How much time do you spend on your phone?
The answer may surprise you. From supposed “quick glances” to long hours scrolling through social media, mobile devices continue to grab people’s attention. In his new book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport seeks to address the problems associated with having a life dominated by digital devices.
The Problem: Constant Connection
Constant connectivity is not a good thing. Two of the biggest problems brought into the lives of heavy devices users are loss of meaning and loss of autonomy. When “plugged in” constantly, moments tend to feel “flat” (6). The inherent meaning in an event, activity, or moment gets lost to distraction. Many people also confess to losing a sense of control over their lives (8). They ceded so much of their lives to their screens and they don’t know how to get it back!
Compounding the issue is the fact that big tech companies purposeful engineer their products to be addicting (15-20). Two big psychological “tricks” social media companies use are “intermittent positive reinforcement” and “the drive of social approval” (17). The unpredictability of getting “likes” or “shares” on a post drives us to check them again and again. A thirst of social approval also drives compulsive use of an app.
The Way Out: Digital Minimalism
Newport’s proposed way out of this mess is called “digital minimalism.” Digital minimalism is:
“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support the things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else” (28).
Pretty much the gist is this: You make technology serve you. You don’t serve technology.
Newport is very clear throughout the book that he is pro-technology. He’s not a Luddite, unwilling to adopt new technologies. He just wants people to be thoughtful and intentional to how their technology. In his words, “intention trumps convenience” (57).
The Challenge: Digital Declutter
The heart of Newport’s applications is found in chapter three. It’s a “digital de-clutter” challenge. The challenge consists of giving up all “optional” technologies for 30 days and then reintroducing them at the end. But when people reintroduce these technologies, they will have particular rules and protocols around them so that they are not dominated by them again.
My “rules” surrounding technology use were rather simple:
Rule 1: Phone is for work, not entertainment
I deleted all “optional” apps from iPhone. Most were entertainment apps (YouTube, Spotify, Netflix etc.). Chrome app also goes because mindless internet surfing is a problem for me. Apps that can stay: ToDoist, Evernote. Music can stay because it is restrictive as to what kinds of music it can play. But no email. Not necessary. I’ve never really had to respond to an email over on phone.
Rule 2: Last 15-minutes Rule
I can only surf the web on the computer or check text messages during the last 15 minutes of every hour.