Digital Minimalism

Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

by Cal Newport

294 pages, ★★★★★
Finished on 25th of December, 2021, buy here.

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Learn how to use digital devices and software with intention.
  2. Identify low-quality leisure activities of yours and replace them with high-quality ones.
  3. Technology is not to be avoided, but embraced in a more thoughtful way.

🎨 Impressions

A timely and important book. I think that everyone intuitively knows that browsing Instagram for hours on end everyday is not in fact enriching our lives – but I am probably wrong on assuming that most know this, otherwise the book wouldn’t have become a bestseller. Focusing on satisfying hobbies instead of watching Netflix and tweeting certainly is something everyone should do without exception.

🍀 How the Book Changed Me

  • “Dumbing down” my phone by setting up more rigorous notification settings will hopefully help me gain focus during work – something I struggle with as a project manager who has to jump quickly between urgent tasks.
  • The emphasis on “getting a hobby”, or “high-quality leisure activity” as Newport calls it, gave me another shove to play more guitar, build more stuff with wood, write more, do more sports, et cetera, without feeling guilty.
  • Feeling guilty: whenever I pull out the phone I am now reminded of this bad habit and think about what I really wanted to accomplish just now and if it’s worth it.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  1. You want to arrive at the end of the declutter having rediscovered the type of activities that generate real satisfaction, enabling you to confidently craft a better life—one in which technology serves only a supporting role for more meaningful ends.
  2. Regular doses of solitude, mixed in with our default mode of sociality, are necessary to flourish as a human being.
  3. The general principle is that the value you receive from a pursuit is often proportional to the energy invested.

📔 Summary & Notes

1: Foundations

  • Social media increasingly dictates how we behave and how we feel. It makes us use it more than we think is healthy, at the expense of other activities which are more meaningful.
  • Rewards for out actions are far more effective on us if they are delivered without a known pattern. Think slot machines. This is how social media works.
  • We need a philosophy of technology use. Something that covers from the ground up which digital tools we allow into our lives, for what reasons, and under what constraints.
  • A maximalist: Someone who is uncomfortable with the idea that anyone might miss out on something that’s the least bit interesting or valuable.
  • Work backward from your deeply held values when deciding how to live your life.
  • Thoreau: balance your profits against the costs measured in terms of “your life”. What are you getting exactly for giving what in return?
  • The “law of diminishing returns”: as production processes improve, investing more resources into the process cannot indefinitely improve its output. Eventually you’ll approach a natural limit and experience less and less extra benefit from continued investment.
  • Example, batch: clip interesting articles throughout the week and read them at a set time once a week.
  • A principle of minimalism: approach decisions with intention is more important than the impact of the actual decisions themselves.
  • Exercise: take a thirty-day break from all technologies you deem “optional”. Afterwards, see what you would like to re-introduce. Spark a permanent transformation.
  • Compulsive phone use might be a sign of the lack of a well-developed leisure life.
  • You want to arrive at the end of the declutter having rediscovered the type of activities that generate real satisfaction.
  • Only allow technology into your life with serve something you deeply value. Some benefit is not enough.

2: Practices

  • “Running is cheaper than therapy”
  • Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by others and focus instead on your own thoughts and experiences.
  • We’re wrong to consider intimate interactions as the sine qua non of human thriving. Solitude can be just as important for both happiness and productivity.
  • Regular doses of solitude, mixed in with our default mode of sociality, are necessary to flourish as a human being.
  • Solitude brings you the ability to solve hard problems, regulate your emotions, build moral courage, strengthen relationships.
  • For every hour you spend with other human beings, you need X number of hours alone. Find out what X represents.
  • Some people worry that even temporary disconnection might lead them to miss out of something better they could be doing.
  • People born before the mid-1980s have strong memories of life without cell phones. Concerns experienced now still existed, but no one worried much about them.
  • Most of the improvement gained by better communication tools is minor. Just slightly more convenient. Life without a cell phone is occasionally annoying, but it’s much less debilitating than you might expect.
  • Nietzsche used to walk alone to gain insights. It’s a fantastic source of solitude. “The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit.”
  • Our brains have evolved to default to think about our social life when given downtime. We’re wired to be social.
  • Text-based messages and approval clicks are orders of magnitude less information laden than what we have evolved to expect.
  • The small boosts you receive from posting on a friend’s wall or liking their latest Instagram photo can’t come close to compensating for the large loss experienced by no longer spending real-world time with that same friend.
  • Real conversation is the good stuff; it’s what we crave as humans and what provides us with the sense of community and belonging necessary to thrive.
  • Start treat the clicks as poison standing in the way of cultivating a meaningful social life.
  • Eliminate trivial interactions cold turkey to send a clear message: conversation is what counts.
  • Example: open up a block of time during which you’re happy to take calls. “The 5:30 rule”. “I’d love to get into that with you, call me at 5:30 any day you want!”
  • Aristotle: a life well lived requires activities that serve no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates. Source of inward joy.
  • Learn to fill your life with high-quality leisure activities.
  • Look at people in the FI (= financial independence) community who are provided with large amounts of leisure time. They often voluntarily fill these hours with strenuous activity.
  • “Inactivity leads to a depressive boredom.”
  • “The mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity, they do not tire. All they want is change, not rest, except in sleep.”
  • The general principle is that the value you receive from a pursuit is often proportional to the energy invested.
  • If you rouse the motivation to spend that time [on your social media etc.] actually doing something, even if it’s hard, you’ll likely end the night feeling better.
  • Crafting [with your hands] makes us human, and can provide deep satisfaction which is hard to replicate in other less hands-on (sorry, pun) activities.
  • “Leave good evidence of yourself. Do good work.”
  • Lose low-value habits by first putting in place high-quality leisure activities.
  • Schedule in advance the time you spend on low-quality leisure.
  • Benjamin Franklin invested into his social leisure by joining things, was driven to be part of groups, associations, lodges, volunteer companies: organizations which brought interesting people together. Strong benefits of connecting with your fellow citizens.
  • Seasonal Leisure Plan: three/four times a year, make a plan containing objectives and habits you intend to honor in the upcoming season. Describe goals you hope to accomplish. Define strategies to reach them. Aim towards cultivating a high-quality leisure life.
    • Example: Learn every song from the A-side of Meet the Beatles! on guitar. Strategy: find and print the chords, put in two hours per week, schedule an evening with friends in the future during which you perform them while having them sing.
  • Rapid switching between activities or applications tends to make us less productive in terms of quality and quantity produced.
  • Think about time-sinking features of your technological devices as blocked by default. Perhaps made available to you on an intentional schedule only, set by yourself.
  • “Slow Media” (~slow food) is a mind-set of slowness which requires first and foremost that you focus only on the highest-quality sources.
  • For news / media consumption, choose a location that will support you in giving your full attention to the reading.
  • Declare freedom from you smartphone to take the most serious step you can take toward embracing the attention resistance.

3: Conclusion

  • Implementing digital minimalism is an exercise in pragmatism.
  • See new technologies as tools to be used to support things you deeply value. Not as sources of value themselves.
  • Be comfortable missing out on everything else.
  • It’s not really about technology, but instead more about the quality of your life.
  • Engage and leverage the latest innovations to your advantage, not to that of the faceless attention economy conglomerates, so you can truly state: “Because of technology, I’m a better human being than I ever was before.”

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