Apr 20, 2019

Book Review: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Having loved Cal Newport's earlier books - Deep work and So good they can't ignore you, I was awaiting the release of his latest book, which is based on a topic of interest to me - Digital Minimalism. It was such an amazing read and certainly life-changing in many ways. Absolutely well written, thought-provoking and so relevant for our generation who lead a connected life 24*7. 

I had already shared my personal views on why I'm embracing digital minimalism. Will continue to share more on the practices I'm putting in place going forward.

Coming back to the book, in Part I, Cal Newport in his typical style sets the context so beautifully on why our current relationship with technology is unsustainable. He highlights many reasons on how certain platforms are exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities, leading to behavioral addictions. He has also expanded on this context with relevant examples and case studies from the past 2 decades - the entry of iPhone, the rise of FB and other social media platforms and the widespread adoption of smartphones. Some of the comparisons he brought out are so powerful - smartphone resembling a slot machine where we keep trying our luck to see what we get, checking for "likes" is equivalent to addiction etc. 

The chapter on how tech companies encourage behavioral addictions was brilliant, where he talks about intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social appeal (Pages 17-24). I'm sure all of us who are active on social media will be able to relate to these reasons.

Many of us have tried various tips and tricks under the sleeve to control our social media use or smartphone use in general. But Cal emphasizes the importance of identifying our "philosophy of technology use". He had also written about the same in Deep Work. 

As a first step, he proposes going on a 30-day digital declutter, where he suggests that we take a break from optional technologies in our lives and engage in activities that are meaningful and satisfying. After the 30-day period, we reintroduce the optional technologies slowly, based on how it adds value to our goals. 

In Part II of the book, he explains certain practices that are so important in leading a meaningful life outside our smartphones. The first practice he recommends was to embrace solitude and spend time alone with our thoughts. This is one of my favorite chapters, mainly because of the fact that our generation hasn't valued the importance of solitude. We check our smartphone or engage ourselves in some activity or the other "as a knee jerk response to boredom".

The second practice on "conversations vs connections" is also extremely crucial for us. We tend to believe that we can replace real conversations (in-person or call) with casual texts/likes/comments etc through social media or texting apps. But Cal reiterates that humans are wired to be social BUT not through social media.

This book doesn't advocate abstinence from social media or anti-technology; rather the author emphasizes on adopting technology with intention and using social media as a support/enabler for actual conversations.

My most favorite passage in this book 

"The human brain has evolved to process the flood of information generated by face-to-face interactions. To replace this rich flow with a single bit (in reference to LIKE) is the ultimate insult to our social processing machinery. To say it's like driving a Ferrari under the speed limit is an understatement; the better simile is towing a Ferrari behind a mule."

Finally, Cal recommends the importance of high-quality leisure in our day-to-day routines. This chapter talks about identifying our offline leisure activities - craft where we use our own hands to create something valuable. 

If you hang onto your smartphone for every fleeting moment of boredom, I assure you - this book will change your life. Go for it without a second thought and thank me later - in person or via a phone call ;-)

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