Book: Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism

Through the whole book you keep going back to one question: whom is this book for? A book that discusses strategies to reduce the mindless consumption of apps and websites can be directed at people who are already convinced that this is needed and are looking for a recipe. The same book can also be trying to convince people that are not convinced that this is the right thing to do.

If the book is directed at the choir then it is a good summary of very practical tactics to achieve the goal of minimizing digital disruption in one’s life. But all too often the book is preachy and in those moments you think “Nope. Not going to happen. A Facebook addict will simply not even pick up this book.”

There are very good ideas in the book and if you already buy into the notion that facebook is largely a waste of time and that mindlessly scrolling through click-bait websites is possibly not the best way to spend your evenings, you will enjoy this book. Some of the ideas that particularly resonate well with you are:

    Spend time off line. Here your joy of fixing bicycles certainly shines. Cal provides an example of a person who quit his impressive job to build motorcycles which sounds way too close to home. Yes, if you sit on your ass all day working in Tech then stopping at some point, going into a workshop (or the yard) and cleaning, tuning, mending, patching your bike certainly seems like a very good idea. One could argue that this is still tactile work, but we are evolved monkeys and most of what we do involves our hands so lets get on with it.
    Turn off alerts. YES! This one drives everyone you know crazy. Why? Because a while back you turned off all forms of notifications on all apps on your iPhone. This means that you have to actually want to check messages or email or…wait that’s pretty much it, in order to see if someone is trying to communicate with you. You find it especially amazing that making phones calls is simply something that people no longer do. You recall how making phones calls was very expensive and that the telecommunication industry used to make most of its revenue from “services” around telephony. These days, calls in land are free. In Germany we even had different rates for calling from land line to mobile, calling from mobile in network to calling to mobile out of network. As far as you know, none of these still exist! Yet, people will text first to see if they can call you and generally prefer to text and not voice. Texting is a very low grade form of communication.
    Spend time away from tech. This is one of the wonderful benefits of cycling. Sure, you can try and check your Twitter feed while cycling, but good luck with that in a forest road in Brandenburg. The encouragement to “join something” and “get outside” seems to be wide spread amongst those who try to get control over their lives and escape their own inability to control their actions in the face of the Internet Pocket Device terrorizing their lives.

The book does provide useful ideas, but you wonder if these ideas could be implemented by those who can not control themselves. Cal could have written the book on a few Post It notes with the first note being “Self Discipline” ending with “Delete Facebook”.

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