Book Review: Digital Minimalism



Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport was a great…and much needed…read over Spring Break!  I did have to chuckle that I was reading it back and forth between my Kindle and my phone.  But one of my favorite parts about this book was that he wasn’t bashing social media or phones or technology, his focus was wisdom and balance.  There are several things in particular that stood out to me in this book that were super practical and encouraging.  And I think it’s because I first read Newport’s book Deep Work which I reviewed HEREDeep Work brought me a better understanding of how I can be most productive and Digital Minimalism helped me really think through some digital boundaries as it relates to priorities in a way that really made sense.

I highlighted several things while reading and posted those notes below…

  • I’ve become convinced that what you need instead is a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else. Location: 103
  • I call it digital minimalism, and it applies the belief that less can be more to our relationship with digital tools. Location: 109
  • Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences. Location: 301
  • We didn’t sign up for the digital lives we now lead. They were instead, to a large extent, crafted in boardrooms to serve the interests of a select group of technology investors. Location: 402
  • Digital Minimalism 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. Location: 435
  • 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. Location: 452
  • 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. Location: 516
  • 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. Location: 519
  • 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. Location: 521
  • 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. Location: 725
  • Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by other people and focus instead on your own thoughts and experiences—wherever you happen to be. Location: 1,144
  • This transformation started by the iPod, however, didn’t reach its full potential until the release of its successor, the iPhone, or, more generally, the spread of modern internet-connected smartphones in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Even though iPods became ubiquitous, there were still moments in which it was either too much trouble to slip in the earbuds (think: waiting to be called into a meeting), or it might be socially awkward to do so (think: sitting bored during a slow hymn at a church service). The smartphone provided a new technique to banish these remaining slivers of solitude: the quick glance. At the slightest hint of boredom, you can now surreptitiously glance at any number of apps or mobile-adapted websites that have been optimized to provide you an immediate and satisfying dose of input from other minds. Location: 1,221
  • Solitude Deprivation A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds. Location: 1,245
  • Simply put, humans are not wired to be constantly wired. Location: 1,317
  • Whether or not you accept my proposed philosophy of conversation-centric communication, I hope you do accept its motivating premise: the relationship between our deeply human sociality and modern digital communication tools is fraught and can produce significant issues in your life if not handled carefully. You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room, or among the Ping-Pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator, to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we’ve painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis. Location: 1,799
  • Sherry Turkle, who has been studying phone use since the beginning of the smartphone era, describes this reality as follows: Phones have become woven into a fraught sense of obligation in friendship. . . . Being a friend means being “on call”—tethered to your phone, ready to be attentive, online. Location: 1,864
  • Leisure Lesson #1: Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption. Location: 2,101
  • Leisure Lesson #2: Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world. Location: 2,158
  • Leisure Lesson #3: Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions. Location: 2,250
  • A foundational theme in digital minimalism is that new technology, when used with care and intention, creates a better life than either Luddism or mindless adoption. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that this general idea applies here to our specific discussion of cultivating leisure. Location: 2,289
  • Schedule in advance the time you spend on low-quality leisure. Location: 2,376
  • A good seasonal plan contains two different types of items: objectives and habits that you intend to honor in the upcoming season. The objectives describe specific goals you hope to accomplish, with accompanying strategies for how you will accomplish them. The habits describe behavior rules you hope to stick with throughout the season. In a seasonal leisure plan, these objectives and habits will both be connected to cultivating a high-quality leisure life. Location: 2,451
  • Critical use is a critical problem for the digital attention economy. Location: 2,587
  • There’s also, however, a more ominous feedback loop at play. As more people began to access social media services on their smartphones, the attention engineers at these companies invested more resources into making their mobile apps stickier. Location: 2,625
  • Dunbar Number of 150—a theoretical limit for the number of people a human can successfully keep track of in their social circles. Location: 2,738
  • Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools. Location: 2,962


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