Saturday, 2 May 2020

Book recommendation: “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport

It is one of those books that you’ll probably want to devour in one go. In “Digital Minimalism”, bestselling author Cal Newport offers smart advice on how to ruthlessly strip away any online activities that don’t serve you, and how to regain control of your digital life.

Digital minimalism is a quiet movement and has been defined by Cal Newport as “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”.

Exhausted from leading a digital life

One word that came up repeatedly in conversations that Cal Newport had with people following the publication of his earlier bestseller “Deep Work” was exhaustion. Many people feel exhausted from leading a digital life.

And many people he spoke to mentioned social media’s ability to manipulate their mood. Let’s face it: constant exposure to our colleagues’ and friends’ meticulously curated portrayal of their lives, careers and activities will inevitably arouse the feeling that our own lives, careers and activities are somehow inadequate.

The deep-seated psychological vulnerabilities that every single one of us has

If you’re a social media user, this book will hook you in right from the first page. “Digital Minimalism” is a hands-on guide to minimising screen time and becoming more mindful about technology use. It sets out very clearly and in the most striking way how social media apps target the deep-seated psychological vulnerabilities that every single one of us (!) has.

Digital minimalism is based on 3 principles:

Principle #1: Clutter is costly.

Principle #2: Optimisation is important.

Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying.

Cal Newport suggests initially performing a 30-day digital declutter. He describes how he was hoping that for his research 40 to 50 brave volunteers would sign up for a digital declutter experiment and commit to recording their experiences along the way. His guess was very wrong: more than 1,600 volunteers signed up! (This even made national headlines.)

At the end of the digital declutter, volunteers had the opportunity to allow optional technologies back into their lives, on the condition that such technologies served something that they deeply valued. Volunteers would, for example, not allow a feature of an app back into their life if it offered just some vague benefit.

The aim of digital minimalism is to no longer experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Instead, as a digital minimalist you already know which specific online activities provide you with meaning and satisfaction.

In “Digital Minimalism”, Cal Newport argues that unrestricted online activity has a negative impact on our psychological well-being. He suggests digital minimalism as an alternative approach: using technologies in a way that supports your values and goals – rather than letting technologies use you!

Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who studies the theory of distributed systems. In addition to his academic work, he writes about the intersection of technology and culture. He is the author of six books. His work has been published in over 25 languages and has been featured in many major publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, Washington Post, and Economist.

(Note that I haven’t yet had a go at implementing digital minimalism in the way set out in the book, but I will report back once I have.)