Digital Minimalism

by Cal Newport · read June 20, 2020

Review

This book is a fantastic resource for how to approach technology usage with intentionality and purpose. I've been thinking about how to reshape my relationship to digital media for a while now, particularly with the desire to move beyond hacks into an actual system for engaging with technology without letting it control my life, and I've already gleaned so many ideas from reading this. The TL;DR of the rest of this review is that the book is concise and well structured with some excellent ideas in it.

Newport divides this book into two sections: "Foundations" provides a brief synopsis of our current predicament and outlines the principles of digital minimalism, then "Practices" gives ideas about steps you could take to follow those principles and live a less distracted, more joyful life. The heart of the book is the idea that you should cut back on all but those digital activities which actually add significant value to your life, and use them strategically towards that end. Building a philosophy of technology based on your core personal values makes so much sense to me! I also thought that his suggested practices covered an excellent breadth of ideas, and I especially enjoyed the reflection on the importance of solitude and the benefit of structured sociality.

I also liked that this book was well structured and written - the chapters were internally cohesive, key ideas were broken down then elaborated upon, and it was informative but very direct. These characteristics lend to the practical quality of the book, which was what I was looking for and definitely appeals to the way I think. For anyone interested in rethinking their technology usage, I would definitely recommend the book.

Notes

Foundations

We feel as though we're losing control to the influence of these technologies on our lives

Tech companies encourage addiction through:

  • intermittent positive reinforcement
  • drive for social approval

Unease is not about usefulness but about autonomy

digital minimalism: a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else

3 Principles

  1. Clutter is costly — too much going on is distracting
  2. Optimization is important — need to think about how to use technology
  3. Intentionality is satisfying — derive satisfaction from the process

On screening technologies: it needs to relate to your core values, be the best way to do this, and be constrained by procedures

With this in mind, for each optional technology that you’re considering reintroducing into your life, you must first ask: Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? This is the only condition on which you should let one of these tools into your life.

Practices

Solitude: a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.

Many people mistakenly associate this term with physical separation—requiring, perhaps, that you hike to a remote cabin miles from another human being. This flawed definition introduces a standard of isolation that can be impractical for most to satisfy on any sort of a regular basis. As Kethledge and Erwin explain, however, solitude is about what’s happening in your brain, not the environment around you. Accordingly, they define it to be a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.

Ideas: leave phone at home, take long walks, journal

Don't click like: want to value conversation over connection

Ideas: don't use social media for low quality nudges, consolidate texting, hold conversational office hours

Reclaim leisure: high quality leisure is "a source of inward joy"

Properties of high quality leisure — Bennett principle (expending energy energizes you), involve craft (apply skill to create something valuable), require structured and complex sociality

Ideas: build or fix things weekly, schedule leisure, join something, follow leisure plans

Attention resistance: attention economics control digital media companies

Ideas: delete social media from your phone, limit it on your computer, be strategic, embrace slow media, simplify your smartphone

Conclusion

The digital minimalism philosophy is about regaining control of digital life, not about rejecting or accepting technologies instinctually.

Julia Cooke © 2022