Digital Minimalism

I just finished reading “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” by Cal Newport and found it highly applicable to my own life. Here is my Goodreads review of the book:

Do you find yourself pulling out your smartphone every time you get into an elevator, to passively gaze at a screen devoid of meaningful content, just to avoid 30 seconds of boredom or awkward silence? If so, please read this book.

Below is a brief summary of the book and its main takeaways, posted primarily for my own reference:

Part 1: Foundations

A Lopsided Arms Race

Our current unease with new technologies is not really about whether or not they’re useful. It’s instead about autonomy. We signed up for these services and bought these devices for minor reasons—to look up friends’ relationship statuses or eliminate the need to carry a separate iPod and phone—and then found ourselves, years later, increasingly dominated by their influence, allowing them to control more and more of how we spend our time, how we feel, and how we behave.

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.

  • Principle #1: Clutter is costly.
  • Principle #2: Optimization is important.
  • Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying.

The Digital Declutter

  1. Put aside a thirty-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life.
  2. During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.
  3. At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies into your life, starting from a blank slate. For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it so as to maximize this value.

Part 2: Practices

Spend Time Alone

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

Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by other people and focus instead on your own thoughts and experiences—wherever you happen to be.

It’s now possible to completely banish solitude from your life. Thoreau and Storr worried about people enjoying less solitude. We must now wonder if people might forget this state of being altogether. (see: solitude deprivation)

Practice: Leave Your Phone at Home

Practice: Take Long Walks

Practice: Write Letters to Yourself

Don’t Click “Like”

Where we want to be cautious . . . is when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.

Turkle draws a distinction between connection, her word for the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, and conversation, the much richer, high-bandwidth communication that defines real-world encounters between humans.

The philosophy of conversation-centric communication takes a harder stance. It argues that conversation is the only form of interaction that in some sense counts toward maintaining a relationship … In this philosophy, connection is downgraded to a logistical role. This form of interaction now has two goals: to help set up and arrange conversation, or to efficiently transfer practical information. Connection is no longer an alternative to conversation; it’s instead its supporter.

Practice: Don’t Click “Like”

Practice: Consolidate Texting

Practice: Hold Conversation Office Hours

Reclaim Leisure

In recent years, as the boundary between work and life blends, jobs become more demanding, and community traditions degrade, more and more people are failing to cultivate the high-quality leisure lives that Aristotle identifies as crucial for human happiness. This leaves a void that would be near unbearable if confronted, but that can be ignored with the help of digital noise.

The most successful digital minimalists, therefore, tend to start their conversion by renovating what they do with their free time—cultivating high-quality leisure before culling the worst of their digital habits. In fact, many minimalists will describe a phenomenon in which digital habits that they previously felt to be essential to their daily schedule suddenly seemed frivolous once they became more intentional about what they did with their time.

A foundational theme in digital minimalism is that new technology, when used with care and intention, creates a better life than either Luddism or mindless adoption.

Leisure Lesson #1: Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.

Leisure Lesson #2: Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.

Leisure Lesson #3: Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.

Practice: Fix or Build Something Every Week

Practice: Schedule Your Low-Quality Leisure

Practice: Join Something

Practice: Follow Leisure Plans

I suggest you strategize this part of your life with a two-level approach consisting of both a seasonal and weekly leisure plan.

A good seasonal plan contains two different types of items: objectives and habits that you intend to honor in the upcoming season. The objectives describe specific goals you hope to accomplish, with accompanying strategies for how you will accomplish them. The habits describe behavior rules you hope to stick with throughout the season.

At the beginning of each week, put aside time to review your current seasonal leisure plan. After processing this information, come up with a plan for how your leisure activities will fit into your schedule for the upcoming week. For each of the objectives in the seasonal plan, figure out what actions you can do during the week to make progress on these objectives, and then, crucially, schedule exactly when you’ll do these things.

Becoming more systematic about your leisure, in other words, can significantly increase the relaxation you enjoy throughout your week.

doing nothing is overrated.

Join the Attention Resistance

Practice: Delete Social Media From Your Phone

Practice: Turn Your Devices into Single-Purpose Computers

Practice: Use Social Media Like a Professional

Have a careful plan for how you use the different platforms, with the goal of “maximizing good information and cutting out the waste.”

Practice: Embrace Slow Media

Practice: Dumb Down Your Smartphone

Finally, some other quotes I enjoyed:

The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life.

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate… – Thoreau