We need to talk about our spare time

A little personal story

I loved YouTube. I don’t know if I love it anymore. I think I don’t. In the majority of the previous three years, a significant part of my leisure existed of watching YouTube. The videos I watched, ranged from Kurzgesagt to Ali Abdaal. These infotainment videos contained a lot of information that I could learn from. While watching these videos, I felt proud of myself, “Look at me, watching all these information-dense videos. I know a lot now, and because of that, I must be a wise person”. 

When I look back at it, I realize that all these videos were just giving me the feeling that I was learning something. The rate of new information was just way too high to learn something from it. And because the information was very shallow, not much of it was retained. Something needed to change.

I came across the book “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport which made me reframe how I spent my leisure. Because of this book, I’ve only used Youtube for ukulele lessons over the previous six months. Well, that’s not completely true, I recently gave the infotainment YouTubers another try. Just three minutes later I realized that quitting YouTube, was one of the best decisions I had ever made.

From reading this book and applying the principles, I learned more than three years of watching YouTube.

The Basics VS The Digitals

In my opinion, the best leisure is both productive and energizing. I’m convinced that most of us don’t use our spare time in this way. I would lie if I would say that I use my spare time always productively and energizingly. Nevertheless, it can be helpful to strive for this ideal.

Our surrounding is very dynamic nowadays and there are a lot of things that are calling for our attention. As a result, it is difficult to make a conscious decision about what we do with our free time. I like to divide the things we do in our spare time into two groups: The Basics and The Digitals.

The Basics

Reading a book


Listening & playing music

Moving your body


Real-life social interactions

The Digitals

Social Media




Texting and mail

Because Digitals are often better at catching our attention than The Basics, there is a tendency towards a more technological use of our spare time. This tendency needs to be put on hold, in my opinion. This can be achieved by making The Basics cool again. In this blog, my emphasis is on reading so I will try to make reading as cool as possible.

Making The Basics Cool Again

The Basics have three advantages over The Digitals:

  1. They are more productive
  2. They are better at energizing us
  3. They are less addictive

You might object, “The Digitals are everywhere and they are very important for our everyday life. It would be a mistake to stop using them.” As a disclaimer, I would like to say that I’m not for the complete abolishment of The Digitals in our spare time. I agree with Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism” in which he promotes the critical use of The Digitals. This means that we only use The Digitals when they serve our goals AND are the best way to achieve them.

We can use The Digitals as a support for The Basics and by doing this, we simultaneously make The Basics cool again. Here are some examples:

Example 1:

Let’s say our goal is to improve our writing. What we can do is read more in our spare time. When we read a lot, we will be exposed to many interesting ideas. Now we have more things to write about. We can also share our written ideas on social media or our blog. By using these Digitals we can get real-world feedback that improves our writing, which is our goal.

Example 2:

Let’s say our goal is to learn a new skill like drawing, cooking, or juggling. We can buy books which give us step for step explanations about what we need to do to learn these skills. On the other hand, Youtube has a lot of videos that visually show the specific skill. The videos are also faster, easier, and cheaper to get. By using Youtube, we learn a new skill, which is our goal.

Example 3:

Let’s say our goal is to improve our social life. We can go to more events, dare to say hi to strangers, or even just ask more questions. Spending less time on our phones, and having more real-life interaction with our friends, lovers, or family members deepens our relationship with them. Nevertheless, calling or texting can be used to arrange these rendezvous. By using texting to arrange a rendezvous, we improve our social life, which is our goal.

Your Turn

Open your phone. Go to the screen time/digital balance section in the settings. Normally, you can see there how much time you’ve spent on each app that day and the days before. You can also see how many times you’ve opened your phone. If that isn’t a shocking enough experience on its own, try to remember the information you’ve seen in that time especially for apps like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or even your browser. Do you remember anything from it? I didn’t.

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