Cal Newport has written a very digestible book called “Digital Minimalism”.
As you might expect, the book is about reducing the amount of time spent on digital devices. However, it is more than that. It explains very clearly why we should be spending less time staring at our cell phone screens and then gives concrete suggestions about how to achieve that goal.
He does this by dividing the book into two parts.
The first is what he calls “Foundations”. The second is “Practices”.
The first section, Foundations, explains why you should reduce your use of digital technology. Cal Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University so he is well placed to comment on how people use technology.
This is not an anti-technology tirade. Instead, it is a well thought out treatise on why and how to use our technology in a way that truly enhances our lives.
Among the arguments he makes, he distinguishes between connection and communication. Communication is akin to conversation. He points out that when we trade text messages back and forth, we lose a lot of the intimacy that is gained from a face-to-face conversation.
Gone are the expressions and intonations we use as feedback in our old analog lives. He also points out that when we lose our ability to verbally express ourselves and receive immediate feedback, we also lose our ability to empathize.
Also, the number of young people suffering from various anxiety disorders has risen due to the rise of social media.
The practices section of the book explains how to reduce the use of our digital platforms. It is divided into four parts; Solitude, don’t click like, reclaim leisure, and join the attention resistance. Notice, once again, that he is not advocating the abolishment of the use of our cell phones and social media. He is promoting the intelligent use of them.
One interesting example is that of Abraham Lincoln who spent many solitary hours. Despite the many demands on his time and energy, Lincoln decided to spend nearly half his time in solitude when he could think. The book expands on this concept with modern writings and examples.
The essence of solitude is that it gives you time for unhurried self-reflection.
The next chapter tells us not to click “like” in social media. I doubt you would be surprised to hear that human beings are social animals. In fact, many of the activities spent using our digital services is to connect in some way to others.
Ironically, when we spend more time on social media receiving and giving likes to others, we are spending measurably less time conversing and meeting with others. In other words, too much time on social media makes us more anti-social. People become more socially isolated.
There is no great mystery here. We have all seen how some people seem consumed by social media. However, his argument is that most of us do not realize how much time we are spending surfing the net or seeing what’s new on our favorite social media site.
He then changes gear to talk about the importance of leisure and the types that he feels are truly beneficial. From my perspective, this is the best and most useful section of the book.
He shows how to minimize the use of technology and make it work. He has a couple of examples of how not to do it that resonated with me. For example, cold turkey makes it harder. Plan it out first.
He then talks about the types of activities, such as board games or learning new low-tech skills can help you become less dependent on technology.
He also talks about ways to make it more difficult to access technology such as the use of light phones or apps that block access to certain sites at prescribed times of the day.
You might find it ironic that I downloaded this book and have read it online. I have also used my Surface tablet to write this review.
I would also call myself a digital minimalist as I rarely surf the net or binge-watch Netflix. However, it explains very well why we can get stuck in a digital groove without even realizing it.
It also gave me insight into why I see others have fallen into the social media maze or haze. It also gave me a few ideas about how to reduce my social media usage even more. One of the best ideas is to develop a seasonal and weekly leisure calendar. It is best to be as specific as possible.
This book is less than 300 pages and filled with useful ideas and thoughts. I would recommend it to anyone. The stories about the people, some famous and others not, is worth it alone. You will probably read parts and think that you know that. However, most people will learn something important about themselves and the technology that surrounds us. You have more control than you think but you have to put your mind to it.
by Stephen Hamer