On living better with less technology
By Khadija Azhar
Many a time I’ve caught myself tumbling down social media rabbit holes–that is, until I feel like my behavior is leading me toward a Black Mirror-esque fate and I promptly set my phone down. Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism has proven to be the perfect blueprint for me to break this cycle of hyper-connectivity.
The book is divided into two parts: Foundations and Practices. Foundations examines the psychological underpinnings beneath our fraught relationship with technology. It also introduces the “digital declutter”–a three-step hard reset that needs to be performed before the philosophy can be internalized. Building upon the economic principles of optimizing returns, the declutter involves a 30-day digital sabbath, where optional technologies are avoided to identify the ones that are valuable enough to retain.
Practice outlines how digital minimalism can be adopted sustainably with actionable advice synthesized from Newport’s survey of 1,600 people who performed the declutter in 2018. The technology we use to color our solitude stymies creativity and originality; this is where the chapters “Spend Time Alone” and “Reclaim Leisure” come in handy. Not only are they packed with evidence-based advice, but force the reader to reconsider their relationship with solitude. This section also recommends intentionality in online habits; scheduling what Newport terms “low-quality leisure” helps corral the distracting influence of tech. Each chapter closes with a collection of practices aimed at easing the transition into a minimalist lifestyle. While these practices are by no means ground-breaking, advice like “Take long walks” and “Leave your phone at home” are a good place to start.
The writing is instructional, but doesn’t feel didactic. Although Newport’s various references to Walden and Lincoln’s solitary retreats can feel tedious, they provide scaffolding to his advice and make it more compelling. At its core, the book embodies the gospel that less is more and serves as a guide to overhaul our online behaviors before the attention economy completely hijacks our digital autonomy. –KA
Cover art courtesy of Penguin Random House.