Book Jam: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

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When I bought the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, it was based on a complete misunderstanding of what the term digital minimalism meant. I had my life cluttered up with digital files all over – my computer, cloud drives, files for everything. Saved articles, ideas, and so much more – my online life was far more cluttered than I allowed my home to be. I’ll admit – I was an online hoarder. And I needed help. I found this book and assumed that the answer was inside. What the book was actually about did far more to enhance my life than my mistaken assumption. Let’s talk about that in 5 4 3 2 1

Digital Minimalism, according to Cal Newport, is “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.”

Billions of dollars have been invested in making sure that we are glued to our screens. Not only are we actually addicted to our devices, but our devices have been engineered to make sure this is the outcome. Tech companies do this by positive reinforcement (likes, notifications, comments) and by using our own natural drives for social approval. Newport says people who subscribe to this philosophy of digital minimalism “don’t mind missing out on small things. What worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make life good.”

Three things I learned reading the book:

1. I was flooding myself with devices, apps, and services. I actually had the question in my mind – I want to book an Airbnb, should I do it on my phone? My tablet? My laptop? I wonder if there’s a Kindle app for Airbnb… Trying to organize my life around which apps I would use for which services, and what device to use to perform what tasks – it’s frustrating and confusing, and I get lost in the paradox of choice. Too many options to make a wise decision. For instance, if I only had a laptop, there would be no confusion.

“Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.”

Instead of being ruled by the technologies, use them as tools and stay away from them unless you need them to accomplish something. I’d look pretty weird walking around with a hammer in my hand all day and randomly pounding things with it just because it makes me feel good.

2. Newport has a well-thought-out system for narrowing down the tech we use, and it starts with taking a 30 day break focusing primarily on “new technologies, which describes apps, sites, and tools delivered through a computer or mobile phone screen. You should probably also include video games and streaming video in this category.”

This 30 day break is from the tech you use that you consider “optional.” Things you can stop using without harming or causing major issues in your professional or personal life.

He says, “In some cases, you’ll abstain from using the optional technology altogether, while in other cases you might specify a set of operating procedures that dictate exactly when and how you use the technology during the process. In the end, you’re left with a list of banned technologies along with relevant operating procedures. Write this down and put it somewhere where you’ll see it every day. Clarity in what you’re allowed and not allowed to do during the declutter will prove key to its success.”

During the 30 days, Newport says it’s vital to aggressively look for higher quality activities to fill the extra time you have on your hands – take this time to explore real life, and learn which real-world activities bring you true satisfaction, so in the end of the experiment you can allow tech to assist you in these new activities, without dominating your time and mental space.

3. I learned a series of excellent questions as I introduce or reintroduce technology into my life. I now have a framework in place to help my stop chasing shiny technology objects and focus on what counts. Newport’s questions are as follows.

a. Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value?

b. Is this technology the best way to support this value?

c. How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?

Asking yourself questions is almost always the key to solving your problems, and these three questions are so valuable, I’d recommend listening to this again and jotting them down!

Three things I will change in my life as a result of reading Digital Minimalism:

1. I’m going to start by getting rid of devices – I have too many and this adds to the clutter in my mind. Then I’m going to remove every app on my phone that distracts me and is unnecessary – If I need to check my bank account, I can open a browser, and so on. This sort of thinking will help me clarify what I want.

2. I will spend some time reflecting – however much time it takes, to consider how the technology I use is adding to or distracting me from my purpose and values. I’ll analyze every app or service I use, I’ll get rid of the ones I don’t need and create a list of rules – a system – for how I will use the apps I do need. In this reflection, I will also write down the things I want to do – as Cal Newport said – I want to aggressively explore higher-quality activities.

3. I am going to spend more time alone, thinking. And more time with the people I love in the complete absence of technology. Sometimes when I go for hikes, I am listening to books, and that has been really good for me. But there are also times I need to just let my mind wander. Ever since I read Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday, I had the thought to use the first half of my hike to listen, and the second half of my hike to think and process. I never took action on that thought, fortunately Digital Minimalism brought it back up. When two books remind me of something I want to do, it is a fortunate event, something I want to pay attention to and employ.

I can honestly say that when it comes to overuse of technology, and wanting to limit our time, we are all in this together. Choose what’s valuable, discard the rest. Reading Digital Minimalism is a good start, the rest is up to us.

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