122: Digital Minimalism with Cal Newport

What are the hidden costs of digital clutter? How can we counter screen addiction and phantom phone vibrations? We explore these topics in this episode with Cal Newport as we discuss his new book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

Cal Newport is a familiar voice on the Pivot Podcast and back by popular demand! On our first episode we discussed deep work—the increasingly important deliberate practice of focused work, especially in a world of cognitive junk. Now we turn to digital minimalism: applying a just enough mindset to our personal technology, freeing ourselves from the overwhelm, distraction, and “fear of missing out” side effects of the always-connected world. Or as Cal quotes Bill Maher from May 2017: “Likes is the new smoking . . . Philip Morris just wanted your lungs, The App Store wants your soul.” 

Check out full show notes from this episode with links to resources mentioned at PivotMethod.com/podcast/digital-minimalism.

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More About Cal Newport

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Cal Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In addition to researching cutting­ edge technology, he also writes about the impact of these innovations on society. Newport is the author of six books, including his latest, Digital Minimalism, which argues that we should be much more selective about the technologies we adopt in our personal lives, and the bestseller Deep Work, which argues that focus is the new I.Q. in the modern workplace.

Topics We Cover

  • Andrew Sullivan’s “I used to be a human being” and its alarming subtitle: “an endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.”

  • Bill Maher, May 2017: “likes is the new smoking...Philip Morris just wanted your lungs, The App Store wants your soul.” 

  • Phones are the new slot machines and ubiquitous billboards. They are programming us—people don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy, they are pushed into it. 

  • People spend an average of two hours per day on social media and messaging—we seem to have stumbled back into it 

  • Catching people up: our philosophies and challenges 

  • Jenny’s take: soothing not social, and posting not because I have to, but because I find a message I genuinely can’t wait to to share

  • Don’t creators need social media to release their work, and build a platform?

  • Being suspicious of the big companies; consolidating into a small landscape on the Internet rather than doing it on your own 

  • Digital minimalism (less can be more) vs Maximalism (things that might have a little value).

  • The hidden costs of digital clutter: what’s it doing to your mood? Your productivity? This is also complicated by the fact that they mix harm with benefits.

  • Need a philosophy of technology: is this the best way to use technology to support this value?

  • It doesn’t work to just make binary decisions: to use an app or not. Digital minimalists say that’s just a first step. Second step is how and when am I going to use it? 

  • What are the key things I do on this platform? What would I miss? Typically it’s things that could be satisfied in 20 minutes of use twice a week.

  • These technologies allow us to avoid asking the hard questions of what we want to do with our lives, and what type of person we want to be. We can distract ourselves with every moment of our down time. If it was 100 years ago, boredom would be a big motivator. 

  • Higher quality ways to thrive as human beings, and how you can’t let technology dictate what you do with your life. Put it aside, make some hard decisions about what you really love, and what’s really important to you. 

  • Cal Newport’s Digital Declutter Experiment

  • Digital decluttering can be difficult for two reasons: 1. the addiction factor (itch to check or look at something) and 2. high-quality leisure is hard work.

  • Spend more time alone; reclaim leisure

  • Become less available by batching and consolidating text messages. Put phone on “do not disturb” or vibrate by default.

  • Research on social media has a paradox: the more people use social media, the more lonely they feel, and they are interacting with people less in the real world. Being less available by text paradoxically improves relationships.

  • Social media suggestions: stop interacting through likes and comments. Delete social media from phone, and use social media like a pro.

  • Slow Media movement out of Germany; like the slow food movement, but for information. If you’re just jumping around, it’s like fast food. Slow down, consume online information from really high quality sources, and don’t follow a bunch of links. 

  • Take action: break the idea that your phone always has to be with you. Plug back into your own rhythms. 

  • Start reflecting again on what is really valuable to you: activities, connection, etc

Digital Minimalism with Cal Newport

Listen below or on iTunes, SpotifySoundCloud, YouTubeOvercastStitcher, or Google Play Music:

Resources Mentioned

Cal Newport’s Books:

  • Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, So Good They Can’t Ignore You

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