Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport – Here are my 7 Lessons and Takeaways

“What is the best possible use of your time right now?”
Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of your Time and Your LIfe


Digital MinimalismConfession time:  I am addicted to one of my devices.  I spend way too much time on my iPad, with more minutes than I want to admit being close to, if not wasted, at least not focused; not the best use of my time right now. (That is Alan Lakein’s famous question: “what is the best use of your time right now?”)  These minutes I spend are not decided in advance; not minutes spent with focus and intention…

I’ll even name my addiction:  I am addicted to Twitter.  I don’t Facebook, or Instagram, or play games.  But in between my reading of books, and of news and articles and speeches, I spend too many minutes on Twitter.  And, yes, the “like” and “retweet” buttons on Twitter lead to the kind of addiction described in this book as frequent time traps for other apps, such as Facebook and Instagram.

Digital Minimalism is the second book I have presented by Cal Newport.  I presented my synopsis of Deep Work back in March, 2016, and I presented this latest Newport book this month at the April First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

This book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, calls me to task. Pretty strongly. And it is definitely worth a careful look.

I begin my synopsis handouts with these sections.  Here are my answers for this book:

• What is the point — We (especially in regards to our time) are owned by our devices. A few tweaks will not be enough.We need to adopt the philosophy of digital minimalism.

 • Why is this book worth our time?
#1 – We are addicted to the social apps on our devices.  This book will help us understand our level of addiction.
#2 – It’s not our fault — not entirely. The social media companies have embraced practices that feed our addiction.  They “capture” us.  This book helps us understand, and grasp, their strategies, and their tricks.
#3 – We need a workable strategy to break free of this addiction.  This book provides such a strategy.

Here is the very short summary of the book that I included in my synopsis:

Digital Minimalism — 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.

Here are just a few of the “best of” my highlights, excerpted directly from the book:

I’ve become convinced that what you need instead is a full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else.

The goal of this book is to make the case for digital minimalism, including a more detailed exploration of what it asks and why it works, and then to teach you how to adopt this philosophy if you decide it’s right for you.

What’s making us uncomfortable, in other words, is this feeling of losing control.

The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit 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.

“Technology is not neutral?” Cooper interrupts. “It’s not neutral. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money.”

“It’s hard to exaggerate how much the ‘like’ button changed the psychology of Facebook use.”

Alter goes on to describe users as “gambling” every time they post something on a social media platform: Will you get likes (or hearts or retweets), or will it languish with no feedback? The former creates what one Facebook engineer calls “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure,” while the latter feels bad.

The average Facebook user, by contrast, uses the company’s products a little over fifty minutes per day.

Assume, for example, that your Twitter habit effectively consumes ten hours per week. Thoreau would note that this cost is almost certainly way too high for the limited benefits it returns.

What impresses is the form of the argument. For Thoreau’s obsession with calculation runs deep. . . . He says: keep calculating, keep weighing. What exactly do I gain, or lose?

When we confront our habits through this perspective, we will reach the same conclusion now that Thoreau did in his era: more often than not, the cumulative cost of the noncrucial things we clutter our lives with can far outweigh the small benefits each individual piece of clutter promises.

{Pulling the Thoreau card is just downright mean, isn’t it?}

In the book, Mr. Newport suggests these three core principles:

Principle #1: Clutter is costly.
Principle #2: Optimization is important.
Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying.

• And he recommends a 30 day Digital Declutter:

  • STEP #3: REINTRODUCE TECHNOLOGY — The goal of this final step is to start from a blank slate and only let back into your life technology that passes your strict minimalist standards. It’s the care you take here that will determine whether thisprocess sparks lasting change in your life.
  • And he offers these Idea(s) and “practices,” among others:
  • consolidate texting
  • take long walks
  • write letters to yourself
  • don’t click like; ever! – (have actual conversations)
  • practice leisure with physical activity/effort – “craft”
  • any activity where you apply skill to create something valuable.
  • fix or build something every week
  • follow leisure PLANS
  • join something – (Benjamin Franklin, the great joiner)
  • delete social media from your phone – (save it for the desktop)
  • the “dumb phone movement”

And here are my seven lessons and takeaways:

#1 – First acknowledge your problem. (you know; “step 1” in the 12 steps).
#2 – This will require a big plan, not tiny tweaks, to defeat this. Make such a big plan.
#3 – Become intentional about what you will do with your time; what you will “accomplish.”
#4 – Quit the mindless hitting of the “like” button – however you hit the like button.
#5 – Have more actual, physical, in the presence of the other person, human voice-to-voice/face-to-face conversations.
#6 — Develop your own “What not to do – What to do” list and plan.
#7 – In other words…cultivate a more robust inner life.

I do need to pay attention to this book.  I have not yet adopted all of his suggestions.  But, it stirs my conscience, and brings forth a touch of guilt. I’ve got some work to do!


deep-work-cal-newportClick here to read my blog post on his earlier book: Deep Work by Cal Newport – Here are My Four Lessons and Takeaways.

And my synopsis for Digital Minimalism will be available soon, with my multi-page comprehensive handout, and the audio recording of my presentation, at the buy synopsis tab at the top of this page.  Click here to see our newest additions.  We have many, many useful synopses available.

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