I heard about this book while listening to numerous podcasts when it was first released. I was able to borrow it from the library last week and was quickly drawn into the ideas presented by the author, Cal Newport.

The main premise of the book is the fact that technology is plain exhausting. Societies compulsive need to check Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc. every spare minute has broken our free time into numerous chunks that are too small to do anything meaningful with. The author feels that each person needs to build their own philosophy to deal with social media and technology use in general. This philosophy needs to be rooted in your own personal values and should outline which tools you use and how you plan on using them. He calls it digital minimalism, and it applies the belief that less can be more to our relationship with digital tools.

Practices

Below are the practices from Part 2 of the book that the author suggests we adopt.

Spend Time Alone

The author defines solitude as time "alone without input from another mind". Podcasts were mentioned as an example of "input". Since I am a big consumer of podcasts, this initially caught me off guard. However, after re-reading this chapter, I have committed to stop listening to podcasts during my walk from my car to my office. This should give me 20 more minutes each day of solitude.

The importance of solitude comes from the insight and emotional balance gained from unhurried self-reflection.

Practices suggested by the author:

  1. Leave your phone at home since it is the major enabler of social media
  2. Take long walks without your phone (see #1)

Don’t Click “Like”

Conversation is described as "high-bandwidth communication in the real world" between two or more humans - i.e. face-to-face meetings, video chat or phone calls. Connections are low bandwidth online interactions as performed over social media, text messages or instant messaging.

Having conversations with friends and family members forces your brain into overdrive. It needs to spend time reading and interpreting the non-verbal cues from the person that you are conversing with. Our brains have evolved to crave this type of work.

The author makes a case that many connections do NOT equal a conversation. Time needs to be devoted to having conversation-centric communication.

Practices:

  1. Set a schedule for when to perform all your texting. Inform your contacts that you will only reply to text messages during these time slots. Encourage your friends and family to call you rather than text you.
  2. Schedule "conversation office hours, putting aside set times on days you are always available"

Reclaim Leisure

The author feels that doing nothing is "overrated". We need to find high-quality leisure to replace low-value digital distractions.

Leisure Lessons:

  1. Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.
  2. Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.
  3. Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.

Practices:

  1. Build or repair something every week.
  2. Schedule any low-quality leisure time in advance and stick to the allotted time.
  3. Join groups in your community - sports leagues, volunteer groups etc.
  4. Set a seasonal plan with objectives and habits that you want to cultivate.

Join the Attention Resistance

The entire technology sector creates income from the “attention economy”. They make money gathering our attention and then repackaging and selling it to advertisers. Most people need to spend 20-30 minutes a week to keep up with important Facebook activities, yet the average user spends 350 minutes per week.

Practices:

  1. Delete all social media applications from your phone. If you need to access them, use your laptop. This additional friction is enough to curb any unneeded use.
  2. Turn your devices (laptops, tablets) into single-purpose computers (using applications like Freedom) while preserving their long term general purposefulness.
  3. Use social media like a professional to cut through the noise. Facebook is only close friends and relatives, focus on high-quality thinkers or influences in a topic area.
  4. Embrace slower, higher-quality media. Breaking news sites and stories do not contain the facts.
  5. Dumb down your smartphone. Only install apps that are necessary. Look into the possibility of using a "dumb phone"