“I sometimes feel like my head is a computer with too many windows open,” writes Matt Haig. “Too much clutter on the desktop.”
He is not the only one.
In recent years, the world has become an increasingly anxious and stressful place. And Haig should know: he has suffered from debilitating attacks of depression in the past himself. This book is essentially a follow-up to his bestselling 2015 account of his own experiences, Reasons To Stay Alive. This book is less about Haig himself though. It is more of a self-help book, divided into short, concise chapters. And I’m well aware the phrase “self-help book” is not exactly inspiring. But this isn’t the usual Eat Drink Pray Shoots and Leaves dross. Haig (a talented novelist) can write and knows what he’s talking about.
So what is the problem? Part of it is down to the rapid rise of technology. At one point, Haig lists a selection of technological developments we have become accustomed to just since the start of the 21st century. It’s a surprisingly long list.
Supermarkets radiate harsh electric light. Twitter debates turn everyone into either a friend or foe in an instant. A simple viewing of a news broadcast can be a harrowing experience.
Haig is certainly not anti-technology per se: he is a prolific user of Twitter himself and recognises the importance of the resources of emotional support the internet can provide. But he cautions against overuse of these medium, such as the endless mindless trawling of the internet, so often carried out on our mobile phones. Perhaps you are even doing this now as you read this. If so, cut it out. Or at least, think about how much time you’re doing this.
At one point, Haig summarises a small part of his argument in a poem:
“When anger trawls the internet,
Looking for a hook;
It’s time to disconnect,
And go and read a book.”
Perhaps start with this one. You could do a lot worse.
Notes on a Nervous Planet: How To Survive the 21st Century
Author: Matt Haig
Published by: Canongate