries to the point where it became meaningless – they have the GDP of Germany! Italy! The Netherlands! I know there’s a trend in non-fiction to repeat points two or three times to make sure the reader remembers them, but I found it a bit much.  More interesting is the section on the working of the brain and consciousness – notably the sections explaining prefiltering and neuroplaticity and I was particularly interested in how this ties in with how the brain produces oxytocin and dopamine and its need to get constant hits of the same. 

Rashid and Kenner then pull and how all of this affects the attempts of tech companies to maintain your attention, which to me is the real meat of this book and I wished that the authors had spent longer on it. B J Fogg’s work on “captology” helped to explain how internet commerce sites work and are designed with the authors giving real life illustrations to show how it works, including tracking cookies.  I found the comparison of phones to slot machines frighteningly convincing with the design and notification functions intended to keep grabbing your attention and bringing you back to the phone. Also frightening are the sections on influencing behaviour and the work of Cambridge Analytica, although it’s interesting that the authors draw no real conclusions on the effectiveness of such campaigns.  However I would have liked some more detail on the different techniques used because it all seemed very high level.

The book then moves on to the adverse effects of using technology such as cyberbullying, the effect on empathy levels, depression, sleep disturbance and stress.  There were no great surprises here if you’ve read the newspapers but the authors lay the potential effects out in an easy to follow way.  The authors then move onto some practical tips to reduce your dependence on your phone or iPad, which had some interesting suggestions such as mapping how you currently spend your time and on what and then working out your triggers for when you reach for the phone.

Ultimately, the value in this book is in how Rashid and Kenner have pulled together a lot of information on a complicated (and controversial) subject that affects so many people’s lives – especially in this COVID-19 times when many people – myself included – have found ourselves using social media and the internet more.  Although the writing is sloppy in places (with the authors sometimes contradicting themselves across a couple of pages) and I wanted more on the techniques used by tech companies to keep you hooked, the authors cite a lot of research here and clearly know the subject well so if you’re looking for a good general overview that pulls the various elements of the subject together, then this is a decent place to start.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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