Takeaways from Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism

1 – It’s Not a Fair Fight.

“Compulsive use is the foundation for many social media business plans.” – Cal Newport

There is a well known story about the Facebook notification on desktop — originally, the notification was a similar shade of blue to the rest of the site.  However, when the notification changed colors from blue to red, engagement soared.  Why?  Human psychology.

Tech companies employ very smart people to “increase engagement” — which is just tech speak for “keep people on the app as long as possible” 

As Marc Benioff has said, “Facebook is the new smoking” — you are addicted and you don’t even realize it because it is a subconscious compulsion. 

Put simply, it’s not a fair fight. Social media companies have poured billions of dollars into the psychology of keeping people addicted to their phones, without them realizing it.  And it’s worked. 

2 – It’s Not “All-or-Northing”

Digital Minimalism doesn’t mean that you have to live as a luddite and give up all technology.  Cal defines Digital Minimalism as “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 things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” 

In other words, first define your intention and values, and then decide whether technology is the best way to support your values. Think carefully about how you will use technology.

The most common answer is usually “I use social media to keep up with family and friends” — well, guess what?  That doesn’t work either. 

3 – It Doesn’t Actually Facilitate Connection

One of the surprising findings about the psychology of social media is that following someone and seeing what is going on in their life doesn’t actually facilitate the type of connection we think it does.  You’re not “keeping up” with them – you’re a voyeur who is trying to get a glimpse into their life without having to keep direct connection.

If you want to keep up with family and friends, a 30 minute phone call once a week will facilitate true connection 10x compared to following them on social media.

Facebook/Instagram/Twitter do not facilitate true human connection.

Sit face to face and have a conversation.  Connection happens in person, not over Zoom. 

4 – Be intentional about how you fill your time

Following these principles correctly should lead to more time on  your hands.  Be intentional about how you use that time.  

Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.  Netflix is just as harmful as Facebook – do not replace idle time with idle time.  

Use this time to be alone with your thoughts.  Take a walk without your phone or headphones. Meditate.  Read. Reflect.  Americans suffer from an epidemic of “solitude deprivation”, which is a state in which you spend close to zero time with your thoughts and free from input from other minds”

This doesn’t mean listening to a podcast while cleaning. It means taking a hike and listening to nature. Reflecting on what is going on in our lives.

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