My Thoughts on Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy
One of my favorite authors, Cal Newport, released a new book on February 5th. As a huge fan of his last book, Deep Work, I could not wait to lock myself in a room to read it.
It focuses on how we can improve the quality of our lives by becoming digital minimalists. This appealed to me because, as I have shared before, I sometimes struggle to live a focused life. A couple months ago, I lived what I called The Undisciplined Life.
The reason for me living this life was due in large part to my addiction to technology. My phone to be more specific. You see, like most people, I am deeply attached to it. Whenever I feel bored, I pick it up to check google analytics, email, or dating apps.
Instead of living in the physical world, I choose to spend most of my precious time living in the virtual world. A world that has allowed me to connect with people across the country. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing.
While there is nothing wrong with this, Cal Newport makes a compelling argument for spending less time in this world. He, like my blogger friend Cody from FI to Fly, believes we should put our phones down to stop and smell the roses.
In doing so, we will become digital minimalist, and live a life worth living. A life where we reclaim our humanity. Something Andrew Sullivan thinks we have lost in this digital age.
Have We Lost Our Humanity?
“An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.”
– Andrew Sullivan
The author starts the book off by defining the problem. He cites an article written by Andrew Sullivan titled I Used to Be a Human Being. In the article, Sullivan warns us that, “An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.”
After I saw the article referenced, I immediately stopped to go read it (I am easily distracted). It’s pretty lengthy; it’s 7,000 words long. For those of you with short attention spans, let me summarize it for you.
- Andrew has an epiphany one day that he has been addicted to technology for over a decade
- He can no longer stay focused long enough to read an entire book
- The solution he comes up with is to abandon technology and embrace the real world
- To help him embrace the real world, he checks himself into a meditation retreat center
- After mastering the art of meditation, he reenters society a changed man. He practices meditating daily to stay focused in a distracted world
Our Addiction Prevents Us from Living Intentional Lives
When I finished reading the article, I returned to Cal’s book, where he continued to enumerate the deleterious effects of being addicted to social media.
One of the most harmful effects that he mentions is that, “The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life.
So who is responsible for us becoming social media addicts? Cal Newport places the blame solely on greedy corporations.
Although living an unintentional life won’t help us reach our goals, our mindless scrolling does help corporations make more money. He even mentions the fact that Bill Maher once said this about the tycoons of social media, “They’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.
A very harsh accusation, don’t you think? In my opinion, the two are not comparable. Smoking cigarettes is probably 30 times more harmful than checking your likes.
The author continues to cite sources that attack the “tycoons of social media.” After building up this damning case against the industry, he suggests a cure for this addiction.
What is the cure? Digital minimalism! Let’s explore what digital minimalism is…
Defining Digital Minimalism
According to Cal, digital minimalism is, “A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
But how do you know what you value the most? To discover this, he recommends that you perform a do a 30 day digital detox. During this thirty-day period, you remove all social media apps from your phone.
At the end of this period, you select which apps or platforms to reintroduce into your life. In addition, the author recommends several other strategies to help you improve you stay focused. Let’s discuss a few of those in the next section.
Strategies to Help You Remained Focused
To remained focused once the decluttering period ends, here are a few thing the author suggests:
- Take daily walks. When you take these walks, leave your phone at home.
- Join or start a local group
I love the first idea. One of my favorite things to do is walk around the LSU lakes to escape the daily grind. When walking around the lakes, I usually leave my phone in the car. I’ve found this to be a very peaceful and distraction-free experience. As I walk around the lakes, I sometimes find myself thinking about the unknown variables of life.
As for joining or starting a local group, I have not done any of those things. However, I do attend an open mic in downtown Baton Rouge every other Tuesday. I never perform the poem I’ve committed to memory, because I am terrified of public speaking.
Another very simple idea he suggests is working with your hands as a “high-quality leisure activity. For that, he uses anecdotes from two of the most prominent FI bloggers: Mr. Money Mustache and the Frugalwoods.
The Financial Independence Community
In the author’s words, “a useful place to start investigating high-quality leisure is within the so-called FI community.” Why so-called, Mr. Newport? He goes on to say he selected members of the FI community for two reasons:
- When you achieve FI, you suddenly have more leisure hours to fill than the average person
- The subversive decision to pursue FI at a young age, which typically leads to radical lifestyle decisions, self-selects for individuals who are unusually intentional about how they live their lives
The first person he discusses is Pete Adney (Mr. Money Mustache). Since he doesn’t own a television or subscribe to Netflix, he is a perfect match for this book. Cal focuses a lot on the fact that Pete prefers working on projects outside. In his mind, working with your hands is equal to high-quality leisure.
After he finishes discussing him, he talks about Liz from Frugal Woods. He mentions the fact that she and her husband, after achieving FI, relocated to a massive homestead in rural Vermont. Like Pete, she and her family enjoy outdoor activities.
She tells Newport that she spends the entire summer, “harvesting wood.” According to Cal, these strenuous activities or similar ones, should be performed by those who adopt the philosophy of digital minimalism.
Although I enjoyed reading this book, it didn’t teach me any new solutions. The solutions it presented, I had already learned about from doing research on my own. For example, I recommended that you use the Stay Focused app in my article about living a more disciplined life..
In the book, the author recommends that you use the Freedom app to block certain apps for a specified period of time.
Much of the strategies the author writes about can be read or listened to on FI blogs and podcasts. For example, I know Dave from Accidental Fire, talked about removing social media apps when he was on the What’s Up Next podcast.
However, what I enjoyed about the book the most were the sections on Henry Thoreau’s lifestyle and the author’s thoughts on the financial independence community. To me, the book was worth the purchase because I loved reading its anecdotes and philosophical content.
If anecdotes don’t excite you, I’d suggest reading this book for free at your local library! Leave your phone at home 🙂
- What are your thoughts on digital minimalism?
- Should we place the blame on our addiction solely on corporations?
- Do you think adopting this philosophy will allow you to live a better life? Why?
- If you had to live without your phone for a day, could you handle it?
Jerry is a Business Insider Contributing Writer who is obsessed with personal finance. He believes you can improve your financial situation by applying principles taught by the financial independence community to your financial life.
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