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Digital Minimalism

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Cal Newport’s new book is a great distillation of what I’ve come to believe is the right, sustainable, healthy approach to social media, and technology more broadly. Browse less, make the best of it, and live more.

(Note: Some of my notes are distilled from James Stubber’s much more extensive summary)

Social media (and often other modern technologies - streaming, messaging) can be a huge sink of time, energy, and attention. It makes us anxious, stressed, it develops compulsive behaviors in us… and in the end… what’s the benefit? It is there! But we have fixed 24 hours in a day, and limited energy and attention. So we must choose the best of it, and happily miss out on the rest.


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’s why Minimalism (not just digital minimalism) is good:

  1. Clutter is costly. Having a great amount of stuff around you is truly overwhelming, and trumps the sum of all the tiny benefits from each extra thing
  2. Optimization is important. Some things have big bang for your buck, others don’t. With minimalism, you extract the greatest value possible. (E.g. mindless browsing of the news → RSS + curated newsletters → extra filtering)
  3. Intentionality is satisfying. Hard to explain, but it feels amazing to be the master of your life, and choose to do this and not the other thing, instead of taking in everything out of fear of missing out.

Dealing with digital clutter

Mere hacks and tips&tricks are not enough. It’s better to go cold-turkey.

Go on a digital declutter. Take 30 days off ALL optional technologies. (All social media, all social messaging, streaming, browsing of blogs, etc.). This is not the final step, but it is a necessary one.

For required technology (e.g. some messaging, stuff we need for work), write specific operating procedures for when, and how exactly you’ll use the technology (only for the required task).

During the digital declutter, focus on (re-)cultivating high-quality leisure life (more on that later).

After 30 days, slowly reintroduce technology into your life, but for each thing, ask yourself these questions first:

The digital declutter is necessary, because this is the only way to give yourself enough distance from your usual habits to see clearly what’s truly important and has value, and what only seems important because you’re doing it every day.

If you treat the declutter as a temporary thing, not a step towards a permanent life change, you will likely fail.


Some things worth practicing in this informationally busy and overwhelming times:

Reclaiming leisure

If you’re going to cut down on social media, and other digital leisure activities, you’ll find a big hole of time in your life, that you can now fill with higher-quality (and simply different) leisure.

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