Digital Minimalism (Cal Newport), Part 1

Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It's the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world. In this timely and enlightening book, bestselling author Cal Newport introduces a philosophy for technology that can be put to use to support your goals and values—rather than letting technology use you.

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Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It's the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world.

Digital minimalists are all around us. They're the calm, happy people who can hold long conversations without furtive glances at their phones. They can get lost in a good book, a project, or a leisurely walk or run. They can have fun with friends and family without the obsessive urge to document the experience. They stay informed about the news of the day, but don't feel overwhelmed by it. They don't experience "fear of missing out" because they already know which activities provide them meaning and satisfaction.

Bestselling author Cal Newport gives us a name for this quiet movement, and makes a persuasive case for its urgency in our tech-saturated world.

Common sense tips, like turning off notifications, or occasional rituals like observing a digital sabbath, don't go far enough in helping us take back control of our technological lives, and attempts to unplug completely are complicated by the demands of family, friends and work. What we need instead is a thoughtful method to decide what tools to use, for what purposes, and under what conditions.

Technology is intrinsically neither good nor bad. The key is using it to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you. This book shows the way.


Show notes

In this episode, you’ll learn...

  • How technologies have expanded beyond the minor roles we initially adopted them for

    • We now spend an average of 2 hours per day on social media and related messaging services; 55 minutes of which is on Facebook’s products alone

  • Technology has been programmed to encourage behavioral addiction through intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval.

  • The psychological definition of addiction:

    • A condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.

  • Cal Newport’s argument for the need for digital minimalism: it’s not about whether technology is USEFUL, it’s about our AUTONOMY in HOW we use them.

  • The Definition of 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.

  • The Principles:

    • 1: Clutter is CostlyDigital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation.

    • 2: Optimization is Important Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology.

    • 3: Intentionality is SatisfyingDigital 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.

  • The Digital Declutter Process

    • 1: Define Your RulesPut aside a 30-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life.

      • Create a list of “banned technologies” that are truly optional for 30 days, as well as operating procedures for those you still need to use by specifying exactly HOW and WHEN you will use them

    • 2: Take a 30-Day BreakDuring this 30-day break explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.

      • An extended break is critical because it will help you make smarter decisions at the end of the declutter.  Without the clarity provided by the detox, the addictive pull of the technologies will bias your decisions.

      • You must also spend this period trying to rediscover what’s important to you and what you enjoy – aggressively explore higher quality activities! 

    • 3: Reintroduce TechnologyAt 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.

      • Ask these 3 questions to create your Minimalist Technology Screen:

        • Does this technology directly support something that I deeply care about? This is the only condition on which you should let technology back into your life!

        • Is this technology the BEST way to support this value?  We justify many of the technologies that tyrannize our time and attention. The minimalist is unimpressed by all but the robust.

        • How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms? Maintain SOPs that dictate when and how to use tools in their lives; it’s not all or nothing as the apps would have you believe

Bookmarked activity

Start thinking about whether a Digital Decluttering is right for you! Can you see a need for taking a break from the optional technologies in your life?  If so, when would you want to start?  

In the next week or so, before our Part 2 episode, start defining the rules of your digital decluttering. Which technologies will you declutter?  Which are truly optional? Begin developing a list of “banned technologies” as well as operating procedures for those you still need to use by specifying exactly HOW and WHEN you will use them.

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