Ann Patchett, the author of beloved works like Commonwealth and Bel Canto, recently penned her eighth novel, The Dutch House. In a review of the book, The New York Times described Patchett’s writing style as “old-fashioned,” adhering to a “very traditional kind of storytelling.” But her prose is not the only thing that’s considered old-fashioned: While 81 percent of Americans own a smartphone, Patchett “has no social media. She doesn’t text. She uses a flip phone but doesn’t know how to check the voicemail. She rarely reads anything on the internet,” Nneka McGuire, who recently sat down with Patchett, writes in the newsletter Lily Lines.
“I walk through life and feel like I’m in a zombie film and I’m not a zombie, like everyone is staring at the palm of their hand,” Patchett goes on to say. “I think that the world and I are growing farther apart.”
Patchett may think of herself as an outsider in today’s digitally-consumed world, but she’s highly attuned to what people want to read. As Time magazine noted, “Patchett has demonstrated a singular ability to write smart literary novels that are also big bestsellers.” Throughout her nearly 30-year career, Patchett has written eight novels, three nonfiction books, a children’s book, and countless other pieces of published work — and shows no signs of slowing down.
Her relationship with technology clearly hasn’t been a hindrance. In fact, it could have something to do with her success. There is plenty of research highlighting the ways smartphones interfere with our productivity. A 2017 study found that “the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity.” Aptly, the study authors call this frightening phenomenon “brain drain.”
Let’s be honest: It’s unrealistic to suggest we all get ditch our smartphones completely. But we can take a cue from Patchett and redefine our relationship with our devices — and in the process, channel more productive, creative energy.
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