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Reblogged:Newport on Bradbury's The Murderer

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Cal Newport recently offered his thoughts on one of those science fiction stories that reads like a prophecy. Ray Bradbury's short story, The Murderer, is about one Albert Brock, a man who has been committed to a mental asylum after destroying all his communication devices. I'll re-post an excerpt here, of what happens after the psychiatrist recommends a commitment of indefinite duration:

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A man at cross-purposes... (Image by Todd Trapani, via Unsplash, license.)
"Three phones rang. A duplicate wrist radio in his desk drawer buzzed like a wounded grasshopper. The intercom flashed a pink light and click-clicked. Three phones rang. The drawer buzzed. Music blew in through the open door. The psychiatrist, humming quietly, fitted the new wrist radio to his wrist, flipped the intercom, talked a moment, picked up one telephone, talked, picked up another telephone, talked, picked up the third telephone, talked, touched the wrist-radio button, talked calmly and quietly, his face cool and serene, in the middle of the music and the lights flashing, the phones ringing again, and his hands moving, and his wrist radio buzzing, and the intercoms talking, and voices speaking from the ceiling ... "
This all occurs, Newport points out, while the patient "relaxes in luxurious silence."

Newport isn't egging us on to imitate Brock, but he does want us to think about how purposefully we're using these devices. (At least that's my impression; I haven't gotten to Digital Minimalism yet.)

This matter is complicated by the fact that these devices are used for communication. One might, alone, decide to use them on a set schedule or for a given purpose, but there will be headwinds against both from the demands of others. Unless one pairs self-discipline with a clear delineation (and enforcement) of boundaries with others (such as described by one of Newport's commenters), the discipline will be for naught.

In light of the latter, there have been times when I would have protested calling Bradbury's short story science fiction, and would have insisted on calling it fantasy instead.

-- CAV

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