Author Topic: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport  (Read 798 times)

erp

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Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
« on: November 14, 2023, 04:27:19 PM »
This was a pretty fun book, although it did kind of drift between being a philosophical framework for thinking about how to live a good life, a practical how-to guide, and a rallying/rebellion cry. Ultimately, I think it’s mostly valuable as a philosophical work, with the ‘how to’ pieces mostly serving as suggestions rather than instructions. This is especially true given how quickly digital ecosystems/attention economy systems change and adapt to user behaviours.

The overarching idea is that big tech and the attention economy exists to monetize a rather specific behaviour - how much time you spend on a site and how rich your data stream is while you do so. Unfortunately for the users of these tech platforms, this means driving behaviours which are good for the business regardless of whether they’re good for you. He goes through a litany of ways that your cell phone is bad for you (mental health, fraying democracies, weaponizing polarization, etc.) but I sort of feel like if you bothered to pick up the book you probably already agree with his problem statement. This framing of the argument covers the first part of the book.

The second part of the book is more of a guide to what he calls digital minimalism. His prescription is basically “sometimes tech is useful, but it should serve you - not the other way around”. This means you need to build up an actual understanding of your values and then come up with an actual plan for whether your tech habits are useful.

He proposes:
  • A 30-day cleanse, where you give up all non-optional tech entirely.
  • Fostering ‘high quality leisure’ like building things, time outside, etc. This section features a relatively detailed discussion of the FI movement as people who have much more available time, and thus have had to cultivate more (and typically higher quality) leisure activities.
  • Giving up social media entirely, and failing that, building SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) which provide rules for how to engage with social media. A sample SOP might be “I check facebook at time XXX for 15 minutes, and otherwise do not check it”. This section reminded me a lot of James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’ where he talked about habit stacking.
  • Focusing on conversation rather than connection - where he defines connection as performative actions such as ‘liking’ posts. (note - conversation is actually tricky in it’s own right; I’m working through David Brook’s new book, where he talks about this at length)
  • Various technical solutions - things like turning on DND, leaving your phone at home, installing different apps, etc. These all kind of fit in the category of ‘mitigation’ as far as I’m concerned.
I tend to think that he’s got the right idea, but I think he’s at his best when he’s talking big picture and that the how-to parts of the book are a bit less applicable to my life. He ends with what feels like an attempt to mobilize people with a rebellious rallying cry that fell pretty flat for me. And I already agreed with everything he was saying.

Probably worth a read, and fun to see MMM show up in something that was kinda mainstream … but I feel like maybe there was more to it that I just glazed over for.

Has anyone else read this one - was there some more value that I missed somewhere?

Log

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Re: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2023, 04:53:12 PM »
I haven't read this particular book but have heard Cal on podcasts a lot and read some of his other stuff and generally appreciate the message he's putting out in the world. I should probably check this one out at some point, even if it's redundant with what he's said elsewhere, it might be good for me to at least skim through it.

erp

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Re: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2023, 05:30:38 PM »
It's probably worth a skim, although I think Deep Work is more his foundational text (so maybe read that one first if you're only going to pick up one of them).

Blackeagle

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Re: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
« Reply #3 on: November 14, 2023, 08:20:54 PM »
It's probably worth a skim, although I think Deep Work is more his foundational text (so maybe read that one first if you're only going to pick up one of them).

Totally agree on Deep Work.  I think it's a must-read for most knowledge workers.

Tass

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Re: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
« Reply #4 on: November 14, 2023, 09:17:17 PM »
There is a thread about this book out there somewhere already, because I posted in that one as well: I basically do an annual reread of this book.

I also enjoyed Deep Work; it's certainly worth having read both, and probably whichever one you needed to hear more is the one that feels more important to you. For me, Digital Minimalism is the one I wish everyone would read.

Telecaster

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Re: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2023, 09:53:10 PM »
My view was pretty much the same as the OP's.  Philosophically it was great.   The how-to stuff felt a little bit "try hard" to me.   I'm a long, long time reader of his blog and philosophically it resonates with me anyway, so I had already implemented most of the guardrails he discussed.   So I'd recommend it, but I didn't feel it was particularly impactful for me personally. 

Tass

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Re: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2023, 09:13:16 AM »
I think this book was targeting a somewhat more mainstream audience than people who already followed him, so that may be why.

 

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