Jenifer Joy Madden
How to Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design
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What is your book about?
My book is about how to design your life so you live in harmony with your technology and get the best out of being human.
What inspired you to write your book?
I noticed there was a real contrast between the way my oldest and my youngest kids grew up. The oldest, my daughter, was a typical child, content to play dress-up and make-believe, to run around with her friends, and read lots of books. Only ten years later, my youngest was born into a new world of screens. He was perfectly satisfied spending his time watching TV and playing video games—until, of course, I disturbed his reverie by encouraging him to do something (anything!) else.
I saw, too, how my own life was changing. I was becoming less engaged with people. As he got older, I’d be contentedly occupied on one screen while he was absorbed on another. That really bothered me. It took years for me to realize there is an opportunity cost to our unquestioning adoption of smartphones and other computerized manna that has rained down from the digital heavens. Because we spend so much time engaged with devices, other vital activities have been crowded out, such as getting enough physical activity, paying attention when you’re talking to people, having the concentration to read an entire article, and being soothed outdoors in nature.
I named my platform “The Durable Human” because durable means to be effective for as long as possible. As robots and AI crowd in, we need to proactively design our lifestyles to make the most of what makes us unique and spectacular as human beings, including our senses of intuition, generosity, compassion and humor, plus our muscles and metabolism.
It’s imperative that new parents understand this. Babies and little kids are each born supremely unique and they need to explore the world in their own time using their native senses. That way they’ll get to know their precious bodies, minds, interests, and abilities. Kids must get to know their own operating systems before they spend much time with others.
Can you describe your writing process?
For several years, starting around 2005, my fiction author friend and I went on week-long intensive summer writing retreats with our two sons. The deal was the boys could tag along and have a beach vacation if they cooked for all of us! Those were in their pre-driving days, so they’d come up with the menus, estimate the food budget, ride their bikes to buy the ingredients, then whip up their own made-up recipes. I remember the day we cringed when they wanted to make “mac and cheese,” but instead of serving up yellow powder from a box, they made pasta then baked it with shredded cheese and sliced banana peppers. Not bad! We loved that as we cranked out our copy, our kids were becoming more durable. (And, yes, he’s the same son who loves screens)
I wrote two books on those trips, both of which have yet to be published. Just before the Amazon self-publishing revolution, an agent was about ready to take on one of them, Raising a Durable Human, when she admitted, “How can I raise a durable human, if I don’t know how to be one?”
At that point, I put aside both books and wrote How To Be a Durable Human (with a parents’ section at the end of each chapter) and published it under an imprint I created: Austral Arc, LLC. The book came together quickly once I joined Kristen Joy Laidig’s Kindle-in-30-Days Challenge.
How did you come to do what you’re doing today?
When I left ABC News where was writing “The Health Show,” I said I’d write a book on well-being. It took a while, but I finally did!
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
When I’m not teaching digital media grad students or writing scripts for hire, I split each weekday between sharing existing content on social media and writing new content or producing content-related videos. When it’s warm out, I sequester myself to write in the screened porch. But whether inside or out, I either stand at a counter or use a portable standing desk (made by StandSteady, the company created by a “durable human hero” featured in my book).
Another way I keep my metabolism perking is to stop every hour and do 60 jumping jacks. This jumpstarts creativity, too, because when I get back to the keyboard, the right word I might have been searching for has often popped into my head.
To keep my vision durable, I practice the 20-20-20 rule. I look away from the screen every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Works like a charm to prevent sore, red eyes! (Print out my list of 7 Top Durable Tips on the bottom of this page!)
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
I love leading small groups on mindful “walks and talks” through beautiful outdoors spaces where we can feed our senses and think about our durability as human animals. Besides that, I enjoy interviewing experts in various fields for tips to share with my Durable Human News list. (Join here!) I also get a kick out of being on the other side of the camera when media types interview me.
Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?
I quote them in my books, including Richard Louv and his Last Child in the Woods, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, Soren Gordhamer’s Wisdom 2.0, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From The Sea.
I’m also jazzed about Stephanie Chandler’s The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan.
Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
When my screen-loving son was 6, we tried to walk to a nearby park, which turned out to be a harrowing trip because there was no sidewalk. Thus began my long quest to make our neighborhood safely walkable. Because of all that gratis work, I was appointed as a county transportation commissioner. Turns out How To Be a Durable Human was published the same month our new sidewalks opened and my son graduated from college!
What’s next for you?
Because personal digital devices descended on us so unexpectedly, parents have very little cover when it comes to raising a child in the wilds of the digital world. As I like to say, there is no lunch box to contain social media. That’s why I’m designing physical products to help. The first is a whimsical way for kids to learn part with their phones so kids and devices are recharged in the morning.
I’d also like to write a series of single-topic books to help kids live in healthy harmony with their technology (and everything else).
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d just like folks to know how helpful it is to be part of the Nonfiction Authors Association. The weekly teleseminars, especially, contain crucial information every author needs for success. Same with the yearly online conference.
Finally, if you want a quick, breezy inspiration for effective living, The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World here for free.
Would you like to be a featured member? Learn about joining the Nonfiction Authors Association!