I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am excited by the benefits it may bring. Here’s what it’s about.
The premise of this book is simple and something I’m sure everyone can relate to: our irresistible attraction to our screens is resulting in a loss of autonomy when deciding how to spend our time.
In regaining autonomy, minor hacks will not get to the root of the problem. The apps and content we have access to are like slot machines in our pocket – they are simply too addictive. The 2 ingredients that make a technology able to cultivate unhealthy use are:
To overcome this, you need a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, i.e. digital minimalism. With digital minimalism, you focus your 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.
This contrasts with the maximalist approach most of us employ, where any potential for benefit is enough to start using a technology. 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.
Principles of Digital Minimalism
The Digital Declutter
This is a rapid transformation executed with conviction. It is a 3 step process:
All humans benefit from regular doses of solitude. Solitude is not about physical separation. It is a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds. Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by other people, and instead focus on your own thoughts and experiences.
Regular doses of solitude, mixed with our default mode of sociality are necessary to flourish as a human being. Solitude leads to new ideas or understandings of the self and counterintuitively, can lead to closeness to others.
With smartphones always offering a quick glance, it is possible in today’s world to completely banish solitude from your life. This is referred to as solitude deprivation – a state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your thoughts and free from input from other minds. The effects of solitude deprivation are particularly pronounced in those born after 1995, who entered their pre-teen years with constant access to technology. The result is the worst mental health crisis ever seen.
Some simple practices to avoid solitude deprivation:
Human beings are social animals. Research has shown that when given downtime, our brains default to thinking about our social life. Social media is dangerous because the more time you use it to interact with your network, the less time you devote to offline communication. Digital communication tools have a way of forcing a trade-off between conversation and connection. To overcome this, you must reform your relationship with technology to allow for more analog communication. Cal recommends:
Potentially first identified by Aristotle, a life well lived requires activities that serve no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates, i.e. high-quality leisure.
To be successful with digital minimalism, you must renovate what you do with your free time. You must cultivate high-quality leisure before culling your worst digital habits. Leisure lessons:
The goal of this is to escape passive interaction with your screen as being the primary pleasure, with a state where leisure time is filled with better pursuits, many of which exist in the physical world. Practices to implement this:
At the end of the day, it is important to recognize that doing nothing is overrated. Decompression sessions have their place but their rewards are muted as they tend to devolve toward low-quality activities.
The attention economy is the business sector that makes money by gathering consumer’s attention and then repackaging and selling it to advertisers. Practices to escape the attention-engineered services that come with digital technology include:
Ultimately, the result of digital technology is a society left reeling by unintended consequences. In this consumerist age, we eagerly signed up for what Silicon Valley was selling us, but soon realized that in doing so, we were accidentally degrading our humanity.
One way to reach harmony with technology is through digital minimalism – the concept of using technology to support things you deeply value, and not as a source of value itself. Remember, the key to sustained success is accepting that it’s not really about technology, but it is instead about the quality of your life.