Digital Minimalism | Cal Newport
After watching Netflix documentary “the Social Dilemma”, we (maybe once again) understand that there is a manipulation of human behavior for profit by technology and social media companies. Infinite scrolling and push notifications keep users constantly engaged; personalized recommendations use data not just to predict but also to influence our actions, turning users into easy prey for advertisers and propagandists. By coincidence, following the Social Dilemma, I started to read the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
The book highlights the fact that people don’t succumb to screens because they are lazy, but instead because billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable.
Check this quote from the book to realize the updated danger:
Let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money. “Philip Morris just wanted your lungs,” Maher concludes. “The App Store wants your soul.”
Many of us tend to use our digital tools/toys more than needed. Compulsive use, in this context, is not the result of a character flaw, but instead the realization of a massively profitable business plan. In order to reestablish control, we need to move beyond tweaks and instead rebuild our relationship with technology from scratch, using our deeply held values as a foundation.
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.
Minimalists don’t mind missing out on small things; what worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make a good life good.
Principle #1: Clutter is costly.
Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation.
Principle #2: Optimization is important.
Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology.
Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying.
Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.
Thoreau establishes early in Walden: “ The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. “
When people consider specific tools or behaviors in their digital lives, they tend to focus only on the value each produces. Maintaining an active presence on Twitter, for example, might occasionally open up an interesting new connection or expose you to an idea you hadn’t heard before. Standard economic thinking says that such profits are good, and the more you receive the better. It therefore makes sense to clutter your digital life with as many of these small sources of value as you can find, much as it made sense for the Concord farmer to cultivate as many acres of land as he could afford to mortgage.
Thoreau’s new economics, however, demands that you balance this profit against the costs measured in terms of and exposure to interesting ideas, he might argue, why not adopt a habit of attending an interesting talk or event every month, and forcing yourself to chat with at least three people while there? This would produce similar types of value but consume only a few hours of your life per month, leaving you with an extra thirty-seven hours to dedicate to other meaningful pursuits.
These costs, of course, also tend to compound. When you combine an active Twitter presence with a dozen other attention-demanding online behaviors, the cost in life becomes extreme. Like Thoreau’s farmers, you end up “crushed and smothered” under the demands on your time and attention, and in the end, all you receive in return for sacrificing so much of your life is a few nicer trinkets-the digital equivalent of the farmer’s venetian blinds or fancier pot-many of which, as shown in the Twitter example above, could probably be approximated at a much lower cost, or eliminated without any major negative impact.
This is why clutter is dangerous. It’s easy to be seduced by the small amounts of profit offered by the latest app or service, but then forget its cost in terms of the most important resource we possess: the minutes of our life.
Another optimization that was common among the digital minimalists was to remove social media apps from their phones. Because they can still access these sites through their computer browsers, they don’t lose any of the high-value benefits that keep them signed up for these services. By removing the apps from their phones, however, they eliminated their ability to browse their accounts as a knee-jerk response to boredom. The result is that these minimalists dramatically reduced the amount of time they spend engaging with these services each week, while barely diminishing the value they provide to their lives-a much better personal technology process than thoughtlessly tapping and swiping these apps throughout the day as the whim strikes.
These corporations make more money the more time you spend engaged with their products. They want you, therefore, to think of their offerings as a sort of fun ecosystem where you mess around and interesting things happen. This mind-set of general use makes it easier for them to exploit your psychological vulnerabilities.
By contrast, if you think of these services as offering a collection of features that you can carefully put to use to serve specific values, then almost certainly you’ll spend much less time using them.
Finding useful new technologies is just the first step to improving your life. The real benefits come once you start experimenting with how best to use them.
At the core of the Amish philosophy regarding technology is the following trade-off: The Amish prioritize the benefits generated by acting intentionally about technology over the benefits lost from the technologies they decide not to use. Their gamble is that intention trumps convenience-and this is a bet that seems to be paying off.
The very act of being selective about your tools will bring you satisfaction, typically much more than what is lost from the tools you decide to avoid.
The digital declutter focuses primarily on new technologies, which describes apps, sites, and tools delivered through a computer or mobile phone screen. You should probably also include video games and streaming video in this category.
Take a thirty-day break from any of these technologies that you deem “optional”-meaning that you can step away from them without creating harm or major problems in either your professional or personal life. In some cases, you’ll abstain from using the optional technology altogether, while in other cases you might specify a set of operating procedures that dictate exactly when and how you use the technology during the process.
In the end, you’re left with a list of banned technologies along with relevant operating procedures. Write this down and put it somewhere where you’ll see it every day. Clarity in what you’re allowed and not allowed to do during the declutter will prove key to its success.
This detox experience is important because it will help you make smarter decisions at the end of the declutter when you reintroduce some of these optional technologies to your life. A major reason that I recommend taking an extended break before trying to transform your digital life is that without the clarity provided by detox, the addictive pull of the technologies will bias your decisions. If you decide to reform your relationship with Instagram right this moment, your decisions about what role it should play in your life will likely be much weaker than if you instead spend thirty days without the service before making these choices.
You will probably find the first week or two of your digital declutter to be difficult, and fight urges to check technologies you’re not allowed to check. These feelings, however, will pass, and this resulting sense of detox will prove useful when it comes time to make clear decisions at the end of the declutter.
The goal of a digital declutter, however, is not simply to enjoy time away from intrusive technology. During this monthlong process, you must aggressively explore higher-quality activities to fill in the time left vacant by the optional technologies you’re avoiding.
This period should be one of strenuous activity and experimentation.
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.
We justify many of the technologies that tyrannize our time and attention with some tangential connection to something we care about. The minimalist, by contrast, measures the value of these connections and is unimpressed by all but the most robust.
To allow an optional technology back into your life at the end of the digital declutter, it must:
- Serve something you deeply value (offering some benefit is not enough).
- Be the best way to use technology to serve this value (if it’s not, replace it with something better).
- Have a role in your life that is constrained with a standard operating procedure that specifies when and how you use it.
Your monthlong break from optional technologies resets your digital life. You can now rebuild it from scratch in a much more intentional and minimalist manner. To do so, apply a three-step technology screen to each optional technology you’re thinking about reintroducing.
This process will help you cultivate a digital life in which new technologies serve your deeply held values as opposed to subverting them without your permission. It is in this careful reintroduction that you make the intentional decisions that will define you as a digital minimalist.
“Running is cheaper than therapy.”
Regular doses of solitude, mixed in with our default mode of sociality, are necessary to flourish as a human being.
There’s nothing wrong with connectivity, but if you don’t balance it with regular doses of solitude, its benefits will diminish.
To help Nietzsche, of course, is not the only historical figure to use walking to support a contemplative life. In his book, Gros also points to the example of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, a restless soul who set off on many long pilgrimages on foot, often short of money but rich in passion, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who once wrote: “I never do anything but when walking, the countryside is my study.”
The more you use social media, the less time you tend to devote to offline interaction, and therefore the worse this value deficit becomes-leaving the heaviest social media users much more likely to be lonely and miserable.
As Aristotle elaborates, a life filled with deep thinking is happy because contemplation is an “ activity that is appreciated for its own sake . . . nothing is gained from it except the act of contemplation. “ In this offhand claim, Aristotle is identifying, for perhaps the first time in the history of recorded philosophy, an idea that has persisted throughout the intervening millennia and continues to resonate with our understanding of human nature today: a life well lived requires activities that serve no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates.
Leisure Lesson #1: Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.
My core argument is that craft is a good source of high-quality leisure.
Leave good evidence of yourself. Do good work.
Leisure Lesson #2: Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.
Leisure Lesson #3: Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.
Learning and applying new skills is an important source of high-quality leisure.
You can’t, in other words, build a billion-dollar empire like Facebook if you’re wasting hours every day using a service like Facebook.
Schedule in advance the time you spend on low-quality leisure. That is, work out the specific time periods during which you’ll indulge in web surfing, social media checking, and entertainment streaming. When you get to these periods, anything goes. If you want to binge-watch Netflix while live-streaming yourself browsing Twitter: go for it. But outside these periods, stay offline.
There are two reasons why this strategy works well. First, by confining your use of attention-capturing services to well-defined periods, your remaining leisure time is left protected for more substantial activities. Without access to your standard screens, the best remaining option to fill this time will be quality activities.
The second reason this strategy works well is that it doesn’t ask you to completely abandon low-quality diversions. Abstention activates subtle psychologies. If you decide, for example, to avoid all online activities during your leisure time, this might generate too many minor issues and exceptions.
When first implementing this strategy, don’t worry about how much time you put aside for low-quality leisure. It’s fine, for example, if you start with major portions of your evenings and weekends dedicated to such pursuits. The aggressiveness of your restrictions will naturally increase as they allow you to integrate more and more higher-quality pursuits into your life.
“It really comes down to how you use the technology.”
Professionals highlight an effective way of achieving the balance: approach social media as if you’re the director of emerging media for your own life. Have a careful plan for how you use the different platforms, with the goal of “maximizing good information and cutting out the waste.” To a social media pro, the idea of endlessly surfing your feed in search of entertainment is a trap (these platforms have been designed to take more and more of your attention)-an act of being used by these services instead of using them to your own advantage. If you internalize some of this attitude, your relationship with social media will become less tempestuous and more beneficial.
Hollier and Tang posted a manifesto that opens with a diagram that reads: “Your [clock symbol] = Their [money symbol].”
Adopting digital minimalism is not a onetime process that completes the day after your digital declutter; it instead requires ongoing adjustments.
Originally published at https://myhighlightz.blogspot.com.