Do you find yourself constantly distracted by technology? Do you mindlessly pick up your phone over and over throughout the day without having a reason? Maybe this isn’t you, maybe you’re the person who isn’t on a phone, looking around at all the other distracted people. Whether you’re addicted to technology, can’t stand it, or want to take some time to assess your personal habits, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport is a thought-provoking read.
Newport describes digital minimalism as “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.” Full of information about the addictive qualities of smartphones and apps, and anecdotes from those who have successfully cut back on their technology dependence, the book is a fascinating and fast read. According to Newport, we are losing control over our own lives by giving them over to addictive technologies: “Increasingly, they dictate how we behave and how we feel, and somehow coerce us to use them more than we think is healthy, often at the expense of other activities we find more valuable.”
Besides raising the issue of whether smartphone, social media, and other apps are addictive time-wasters, Newport puts forward positive philosophies to take the place of our dependence on technology. He encourages us to reach out to our friends and family beyond a simple “like” on a social media post, to enjoy the creative and problem-solving time that can be created by spending time alone, in silence, and to “reclaim leisure,” looking again for those non-technological activities that we once enjoyed: gardening, exercising, and socializing (in real life, not online).
Whether you have concerns about modern technology or like things the way they are, Newport’s book will make you stop and think about the trajectory of our society and how we got to where we are. As he points out, in the early 2000s, Facebook was a novelty website people used for fun and connection, and smartphones didn’t exist yet; now, according to the latest Nielson study, the average American spends five hours per day on a mobile device, and 35 minutes a day on Facebook. Our reliance on, and relationship to, technology has changed rapidly, and Digital Minimalism is a nice chance to slow down for a while and consider how we got here.