Cal Newport is back to help us think clearly. It’s no surprise that the author of the incredible and essential Deep Work would bring us a thoughtful, well-researched book like Digital Minimalism. Let’s pause a moment and consider whether our use of electronic devices and social media is intentional.
Newport makes a compelling case that our digital lives have become pervasive without our really realizing it. We never planned to be checking our phones so often; it just happened. Further, this unintentional creeping was deliberately designed by tech companies. They manipulate our attention, using intermittent rewards to keep us hooked and using their products as many minutes a day as possible.
What should we do? We should protect how we spend our time. We should make those decisions based on our deepest personal values and the activities we enjoy the most. Digital minimalism is making sure that our social media use, streaming content, gaming, and other uses of our time provide massive value. It’s also making sure that our digital lives aren’t completely crowding out delights like playing music or visiting friends face-to-face.
There’s a “new economics” that shifts the unit of measure of value from money to time. Many of us feel that we don’t have enough time, no matter how much money we have. Minimalism is a way of reclaiming our time from cultural default activities and rededicating it to people and activities that are truly important to us. Newport cites the financial independence community and Mr. Money Mustache as examples.
Intention over convenience is the goal. Are we actually choosing how we spend our time, and are we respecting our own priorities? Hacks are insufficient for reining in digital consumption, though people have tried. Newport advises a detox, a thirty-day digital declutter, during which we can rediscover all the things we love to do but forgot about, because we always have our phones in our hands. We can then gradually reintroduce digital content, remembering that permanent transformation is what we need to get our lives back.
Other people have done it and we can use their example. Digital Minimalism has many examples of digital minimalists who started painting and reading again, among other things. We can use the internet in service of a “leisure renaissance,” learning to do new things, connect with people who share our interests, and find out about events and activities.
Digital Minimalism offers a Seasonal Leisure Plan, which can be built either around the academic calendar, quarterly business cycles, or anything else that the individual prefers. Newport also has a plan for Slow Media, a good idea for news junkies like me. We can continue to engage in social media, though most people can get their needs met in 20-40 minutes of use per week!
This is a provocative and interesting book. I read it after realizing that I had been filling far too much time reading news articles, and making the resolution to be more aware of my news consumption. I decided that the easiest way to deal with this was to focus on reading full-length books instead, like I’ve done most of my life, and using my devices to support that. It has been wonderful! Why read a bunch of clickbait instead of novels and fascinating books like Digital Minimalism? Now that warm weather is coming, I’m going to sit myself down and think about all the fun things there are to do outdoors, with my phone zipped into my pocket.
For many people, their compulsive phone use papers over a void created by a lack of a well-developed leisure life.
Solitude Deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.
As I’ve learned by interacting with my readers, many have come to accept a background hum of low-grade anxiety that permeates their daily lives.
After crunching the numbers, the researchers found that the more someone used social media, the more likely they were to be lonely.
Here’s my suggestion: schedule in advance the time you spend on low-quality leisure.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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