A few thoughts on Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism

Cal Newport: Digital Minimalism

  • I’d heard about Cal Newport when he was on Ezra Klein’s podcast about four years ago. I’d always had some sense of his argument – that we all have unhealthy relationships with our phone and technology – but hadn’t really done much about it.

  • After I listened to that podcast, I tried a version of his digital detox – deleting all social media apps from my phone, forcing myself to not use the browser. But I still used Google Maps, Kindle, and texted.

  • After that 30 days, I got my daily iPhone usage down to less than an hour a day. I’ve reverted back to a higher level, but I still go in cycles of adding/deleting Twitter and Instagram from my phone. They are both huge distractions to me, especially Twitter. The only problem is I find myself sometimes LinkedIn in its place when I have a free moment. LinkedIn!

  • I’m not worried about maintaining only weak connections through social media – because all my social connections are weak at this point in my life. I have kids, I literally have no time to hold phone call office hours or keep an hour open to grab coffee every week. Time is absolutely my scarcest resource, and it’s not like I’m already frittering it’s away on Instagram.

My biggest takeaway: I need to spend more time creating and less time consuming

My job (a macroeconomic analyst) is a lot of creating. I write a lot for my job.

But I need to do better creating outside of work.

  • I look back at some of my old blog posts from 2014 and am impressed by the breadth of what I was thinking about (for example, I still get traffic on a post about inequality mapped through broadband availability. I’m not sure how – I thought all my work then was offline. I need to look at that…). And it was all writing that was just for fun.
  • There’s no better way to understand something than writing about it. It forces you to get deeper and understand the nuances.
  • This is especially important as hot Twitter takes drive the narrative, which are the most superficial way of communication.
  • Twitter is hugely important to understanding what broad ideas are out there, but you need to do more than write/read 280 characters to really understand it. That should be obvious but I’m practice that’s how people operate.

It’s a really good book. A lot of the advice may be impractical for a lot of people, but I think it is directionally correct for most people. How we need to not only do better with our devices. And especially how the idea of the “slow news movement” would be much healthier for all of our information consumption.

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