Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Digital Minimalism

July 2020

"Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport

If you're looking for book recommendations in the productivity and professional development genre, Patton offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Library. 

Rather than dismissing technology entirely, Newport insists that you should feel in control of your technology use, rather than the other way around. Digital Minimalism is true to its title: conveying an understanding that while being connected online is important in today's world, the actual time spent using these technologies far surpasses what is actually needed for most people. His research not only confirms that people of all ages feel increased stress levels due to technology, but also that tech companies are investing exorbitant funds and research to ensure that your eyes are glued to your screens. Illusions of connectivity prove shallow when compared to meaningful conversation, and prove addicting in addition to their detrimental effects.


Three Takeaways:

  1. Consolidate Technology Use. Newport understands that quitting social media entirely is an unrealistic prospect in the digital age. He instead insists that to minimize technology use it should be scheduled and limited, rather than loosely utilized to fill (and waste) time whenever convenient. This means that one should literally calendar time for communicating digitally, curate the best incoming content, and delete nonessential apps which so often hold your attention

  2. Reclaim Time and Leisure. Leisurely technology use means that you are probably losing hours of your day engaging in shallow conversations, reviewing info-tainment, or otherwise falling into the traps of addictive social media design. When you begin to limit technology usage, you'll realize a lot of time is freed up, and while it can be hard to resist going back to the phone, it can be even harder to figure out what to do with your newly found free time. Being intentional with one's activities and leisure time is essential to solidifying minimal digital usage. Find or reclaim an "analog" hobby!

  3. Redefine Communication. The shallowness of social networking sites allows one the illusion of connectivity, while in reality the sites' usage distracts you from meaningful real-life encounters. While it can be useful to catch up with friends from the past or connect with strangers in groups, the surface-level encounters provide one with a misleading sense of connection, rather than meaningful personal development. Newport suggests identifying the ways social engagement in the digital realm is nonessential, and deleting those sites entirely. He then recommends incorporating real life social engagements into your leisure time, and even maximizing solitude into your personal life. 

Newport's three principles: clutter is costly, optimization is important, and intentionality is satisfying, will guide you on a path to use technology only when it is vital and at very few intervals. In this way, you'll learn to maximize your time and advance your productivity, free from the traps of digital technology usage. 


Cal Newport is the Provost's Distinguished Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Georgetown University and the author of six self-improvement books. He writes the Study Hacks blog, which is focused on academic and career success.