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Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport argues that, through sophisticated algorithms exploiting our psychological features, social media and Internet services have successfully grabbed our attention and made us dependent on them, forcing us to spend a huge amount of time there. The situation has been especially exacerbated with the advent of smartphones. It's said social media has become the new nicotine.

As a result, we have got several negative consequences: solitude deprivation1; a lack of real, face to face communication; low-quality leisure (in a form of passive information consumption). All this, in turn, has led to increased stress, depression, and a deterioration in the quality of life of many people.

As a solution to these problems, the author offers us the philosophy of digital minimalism. By this, he means an adequate assessment of the benefits and costs of the technologies we use. Anything that does not bring tangible benefit to us must be eliminated. Here are the 3 main principles of this philosophy:

  1. Clutter is costly: We easily accumulate things (i.e., connections in social networks, accounts in various online platforms), without thinking about what it costs us and what we are losing.

  2. Optimization is important: We should get the most out of the technology used in a minimum of time.

  3. Intentionality is satisfying: We should be asking ourselves the question, "Why am I doing this?" before spending our time with online applications.

When it comes down to applying digital minimalism philosophy to everyday life, Cal offers several practices in the second part of the book. Those will help regain control of our time and attention, I will list some of them:

  • Leave your smartphone at home - of course, when the circumstances allow - to practice full offline.
  • Take long walks alone to reflect, dream, and think.
  • Keep a diary, because this is a unique way to be in solitude.
  • Prioritize high-quality leisure: self-education, reading important books, physical activities, offline conversations with people, etc.
  • Remove social media, at least, from your smartphone to stop being exposed to the attention economy tricks.

To conclude, digital minimalism, of course, does not reject the innovations of the Internet age. But instead, it proposes to reconsider our attitude to technology, to look at it as a tool, but not an end in itself. Changing the way we use these tools can improve our well-being, which is the end goal. I think the practices and tips that the author describes in the book will help achieve that.

Additional reading

The author has referenced many other books. Here is a selection of ones that seem interesting to me:

  • Evgeny Morozov, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism.
  • Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.
  • Laurence Scott, The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World.
  • Adam Alter, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.
  • Frédéric Gros, trans. John Howe, A Philosophy of Walking.
  • Michael S. Erwin et al, Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership through Solitude.
  • Michael Harris, Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols.
  • Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.
  • Kieran Setiya, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide.
  • Arnold Bennett, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.
  • Gary Rogowski, Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction.
  • David Sax, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.
  • Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.

  1. Solitude Deprivation definition: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds... When you avoid solitude, you miss out on the positive things it brings you: the ability to clarify hard problems, to regulate your emotions, to build moral courage, and to strengthen relationships. 

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