The Busy Reader

 

Pages in Motion. Passion for Stories.

Digital Minimalism

November 1, 2019

Video Length 1:52

Who Should Read It

Anybody with a smart phone in their pocket.

 

Why Should We Read It

We are so fully engrossed in our digital lives that we might be forgetting to live our actual lives.

 

What Will We Learn

An effective way to unshackle ourselves from our phones and take back our lives!

 

Book Reflections

"...the key to success...is to be disconnected." 

 

Cal Newport, a computer science professor, is most famous for his 2016 book Deep Work. In this book, Professor Newport argues that truly meaningful work that positively impacts our organization and careers is only deliverable if we routinely schedule for ourselves multi-hour blocks of time to think deeply about the task at hand. For example, he reported a case study in which a consulting firm informed clients that their consultants would not be available on Fridays for meetings or via email so that they could focus on their individual assignments. This firm found that consultants with this workflow consistently delivered both high-value work and reported greater work satisfaction compared to another control group. It seems, then, that the key to success in our hyper-connected office space is to be disconnected. Now, Cal Newport is back with his new book, Digital Minimalism, to advocate that our daily personal lives will equally benefit from a similar disengagement with technology.

 

"...a very familiar feeling for many of us- an emotional exhaustion and emptiness from social media, yet with no clear way out...."

 

Central to Professor Newport's perspective in Digital Minimalism is the observation that the transformative technologies of such giants like Facebook and Google are not inherently neutral, but highly addictive. Every online feature, from the "like" button to the "check-in" button to the "auto-tag" button, is carefully crafted to give us a dopamine spike rewarding our evolutionarily hard-wired desire to be part of a larger societal unit. This dopamine hit gives us a temporary high that encourages us to keep interacting with their products. In return, we willingly give these companies vast amounts of personal data for them to mine and sell to third parties- who then pay to display highly personalized, and effective, ads back at us. The end result is a very familiar feeling for many of us- an emotional exhaustion and emptiness from social media, yet with no clear way out. We joined these technology services on the promise that they would serve us; more often than not, it is the other way around.

 

"...perhaps the only way to successfully extract ourselves from [our smartphones]: a rapid "digital declutter" of all non-critical apps from our phones, and living life in that state for 30 whole days."

 

It is 2019, over ten years since the first iPhone debuted; most of us are completely immersed within the ecosystems of our smart phones and the apps they deploy. Professor Newport offers perhaps the only way to successfully extract ourselves from this environment: a rapid "digital declutter" of all non-critical apps from our phones, and living life in that state for 30 whole days (this is detailed in our book video review!). I decided to participate in the digital declutter, but I didn't fully commit the way Professor Newport envisioned. I have about 70 apps on my phone (the average user has 80), and I deleted a grand total of two apps: Instagram and Apple News Feed (I had deleted the Facebook app years ago). In their place, I actually installed two new apps prior to my declutter experiment: the app Moment, which tracks my smart phone usage throughout the day, and the audiobook app Audible. Why? Because my wife told me to download Audible. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not married to Cal Newport.

 

"'...my smart phone usage per day dropped by 42%..."

 

What happened at the end of my 30-day declutter? According to Moment, my smart phone usage per day dropped by 42%, for an average of 44 minutes per day on my smart phone. This amounts to about 5% of my day with my face in front of my phone. The average Moment user is on their phone about 23% of their day. What did I do instead? I mostly hung out with my 10 month old son, who was more than happy to show me what's underneath his various Fisher Price toys. He also enjoyed showing me how to shake the plastic fence surrounding his play area, or just crawling over my body like I was his personal rock climbing gym. Like that consulting firm from Deep Work, I realized that the moment I stopped looking at Instagram accounts full of dad jokes, I could fully enjoy being a dad myself. And guess what, the real life dad jokes with my son are much funnier! Special thanks to Professor Cal Newport, whose message in Digital Minimalism certainly resonated with me.

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