Digital Minimalism (Cal Newport)

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport offers a new philosophy to help us regain control on our usage of screens. Here are my notes.

Technology as a tool, not a distraction

A bicycle is a tool. A hammer is a tool. Tools patiently await to be used.

Social media is not a tool. It wants us to come back. It needs us to come back.

Steve Jobs stated that personal computers were “bicycles for the mind”. Social media isn’t a bicycle for the mind.

This makes me think of the following blog posts I wrote in 2014:

Addictive by design

It’s a lopsided arms race: tech companies invest a lot of money to purposely make their services addictive to people. It’s nearly impossible to not become addicted when using the platform as its creators intended.

Phones and social media (or anything with notifications, really) behave like slot machines in casinos. We constantly pull the handle to see if we’ll get something. Most of the time we don’t, but sometimes we do and that releases enjoyable chemicals in our brain (dopamine) that keep us coming back for more.

Drugs lead to a strong addiction, but they’re difficult to obtain. Social media only leads to moderate addiction, however it’s very easy to obtain (always in our pockets!). The pull becomes stronger and stronger with each interaction, as we can pull the lever of the slot machine whenever we’re a little bit bored.

Exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology

Tech evolves faster than the human brain, so we’re effectively able to exploit biological vulnerabilities in human psychology off which tech companies make money, and evolution can’t catch up to prevent this.

Intention-driven usage

It’s easy to become exhausted, addicted. Easy to lose control.

The solution is to turn the habit of turning to screens by default (even when not needed) into an intentional approach. Ways to do this include:

  • Deleting addictive/time-consuming apps from our mobile devices entirely
  • Leaving our devices home when going out
  • Enabling reading mode (monochrome mode) on our devices to remove colors
  • Using minimal launchers (Android only, see Unlauncher)
  • Spend time alone to rediscover who you are, what you like
  • Take long walks

Conversation, not connection

Text-only communication should only be used to arrange analog conversation (or high-fidelity replacements such as video calls). For example, sending a text to plan a dinner with friends later.

Don’t click Like

You don’t need to tell algorithms what you enjoy. Clicking “Like” reinforces feedback loops of recommended content that then keep you hooked even more. Be part of the attention resistance.