Digital Minimalism (Cal Newport), Part 2

In this episode, Em and Melissa discuss the essential practices of the digital minimalist — how to put in action the subtitle of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: “choosing a focused life in a noisy world.” To learn what Digital Minimalism is, what its foundational principles are, and how to begin your own Digital Decluttering, check out last week’s episode, Part 1.

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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...

  • The practices of a Digital Minimalist:

  • Spend Time Alone

    • The value of solitude is in being in a state of mind that is “free from input from other minds”

    • How technology has evolved to enable us to be continuously distracted from our own minds (the iPod), in addition to providing a new technique to banish any remaining slivers of solitude with a quick glance (smart phones)

    • People born after 1995 – iGen, which was raised on screens – are spending 9 hours a day on average on screens. Their reported cases of anxiety, depression, and suicide have skyrocketed.

    • Humans are not wired to be constantly wired!

    • When you miss out on solitude you miss out on the benefits! i.e. Clarify hard problems, regulate your emotions, build morale courage, strengthen relationships

    • Practices:

      • Leave Your Phone at Home

      • Take Long Walks

      • Write Letters to Yourself (aka journaling)

  • Don’t Click Like

    • Studies on Facebook usage show overall that the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well being – measures of physical health, mental health and life satisfaction

    • The more you use social media to interact with your network, the less time you devote to offline communication

    • Reclaim “conversation” — face to face, phone, or video call…as long as you can hear verbal cues and/or see facial expressions — over shallow “connection,” i.e. texting or liking someone’s post on Instagram

      • You can still use texts to simplify information gathering, coordinate social events, or ask quick questions, but you’ll no longer engage in open-ended ongoing text based conversations throughout your day

      • By doing so, your social circle will at first seem to contract – but quality connection will expand

    • Practices:

      • Don’t Click Like

      • Consolidate Texting

      • Hold Conversation Office Hours

  • RECLAIM LEISURE

    • A life well lived requires activities that serve no purpose other than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates.

    • Low-quality distractions – texting, swiping, liking, checking – play a much more important role in your life than you imagine. A digital declutter will reveals this, and they key is to fill the void with high-quality activities, such as:

    • 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

      • It is OK to use technology to support you in pursuit of these high quality leisure activities! For example, looking up how to fix your lawn mower on YouTube, using Meetup.org to find groups you want to join nearby, etc.

    • Practices:

      • Fix or Build Something Every Week

      • Schedule Your Low-Quality Leisure

      • Join Something

      • Follow Leisure Plans — create seasonal and weekly leisure plans

  • JOIN THE RESISTANCE

    • Imagine Facebook is charging you by the minute. How much time would you really need to spend there in the typical week to keep up with those “necessary” activities?

      • Most people estimate it would be 20-30 minutes per week

      • The average FB user spends around 350 minutes per week

    • “The attention resistance movement is made up of individuals who combine high tech tools with disciplined operating procedures to conduct surgical strikes on popular attention economy services—dropping in to extract value and then slipping away before the attention traps set by these companies can spring shut.”

    • Practices:

      • Delete Social Media from Your Phone

      • Turn Your Devices into Single-Purpose Computers (i.e. block certain sites by default outside of certain windows of time)

      • Use Social Media Like a Professional

      • Embrace Slow Media (i.e. think about your default habits when you access the internet/social media)

      • Dumb Down Your Smart Phone — for the bravest among us who feel they can go back to a basic phone and give up the smart phone!

  • Conclusion

    • Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value—not as sources of value themselves.

    • They don’t accept the idea that offering some small benefit is justification for allowing an attention-gobbling service into their lives, and are instead interested in applying new technology in highly selective and intentional ways that yield big wins. Just as important: they’re comfortable missing out on everything else.

    • It’s not a one-time process. It requires constant adjustments.

    • The key to sustained success is accepting that it’s not really about technology, but is instead more about the quality of your life.

Bookmarked activity

As you get ready to embark on your own digital decluttering, think about which practices you want to personally adopt:

  • Which high quality leisure activities will you schedule into your life?

  • How will you limit low quality distractions?

  • What will you include in your seasonal and weekly leisure plans?

Have you defined the rules of your digital decluttering?  See Part 1.

  • Which technologies will you declutter?

  • Which are truly optional?  

  • What’s on your list of “banned technologies” — and do you have operating procedures for those you still need to use?  

Get ready to set a start date for your own Digital Decluttering!

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