Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

How Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport changed my life. 

A little story

Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day, in the afternoon his neck and lower back began to hurt. “Why is this?”, he wondered. One day he started to do some exercises to improve his posture. That helped, but it didn’t feel like solving the root of the problem. What was causing this bad posture?

Another day he went walking with two of his friends. He saw a tall building on which there were a lot of pigeons shitting on it. You could see white lines of bird shit from far away. The warrior asked his friends while pointing to the tall building, “Am I wrong, or do pigeons always seem to shit on the tallest buildings?”. His friends had a surprised look on their faces, and answered, “I haven’t even noticed that tall building before”

One day sitting in a bus, he observed that everyone was crouching over their phone, staring at their screens like they were in another universe. He felt lonely because of this, and he also felt scared, scared of being bored. So he reached for his phone, and the phone suited his discomfort. However, his back and neck started to hurt again and he didn’t notice all the tall buildings outside with bird shit on them.

While scrolling on his phone, he saw a post about a book called “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. “That’s ironic”, he thought “a book about digital minimalism, which reaches me through my phone”

The Book

“We have gone from looking up and around to constantly looking down.”

Of all the books I’ve read, this book had by far the most impact on my life. That’s also why I’ve referenced the book so often in previous posts. For me, the main benefit of this book was that suddenly I had way more time at my disposal and my attention span increased. Friends of mine who also read the book and did the 30-day challenge (about which later) experienced also another benefit: they felt less stressed.

Because of the title and of the recent hype about “digital detoxing”, you would expect that this book is a manifesto against technology. It is in a certain way, but the key message of the book is something different. Or at least, it was something that I didn’t expect.

Cal Newport doesn’t want you to abolish all your new technologies. No, he wants you to use new technologies like smartphones, social media, mail, but only when it serves your goal. He wants you to become a better person because of technology while trying to avoid being enslaved by these addictive technologies.

But how do you do that? Cal Newport has found a highly effective way in which you first perform a digital clean-up called the 30-day challenge, in which you abandon as much of your digital technologies as possible. After that period, you can reintroduce the technologies which meet the following requirements: They serve your goal AND are also the most effective method to accomplish your goal.

You might ask, “Why do we need to clean up before we reintroduce? Isn’t this additional step needless? Couldn’t we just remove the unnecessary technologies from the beginning?” but that would be a mistake, because of loss aversion. I’ll give you the following personal example. I thought before the 30-day challenge that YouTube was essential to me, so I would never see it as unnecessary and certainly wouldn’t remove it. The only thing that convinced me to remove YouTube was the 30-day challenge. However, I was certain that when the 30-day challenge was over, I would use YouTube again. 30 days passed and I realized that YouTube wasn’t essential to me. This is a clear example of loss aversion in action.

What now?

Hopefully, you now feel the momentum to make a change. Don’t waste this momentum. Act. Rebel against the enslavement of people by technology. Remember: You can use technology, but don’t let it use you! (more information in my previous post). I encourage you to perform the “Your Turn” (see below) of this post. But before that, here are three small things you can do right now to start the ball rolling:

Your Turn

Buy or borrow the book “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. Read it. Do the 30-day challenge. Change your life.

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