Digital Minimalism

Posted on 02/11/2019 in misc

This interview with Cal Newport about his new book Digital Minimalism is really interesting. I really want to believe we are at a tipping point where people start to push back against the encroachment of digital technology in our lives.

He makes an interesting analogy between the tech world and the food world. The last half of the previous century brought us a revolution in cheap processed foods. That ultimately led to the current obesity epidemic in the US, along with type II diabetes and a host of other health issues. And although cheap calories are still winning (and sadly are an economic requirement for way too many), there is a definite movement among many to eat healthier. He sees something similar happening with digital technology, and that at some point we'll look back at letting 13 year olds have smart phones the way we'd look at letting 13 year olds smoke.

I'm not sure I share his optimism, at least not in the shorter term. I think he may be discounting the influential effects of a government that wants us sedated and compliant. I haven't read the book yet so maybe he addresses that point.

Another idea I found interesting is the idea that healthy lifestyles are based on an identity. If you are vegetarian or a runner or whatever that defines certain choices you make that can lead to healthy or good choices. We lack that in the tech world today. He believes digital minimalism describes a healthy lifestyle that we may adopt in the coming years to better coexist with the pervasive technology.

One other idea that caught my attention is this.

Like 99% of the value that people actually get out of Facebook, if you put distraction aside, probably requires 20 minutes on Sunday.

Facebook for me is mostly two private groups, one of which I administer so I sort of have to maintain an account for that, and events listings to find things to do on date nights with my wife. I think 20 or 30 minutes once a week just might be sufficient to cover those things. I do check Facebook more than necessary, especially considering that I don't follow anybody so I'm not going to have anything to see on my wall. I'm going to give this a shot and see if 20 or 30 minutes once a week would let me check off those things I can't do outside of Facebook.

What I take from the interview is that digital minimalism is really another way of saying "use technology only intentionally." That doesn't seem like a particularly radical idea.

I may come update this post after I read the book.

Hat tip: Paul Bausch

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