Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport

digital minimalismCal Newport is a Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, but he is much better known for his books on personal efficiency. I read his Deep Work in 2017. In that book he talks about strategies for focusing in a world full of distractions. Now self-help books are a dime a dozen and most are rarely worth the effort. Deep Work though was different. Its core idea of the benefits of deep focus on the task at hand is simple enough, even obvious. But it is very practical; it acknowledges the very real distractions of today’s world and proposes some very pragmatic strategies to make the transition from idea to practice. I credit that book for re-kindling my long lost love of reading and establishing it as a daily habit. So when Digital Minimalism was announced, I pre-ordered it; it arrived last week.

Deep work

The basic premise of this book is something that many of us instinctively acknowledge: that technology, specifically social media is taking too much of our time. It then goes on to propose strategies to get “take back control”, the core idea being that this will require radical intervention rather than just will power & self control.

Cal Newport defines Digital Minimalism as:

A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else

He is not being a Luddite or anti-technology and he is at pains to stress this point. He just wants the user to be in control of technology use rather than the other way round.

I am not a major user of social media – probably because I am instinctively already a digital minimalist. In that sense, the book was more of a reinforcement rather than too many new ideas for me. In fact, I found some of the discussion either too simplistic or  patronizing or over the top. The strategies and ideas again feel a little contrived, though they might probably resonate with somebody who is a social media addict.

The first part of the book deals with how to get off digital media via a digital declutter. The second part talks about practices to remain off digital media and is much more interesting – probably even outside the context of digital minimalism. It talks about spending time alone, developing fewer but deeper relationships and spending time on high value leisure activities. Again, not rocket science, but I found the reminder useful.

On the overall, I find Cal Newport’s writing practical. It does quote current academic research but is rarely an exhaustive survey of all research on that subject. It is instead a very clear reminder of ideas and resolutions that we all have at the back of our mind but often get lost in the day to day rush. I would definitely recommend this book to anybody who finds themselves a social media addict; for others, a skim read will do.

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