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adrw // Andrew Alexander

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Books, Author(Cal Newport)2 min read

2019 | Cal Newport

Recommended by Jeff Bethke, I found this book to be another great one (I also thoroughly enjoyed his book "Deep Work") from Cal Newport with practical (and researched) practices on how to live a more fulfilling life through minimizing distracting and shallow digital interactions.

Newport starts with an analysis that the generation that has grown up with smartphones (also the same cohort that is the target of Jonathan Haidt's "The Coddling of the American Mind") is the first generation to be subject to a self-induced famine of quiet, idle, boring time. This lack of gaps in a day to reflect and process what has happened to you, Newport suggests, has contributed greatly to the spike in mental health cases seen in teenagers that coincided with the launch of the smartphone in 2007.

Reflecting on my own use of podcasts, audiobooks, YouTube videos, and Netflix as background noise through the years, I realize that I too have been using technology to drown out any introspective or processing thoughts I may have been able to have in the quiet gaps of a day. Over the past two years, I've found myself doing that less (being married leaves less alone time to fill with audio), and since reading the book am deliberately reducing my usage of emotion suppressing audio. This has had the welcome benefit of having time to process my thoughts and emotions throughout the day, rather than obvliviously supress them.

One of the mental models I have now taken on is that of differentiating between "connection" and "conversation". Conversation is long form, not text based (phone call, video, or in person), and is much higher bandwidth including the vast majority of human communication that is non-verbal (body language, tone of voice, sarcasm). Additionally, since it is longer form and much higher bandwidth in content that can be covered, an hour of conversation can cover so many more topics and go so much deeper than an hour of texting or messaging back and forth.

Connection on the other hand, are the likes, messages, and other notifications we get from people that give us a false illusion that we have a relationship with them, when really we simply have a few bits of information each interaction instead of someone we have a conversation with where we are exchanging gigabytes or terabytes worth of information. Newport recommends cutting off entirely all connection based interactions (don't like peoples posts, don't text back and forth) with exception for coordinating your next conversation with a person.

I've also found benefit from spending more time away from my phone. For example, I now leave it at my desk when coming downstairs for lunch and charge it at my desk far away from my bed.

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