The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.— HENRY DAVID THOREAU
I just finished the highly anticipated book by Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, and it was every bit of as good as I hoped for.
I couldn’t put it down.
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It has been a really long time since I longed to reach for a book in between tiny moments of a movie paused while my boyfriend went to grab something or while we waited for the next episode to start.
The intention of writing this article is to provide a brief summary of the book, focusing on what I found the most useful and highlighting my own journey towards digital minimalism.
What is digital minimalism?
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.
There are three core principles of digital minimalism:
Principle #1: Clutter is costly. Cluttering our time and attention with too many devices, apps, and screen time cost us our productivity, real-life connections, creativity and the pursuit of a well-developed leisure life.
Principle #2: Optimization is important. Figure out how to use technology to best support the things that you value.
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.”
An individual practicing digital minimalism will implement the notion that less is more when it comes to technology use, and adopt practices that support simplicity, optimization, and intentionality.
However, digital minimalism is unique to each individual, and requires each one of us to do a cost-benefit analysis of our technology use in order to turn it from a source to distraction into a tool to support a life well-lived.
How to best adopt digital minimalism
For Newport, gradual habit change to adopt digital minimalism won’t work because of the engineered appeal of the attention economy makes it almost impossible to not get sucked back into excessive digital consumption.
Newport’s solution: digital declutter.
Digital declutter is a process by which we eliminate optional technologies for a 30-day time period so that we can explore offline activities and behaviors that we find satisfying and meaningful.
At the end of the 30-day period, we can reintroduce these optional technologies back into our lives by determining the value that they provide us, and only if they provide us value, and figuring out how to best maximize their values.
Newport goes in detail on suggestions to follow the decluttering process, pitfalls to avoid, and maximize the probability of success.
He also explores ideas to help us cultivate a sustainable digital minimalism lifestyle, including the importance of solitude, the necessity of cultivating high-quality leisure to replace mindless browsing and joining the attention resistance movement.
The book also offers plenty of digital minimalism practices his readers can use as a toolbox to aid our efforts in practicing digital minimalism. This was, of course, my absolute favourite part.
I have been practicing digital minimalism for quite some time now. I am very adamant about consciously and continuously assessing my relationship with the digital world.
It’s been almost two years since I deleted my Twitter account, the only social media account I had at the time. I haven’t been on any other social media platforms since 2013. I write about digital wellness on my blog, mostly to increase my own knowledge repertoire, and to share what I’ve learned with others.
The latest technology I have eliminated is my data plan, which I wrote in detail about here. It has been a couple of months now, and I don’t have the desire to get it back.
After reading Digital Minimalism, I have been contemplating if I even need a phone. I haven’t decided yet, but a 30-day no-phone challenge would be a great way to evaluate whether or not a phone is valuable to my life and if so, how best I can maximize its value.
One of my favourite ideas I discovered in this book is making Netflix a social activity to avoid binge-watching.
While my attention span and love of compulsive reading make binge-watching anything unappealing in its own, it would be a fun activity to recruit friends for a scheduled Netflix date-night.
I am also in the process of re-examining my news-free diet, “part silent protest, part coping mechanism, part extreme self-care plan.” Instead of opting out of the news altogether, I am looking to find news roundup podcast that, hopefully, filters out all the noise while providing a summary of current world affairs.
Most importantly, after reading Digital Minimalism, I am even more so obsessed with creating a well-developed leisure life. I highly recommend reading the book for Newports exploration of this idea alone.
A well-developed leisure life for me includes reading an ungodly amount of books, lots of coffee dates with people I love and adore and doing karaoke with my niece and nephew and singing Let it Go really off-key but with pride.
If it is not evident by now, Digital Minimalism is a must-read for anyone looking to liberate themselves from the shackles of social media, smartphones, and screens.
It has arrived timely to provide us with relief from our always-on, digitally caffeinated culture.
Digital Minimalism provides us with the tools to use technology to support our goals and values, instead of letting it use us.