Digital Minimalism - Cal Newport

Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport - The author of the very popular “Deep work”, is a book describing a problem, which is our digital addictions and malpractices, and also how we can adopt the philosophy of “Digital Minimalism”, in order to make us use technology in a healthy, and productive way.

The book opens up by talking about how many of us feel trapped by technology, we have developed unhealthy habits of constant connection and constant scrolling. There have been many articles written about this, and many people have this feeling that technology isn’t working for them, but it seems that we are the slaves to it. This is good business on the side of giant technology companies such as Facebook (Meta), which make money from our attention, it is only natural they want us to be constantly attached to our phones.

Before reading this book, I had thought about this - specially when it comes to short form content such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, you name it… I was extremely concerned about my own well being, because I had never felt such a pull from a piece of social media, I always used it fairly sparingly - but when Instagram Reels came out, I was hooked, pulling around 1 - 2 hours a day just on these short videos, and it showed. I couldn’t concentrate on my online lectures, I couldn’t learn as quickly as I had done before, nor could I concentrate for as long, so I stopped it. The first step came a while ago, but I used to text my partner on Instagram DMs, and I asked if she would mind switching to Telegram, and the simple act of not opening the app slashed my screen time in half. I am rambling let’s get back on track.

Digital Minimalism and Digital Declutter

Digital Minimalism as Newport describes it is:

Digital Minimalism is a philosophy towards technology which prioritises digital use to a small number of deeply thought out and efficient activities.

He backs this up with the following points (I won’t go into too much detail here).

Newport suggests that we undergo a 30 day digital de-clutter where we remove all non-essential digital technologies from our life. This includes Netflix, most apps (excluding work), TV, and most importantly: Social Media. Newport then suggests that after the 30 days we start to reintroduce some technologies, but we do so with every intention of using them properly, therefore we apply the principles of Digital Minimalism. Newport claims this is important because it shows us what we need and what we don’t in our lives.

I think this might be slightly extreme, I think you can see problems in your current tools and act accordingly, however I haven’t had a huge problem with technology - perhaps someone with a greater addiction would benefit from the complete de-clutter.

Practices of Digital Minimalism

Spend time alone

With the rise of modern technology, we have almost completely removed solitude. Think about it, when was the last time you were truly alone? No music, no TV, no work, just you? This was a scary realisation for me because the answer was none. I am either always surrounded by friends or see them on social media, or I am listening to music or watching netflix when I’m alone, this means I have spent very little time alone.

There are great examples that Newport gives in the book about why Solitude is important, but my favourite is that we have very complicated social circuits in our brain, and they are not meant to be on all the time, but they are now a days, constant notifications, alerts, pings, etc…

Spending time alone can benefit your mental health and it gives you time to realise the person you want to be and actually have a chat with yourself, something I believe (and so does Newport) to be of the utmost importance.

Don’t click like

Clicking the like button on social media makes you more committed to social media, interacting with in any way makes you more invested in it, and in recent times we have all heard the odd family member say “Why didn’t you like my post?”, as clicking twice on a piece of glass shows that I really care for them.

Social media companies know this, that we now have a certain contract between each other to like and comment on each others posts, and this makes us waste more time online, scrolling to endless posts and double tapping, for most of us it is probably muscle memory, which is just horrifying.

The reason I read this book WAS because of how social media affected my mental health and how often I was spending on it, after reading the book I uninstalled all social media from my phone and I message my closes friends on WhatsApp or Telegram (or god forbid SMS). And most people will say that they “cannot do it”, YES YOU CAN, just try… you’ll realise that you don’t even care about 90% of the people on social media and all you’ve been doing is distancing yourself from the relationships you actually want to maintain. Focus on the 10% of people you actually care about, go see them, call them, sending a “heart” on Instagram every once in a while is no way to maintain a relationship.

Reclaim leisure

The one I struggle with the most.

Prioritise demanding activity over passive consumption

Our leisure habits, most often consist of scrolling through Twitter or watching Netflix. This stuff is fine but it has to be kept in check, if this is all we do then it is not okay, you need to have a proper leisure activity, a club or anything really to keep you busy when you are not working, something you really enjoy doing. These also have the benefit of being extremely satisfying compared to just watching Netflix.

Seek activities, that require real-world, social interaction

I, just like many others, love working remotely and love playing some video games with friends (or even by myself) however this cannot replace the leisure you have from playing chess over the board, or going to a badminton club where you have to socialise with your doubles partner. Social interaction in leisure is extremely important.

Join the attention resistance

Many giant social media companies are fighting for your attention, that is their business model, they need your eyes, on your phone, to sell you ads. Don’t give it to them.

Easier said then done but Newport does suggest a couple of things to get you started:

Your phone, is the closest object to you, maybe the closest object humans have ever had. We are rarely 1 meter from our phone. Phones are amazing inventions, everything you could ever know is just at your finger tips on a device many times more powerful than the moon lander.

However, it can also be extremely addictive to just stare at the screen for hours, so I (and Newport) suggest you dumb down your phone. For me, I installed Niagra launcher (I have a OnePlus 8 running Android 11), this is a super simple launcher that lists your favourite apps, and the rest are hidden, that’s it. This means when you open the phone you go straight to the app you want, you don’t scroll for no reason. Something else this has helped me with is removing the apps I was somewhat addicted to (Instagram and YouTube), and put them out of sight, making me less likely to open them.

Conclusion

Digital Minimalism is a great book that I think most people should read, it really exposes our addiction to technology and social media, and how it just isn’t okay we spend so much time on it. It helped me form better, healthier habits with technology and in turn I am much happier, more productive, and spend more time doing more meaningful things - But I won’t like, I still binge netflix from time to time, I still watch YouTube a TON, but this book has made me much more cautious about this, I can make sure that at least I don’t use social media, or that I am aware of how much time I am spending on my phone.