Book Review & Summary: Digital Minimalism

Do you find yourself spending more time on your cell phone than you wished you did? Scrolling and swiping endless social media feeds, furtively waiting for that reassuring ping; signaling a comment on your latest Facebook post?

Well, it’s not a character flaw but a result of how our behaviors are being shaped by technology companies in the attention economy.

While Professor Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is a full-throated polemic against it, Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism takes a more nuanced approach. Digital Minimalism does not reject the miracles of the internet age, instead rejects the way we use them.

According to the author, digital minimalism is 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.

And hence, instead of a digital detox this book recommends a process of digital declutter where the discovery of meaningful activities to replace our incessant scrolling will help transform our digital lives. Successful digital minimalists, the author says, renovate their free time by cultivating high quality leisure activities.

Where we have been sold the idea that more connectivity is better than less, Professor Newport writes about the value of solitude. He says, solitude is a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds. Insights and emotional balance come from solitude; the time for quiet self-reflection. And this is hard to find in an incessantly connected life.

In the book, Professor Newport also makes a distinction between a connection i.e. the low band-width interactions that define our online social lives and conversation; the much richer, high band-width communication that defines real-world encounters between humans. The philosophy of conversation-connection argues that conversation is the only form of interaction that in some sense counts towards maintaining a relationship. Connections, don’t.

Digital Minimalism is also a practical guide. It includes proven practices like scheduling blocks of time where your phone is on Do Not Disturb mode, deleting social media apps from your phone (while retaining access from your desktop), journaling, developing plans for high quality leisure and more. But its only when you buy into the arguments made in the book, will you see the value in not staying always connected.

At its core, Digital Minimalism is an invitation to spend our most precious resource – time – in more meaningful activities, in solitude and in strengthening relationships that truly matter. And in doing so, enriching our lives – offline. Because, as the good professor says, humans are not wired to be constantly wired.

Read the Book Summary here.