What I’m reading – Digital Minimalism

I can’t remember now what prompted it but something this week made me realise that I was struggling with how I was using social media. So out of the back of the Kindle pile I dug out Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology. Read on for my review.

His central idea is that social media, other forms of new digital communication and “always on” entertain rob us of the down time that we used to (evolutionarily speaking) fill with:

  • Our own thoughts
  • Thinking about relationships and getting good at being a social animal
  • Real (slow, face to face) conversation

Newport’s thesis is that as our digital world expands, we are losing a lot.  I look at my babies who (I’m ashamed to admit) can spend a solid, constant few hours staring at Tik Tok and YouTube and I realise that they haven’t been bored in years.  They are not getting the down time where the brain practices “mentalizing” (ie working out what other people’s mental processes might be) and it’s going to make adulting hard for them

Newport’s initial solution is to go cold turkey on all social media that isn’t required for work for 30 days and then make a choice about what to reintroduce ( sounds very familiar, no? Where’s my Whole30 peeps at?).  I tried to do this 12 days ago but because I have an online business, it’s key to my work to check in with social media a couple of times a day.  Regular viewers may remember I’m not a very good “in moderation” type of person.  I may have managed twice a day on day 1, possibly 2 but then I forgot and had to switch it off on day 3. By day 8 all pretext of a digital detox had vanished. But dropping back into this book has reminded me why it’s important to wean myself off this mindless addiction.

What I did learn for what little detox I did is how much I use social media as a distraction

  • Ugh, I have a horrible work task to do and I’ve removed the ability to check facebook and Twitter…. Hmmm, I will put off horrible work task for 3 more minutes by go checking my email *one* *more* *time*

Ridiculous, yet here we are.

My rules were too vague. I had thought about FB, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram but I hadn’t given any thought to YouTube, email, Pinterest or Medium which all quickly flooded to fill the FaceTwitGram hole in my life.  Today we are going again: the apps are still not on my phone, I’ve installed Leechblock on my laptop. This time I am going in prepared.

Back in part 2 of the book, Newport goes on to discuss what we need to do with all the new leisure time we are about to free up.  Newport goes curiously prescriptive on this.  We need to be making things, developing our skills and we need to be committing to meeting in social groups. Clearly this was all written pre-pandemic response but I’m sure he will still say that Zoom meet ups won’t cut it. Whilst I can get fully on board with the making and crafting (I have my eye on piano playing, song writing and sewing for my newly found leisure pursuit). I’m not sure I’m ready for the social group thing.  Now I get that 75% of this is Covid anxiety. I also know that introvert is a label that I stick to myself when I want to get out of difficult social situations because I know there have been social situations where I’ve had a ball. But still I don’t feel like I have enough time to be meeting up with people regularly, plus what am I supposed to do with the kids?

But other wise I’m 100% down with the message of the book.  I mean, I deleted the apps from my phone, installed Leechblock and now I’ve finished this book in a weekend after owning it for nearly a year.  If I could replicate this success with the next 10 unfinished books I’ve got primed to go on the Kindle then I’m on to a definite winner.

As a side note, my favourite part of the book were the two pages where he acknowledged that the patriarchy made it more difficult for women to work on the issues addressed in the book.  In case you’re wondering, it’s finding solitude on page 97 and structuring your free time without worrying about household management or childcare on page 175.  Newport was the start of my noticing the problematic nature of “dude bro” advice due to his unrelenting support of Richard Feynman when challenged by a female reader about his inappropriate conduct. One day I will write a book on this.

If you’re interested in the book, you can buy the paperbook or Kindle edition through these links and I get a few pennies or you can buy from your local friendly bookshop

Buy the paperback here

Or buy on Kindle here