Book Review: Digital Minimalism - Cal Newport
Technology addiction is becoming a serious 21st century problem and although many people will admit that they probably use their computer and smartphone too much, they haven’t yet recognised that their compulsive notification checking has become an involuntary and degrading habit. Often we start using a new technology (such as signing up to a social media platform) in the hope that it will add some benefit to our lives (‘keep in touch with our friends’). However most are oblivious to the fact that such platforms are designed to keep you hooked and engaged for as many minutes/hours of the day as possible, eventually having a net detrimental impact on your life.
The first half of the book seeks to convince you that technology addiction is real and damaging. The main revelation in this chapter is that social media companies, if not most tech companies, are working to make their products as addictive as possible. The recurring theme is the concept of ‘intermittent rewards’ which instills a compulsive behavior to keep coming back to the product. In the same way the casino is designed to reward you just frequently enough to take all your money, apps are designed to reward you just enough to consume all of your time. The more you engage with the apps, the more personal data you are sharing with them, and consequently more money can be made by selling your data for targeted advertising.
Taking back control of your personal time and developing the skills to prevent technology addiction is the subject of this book. Part 2 of the book presents ‘Digital Minimalism’ as the medicine to reclaim your time for more meaningful pursuits. The first dose is a mandatory 30 amnesty from all apps and tech sites that you believe you use too much. In my experience having spent that degree of time away from a particular website/app I realise how little I actually cared about it, and surprise myself with what I was able to do instead! It’s important to rediscover the feeling of boredom, and rather than reaching for your smartphone and numbing your mind checking status updates, allow your mind to wander and focus on what practical things you could do instead. It’s the time spent reflecting that allows you to refocus on more meaningful activities which provides so much more value to your life than receiving any quantity of ‘likes’.
The book provides many concrete ideas and discusses many of the potential pitfalls implementing the ‘Digital Minimalist’ approach. I am implementing some of them myself, and may write another blog post in the future on my reflections and how successful it was. Otherwise the book was an interesting read that made me reflect on my own digital habits, and gave me some concrete ideas for changing them.
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