Digital Minimalism By Cal Newport

Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Published: October 19, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes rating: 6


This book follows the same trend of Newport’s two previous books (So Good They Can’t Ignore you and Deep Work). Newport tries to argue for a more focused and intentional life and to do this, he argues, one needs to use tools (digital tools in this case) mindfully.

The book opens with explanations about what Newport believes to be “Digital Minimalism” and how we can reclaim our time back by backing off from social media and other attention-grabbing tools by means of a “digital de-clutter” practice. The second part of the book is filled with practical advice on how to adopt and maintain the life of a digital minimalist.

Overall, I think this book is a nice and easy read. It will definitely make you rethink how you should use your smartphone and will probe you to think carefully about how and why you use social media.

Notes and Highlights

Rewards delivered unpredictably are far more enticing than those delivered with a known pattern. Something about unpredictability releases more dopamine.

Tristan Harris explains: “Apps and websites sprinkle intermittent variable rewards all over their products because it’s good for business”.

If a new technology offers little more than a minore diversion or trivial convenience, the minimalist will ignore it. Even when a new technology promises to support something the minimalist values, it must still pass a stricter test: Is this the best way to use technology to support this value? If the answer is no, the minimalist will set to work trying to optimize the tech, or search out a better option.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run”.

He asks us to treat the minutes of our life as a concrete and valuable substance – arguably the most valuable substance we possess – and to always reckon with how much of this life we trade for the various activities we allow to claim our time.

Gabriella adopted an optimization to this process: she’s not allowed to watch Netflix alone. This restriction still allows her to enjoy the value Netflix offers, but to do so in a more controlled manner that limits its potential for abuse and strengthens something else she values: her social life

This is a nice hack to minimize the time one spends watching tv!

Approaching decisions with intention can be more important than the impact of the actual decisions themselves.

intention trumps convenience

The sugar high of convenience is fleeting and the sting of missing out dulls rapidly, but the meaningful glow that comes from taking charge of what claims your time and attention is something that persists.

Lincoln’s time alone with his thoughts played a crucial role in his ability to navigate a demanding wartime presidency. We can therefore say, with only mild hyperbole, that in a certain sense, solitude helped save the nation.

“Running is cheaper than therapy”

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” — Blaise Pascal

When you avoid solitude, you miss out on the positive things it brings you: the ability to clarify hard problems, to regulate your emotions, to build moral courage, and to strengthen relationships.

The loss of social connection, for example, turns out to trigger the same system as physical pain – explaining why the death of a family member, a breakup, or even just a social snub can cause such distress.

The more time you spend “connecting” on these services, the more isolated you’re likely to become.

A life well lived requires activities that serve no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates.

…doing nothing is overrated. In the middle of a busy workday, or after a particularly trying morning of childcare, it’s tempting to crave the release of having nothing to do – whole blocks of time with no schedule, no expectations, and no activity beyond whatever seems to catch your attention in the moment. These decompression sessions have their place, but their rewards are muted, as they tend to devolve toward low-quality activities like mindless phones swiping and half-hearted bing-watching. […] Investing energy into something hard but worthwhile almost always returns much richer rewards.