Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World was a game changer. If you, like me, have been greatly bothered by the ways technology has hindered rather than helped your life, faith, and happiness then this book is for you!
The book is broken into two parts: foundations and practices.
The foundations section focuses on describing the current cultural moment that many of us find ourselves in. His first chapter describes the way that technology has quietly and covertly overtaken our lives through the past decade as a “lopsided arms race.” He shows that we are living in an attention economy that values selling “eyeball minutes” to advertisers. In order to achieve high revenues from the advertisers companies like Facebook are trying their best to keep users glued to their screens for as much time as they possible can. Quoting the former Silicon Valley Google engineer said in an interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes: they are not programming apps; they are programming people. Technology is not neutral it is a slot machine designed to entice you to spend all of you available time on it so tech companies can make more money. As Bill Maher concludes: this is like the big tobacco companies of the 90s. They are designing it to be as addictive as possible while telling you that it is beneficial. The only people this benefits are the owners and workers of the big tech companies: Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. To quote Maher, “Philip Morris just wanted your lungs, [but] the App Store wants your soul.”
After convincing the reader of the severity of the situation Newport proceeds to define his concept of digital minimalism and propose a “digital declutter.” The 3-step process is described on page 60:
- Put aside a thirty-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life.
- During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.
- At the end of the break, reintroduce option technologies into your life, starting from a blank slate. For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it so as to maximize this value.
The second part articulates various values of the digital minimalism philosophy (solitude, attentiveness, leisure, etc.) and then offers practical suggestions for how putting the values into practice.
Newport paints a vision for a brighter day and a better relationship with technology. The hope is that unlike Andrew Sullivan we will not lament, “I used to be a human being.” Rather, Newport hopes that by practicing digital minimalism we can say that technology has made us better humans because we use it rather than it using us.
Unless your Amish, I recommend this book for everyone. Go pick up a copy and consider Newport’s ideas. Consider doing a “digital declutter” and taking back your life from the grip of the attention economy.