Book: Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport

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Cal Newport’s second book, Digital Minimalism, is somewhat timely given the increasing concern about the role of technology in our lives. In it, he asks us to look critically at the technology we allow into our lives as individuals and consider whether it adds genuine value, or whether we use it as a crux to pass time which would be better spent doing something else.

Top of his hit list is social media, which he argues most people simply do not need, and for those that we really do need it, they probably need it a lot less than they think they do (20 – 30 minutes a week, tops). In 2015 I closed my accounts on the big social media platforms and am embarrassed to admit how difficult I found it. In the end it hasn’t made any meaningful difference to my life. True, there are people that I have lost contact with, but I still communicate with the people that matter and the level of that contact is more substantial than a ‘like’ or a quick comment.

He goes on to set out the merits of of solitude – being alone with your thoughts without external interference. We’ve become accustomed to filling every spare minute with something: checking social media feeds, reading emails, listening to podcasts and audiobooks – we very rarely allow or brains the time to just think. This something that we don’t fully understand the long term effect of.

He also makes a case for analogue activities. Humans are happier, he says, when they are creating something. We should prioritise demanding activities over passive consumption and cultivate high quality leisure activities – things that are meaningful and have defined outcomes.

It’s a good book and there isn’t a lot of waffle in it. It isn’t anti-technology, it just reminds us that we are the masters of our own time and need to take responsibility for how we use it when faced with external influences which may try to monopolise it. It was persuasive enough for me to reset my iPhone and ruthlessly cull and lock down my apps to make what is now, essentially, an expensive dumb phone.

One week in and my screen time has dropped from hours to minutes.

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Discussion

  • I’m a big fan of Cal Newport and have previously read Deep Work. This new book is on my to read list.

    I’m mindful of how and when I use my iPhone. It lives in the home office during the evening and is always on silent. I review apps most weeks and try to delete ones I dont use. I have the screen report switched on and will review it.

    As to social media, Facebook was deleted with relish a few weeks ago and I use Twitter infrequently.

    However, Instagram is a guilty pleasure. I enjoy seeing the photos and the stories that people and brands post. I also have a 30 minute limit on per day (which I sadly exceed regularly).

    I often think about whether people would pay for social media… that could be a potentially easy way of limiting the time spent on these platforms. Would Facebook or Twitter want that? Of course not. These apps on our devices are inherently designed to consistently stimulate our psyche to want more, use them more and miss what they offer.

    Addictive? Without question.

    Useful? That’s very much up to us.

    We need to be strong!