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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 25: Becca Caddy, Science and Technology Journalist

Becca Caddy writes about science and technology, and her book Screen Time tells us how to make peace with our tech devices.

Show notes:

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Becca Caddy writes about science and technology, and is a self avowed tech addict. Her book Screen Time tells us how to make peace with our tech devices and not be overwhelmed by them.

Becca opens her book by admitting she’s a tech addict. 'That’s the reason that the book just seemed to make a lot of sense, and why I seem to be well placed to write it, because everyone I spoke to feels exactly the same.” But, she says, “I really don’t like the word addiction. I joke about being an addict, but I prefer to say habits, even bad habits.”

We have all developed habits around the technology we use, but this is just the way the world works now. “I’m really passionate about getting that across to people, because I’ve noticed, at least among people I know, that the more they worry about their tech use, the more they end up restricting their use of it, and then almost using it too much. I think if we could actually talk about it in a way that isn’t so loaded, then it probably would be helpful.”

One extreme is to throw away your devices, but that’s not practical. Becca says, “I’m very anti throwing away my phone, actually. How can we make peace with our devices? I think sometimes we definitely need to keep it away from us, especially before bed. I noticed such a difference in my sleep if I am looking at my phone in the hour before bed.”

Sometimes using a device to escape from your surroundings can be beneficial. “I don’t think demonizing using tech is helpful to anyone. It can be really nice to, I was going to say switch off, but ironically, it’s the exact opposite of that. But switch off from the world around us and, play a game, or check something, or write, or whatever it is that we’re doing on our phones. I think can actually be really soothing.”

The problem of work/life balance arises when we can be contacted by our jobs at any time of day. Becca explained, “I think that when a lot of people talk about being burned out, what is going on, among other things, is that there is no delineation now between between work and home life. And that can be really stressful.”

Some research suggests that people may find it harder to focus because of devices, and that attention spans are shorter. “I think that’s such a contentious issue at the moment, because there are a lot of researchers who think that our attention is broken, and they always use really sensational words like that. There are some studies that show that the way we pay attention and the way we remember things is a bit different. But, on the other side, it’s not as scary or worrying as we think, if the way we’re able to focus is changing. It’s only just an evolution that’s going alongside the technology and nothing we should be too concerned about.”

Becca points out that, “There are a lot of studies about memory and how, because we have the ability to write things down whenever we think of them in our notes app on our phone, because we have that, maybe we don’t need to remember things in the same way we did. When we have all this technology at our disposal, then why wouldn’t we change the way we think and remember and focus?”

Becca uses Scrivener when writing long articles, and she used it to write Screen Time. On her website, she writes, “I enjoy falling into research rabbit holes.” I asked how she worked with research in Scrivener when writing her book, and she said, “I have so many folders in a Scrivener project. I have folders that are the initial research, I’ll then put some of that down, take out the key points, summaries, interrogate those, create more folders of the same sets of research, and then create final bits that will go into the book. There’s three sections of folders, three sections of research. I really use a lot of folders!”

Becca needs to work like that because, “I am one of those people who a sentence or a thought or an idea will never come out fully formed. I have to get everything down, whether it’s collecting all the research, or writing loads of rough notes. I find that if there’s nothing there, you can’t work on it, you can’t edit it.”

Since we were discussing focus and distractions, I asked Becca if she used Scrivener’s Composition Mode and Focus. “I adore Scrivener’s Composition Mode! I’m very distracted by everything, and I really struggle with editing. it really relaxes me. It almost makes me feel like I’m in this little room where all I’m doing is focusing on that one line. And I’ve never written like that before. I’ve never had a program that does that, where it blurs out the rest of the writing and that one line is vivid. Something about that just really works with my brain.”

I asked Becca what she thinks about the future of technology. She said, “I’m really interested in virtual reality and augmented reality, but not in the way Meta and Mark Zuckerberg are pushing it. I love doing things that I can’t do in the real world in VR. So I’d love to see how that how that develops. I’m very interested in augmented reality. It’s already used quite a lot in business settings, design, and things like that. I’m very interested in how we can incorporate that more, even in interfaces with writing. Imagine a multi-layered Scrivener in front of your face; that would be incredible. You could move folders around with your hands…”

We’ll get right on that.

Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.

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