Discussion about Digital Minimalisim by Cal Newport


I have listened to the first couple of chapters. My first impression is that this book might be “forced”. It just doesn’t seem to be something that he has his heart into and maybe was more of a brainchild of his publisher.

Also, I do some social media… mainly LinkedIn for my professional network and when I write blog posts I publish them there and cross-post to Twitter and Reddit subs. I haven’t had Facebook in 10 years, but when I had it, I was automating Mafia Wars.



I disagree that the topic seems forced, given Cal’s previous books (Deep Work in particular) and his blog posts since the release of that book have all been pointing toward this book’s premise for quite some time.



I wouldn’t have been able to go through college having fun without Facebook. I wasn’t even a heavy user, I barely posted anything and “liked” nothing. But the amount of people I met and kept in touch through Facebook as well as the events I found out about through it were very beneficial, social life-wise. It didn’t help that many clubs only posted updates on Facebook as well.

I think for someone young and in college it’s beneficial to be in a platform where they can easily meet people even if they might not turn out to be lifelong friends. Nowadays it might be Instagram but back in 2012-2016 it was Facebook.

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I completely agree. I can’t imagine college without Facebook as it made things socially so much easier. Then for example you have people like my sister who’s a senior in high school that my dad get’s annoyed at for not checking her emails but more then willing to respond to a text. Slightly off topic but I’m curious if her generation will switch people from using email to using stuff more like Slack.



Your father is on the losing side. Most people I know our age and below (20-25) use messengers (including iMessage) or chat platforms like Discord or Slack. Outside of work I never get emails from people, mostly bank, doctor, and purchases as well as newsletters. I’d assume this is the same case with most young people - I can see someone not checking their email often vs. text messaging. I can’t see someone our age choosing to email vs chat unless it’s “important” like a job application.

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Text, Slack, talking, and other forms of synchronous communication are fine if you want immediate response and have no need to focus.
If you need to focus, however, asynchronous communication is better, such as email, Twist, etc.

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It’s interesting how early formative habits become so ingrained. I have a friend who grew up using instant messengers on AOL, Yahoo, etc. and had the habit of just hitting send instead of using punctuation. Which is fine for IM… but on texting it’s drives me bonkers! I’ll be in the middle of trying to respond to her and my iPhone will practically vibrate out of my hands as she sends a deluge of texts that barely add up to one complete sentence.



Absolutely agree. That said I’m torn. On one hand I like when I get quick responses on things I need answers to. On the other hand personally I would want to carve out periods of deep focus where the expectation is for me to not respond to texts, Slack etc.



That’s really interesting! I learned recently that apparently using punctuation in text messages can convey anger. I’ve had to relearn that when starting a new sentence to start a new text instead of a big long paragraph. I guess the idea is it’s easier to read. I sympathize as I wish there was a feature that would say “I’m still typing don’t respond yet!”

I’m curious how the younger generation or those under 30 will change the communication within companies away from email to messengers or chat platforms.

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Indeed, I’m interested in this too. I also had someone tell me that long paragraphs conveyed temper or anger, so when responding I make sure to break up longer paragraphs into shorter sentences, with a couple returns in between to space them out.



So I’ve been toying with the idea of having a flip phone for emergencies and leaving my shiny new iPhone XR at home for a certain number of days per week, to reduce my dependence on having my XR on my person at all times. Then I remembered… I’ve got an Apple Watch with cellular, lol. So I’ve stripped down the number of apps I keep on the watch to include only the things I need (phone, messages, mail, Due) for work and have been leaving my XR in my bag or on the charger at my desk for the majority of the last couple days.

I’m shocked - and a bit dismayed - to admit how many times I reflexively tap my pocket whenever I get bored, reaching for my iPhone while walking to and from appointments, waiting for the elevator, etc., observing how truly intrusive the “just check things real quick” response has become.

This reminds me of being deeply into meditation years ago: one day I had a sort of overwhelming epiphany that I could observe when I wasn’t truly living in the present moment and when my mind was racing away with thought. While I don’t meditate with as much regularity as I used to, this ability to observe intrusive thoughts somehow stayed with me. I feel like I’m reliving that “epiphany” experience, seeing once again how utterly intrusive my digital habits have become in all the little spaces in my life.

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When I wrote about Cal Newport’s book Deep Work I said, “Sometimes the right book comes along at the right time.” For me, at least, Digital Minimalism is not that book.

For one thing, it’s pretty heavily focused on social media, which is not something that attracts a lot of my attention (I frequent two online forums on a regular basis and that’s about it). Some of it’s advice is more broadly applicable to other digital distractions that I definitely do suffer from. However, in many cases, I found either the advice wasn’t for me, or I was already moving in a similar direction and the book didn’t really advance the process. The one exception is that I do think it has inspired me to explicitly include a goal related to what Newport calls “high quality leisure” at my next quarterly personal retreat.

I don’t mean to run down the book too much. I think the message of being more intentional with how we use this technology is a good one. I just didn’t find it did a good job of addressing my particular issues in a way that worked for me. Someone who uses social media more might get a lot out of it.


What are You Reading?

Did you attend his talk? If so how was it?



I’m currently reading the book and I think he goes too far. Technology is a tool, it can help you or it can harm you. If you find it harmful, stop using it or change the way you use it. I’m not convinced that social media is some new kind of thing that sucks in everyone who touches it. When I was a kid, that’s what people said about TV. It’s rotting your brain! Seems like the same recycled argument for Twitter.

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I’d say it can help you and it can harm you, both and at the same time.

I haven’t read Cal’s newest book, but I do study this topic as a PhD student, and the “when I was a kid” logic fails to acknowledge that we haven’t made it through the industrial or information ages unscathed. Advertising/attention-based media are not free from cumulative harms.

Television (and print and radio) were not as manipulative as digital/social media. The “millionaire maker” BJ Fogg’s model of persuasive technology underpins each of these sites and he personally taught many of their founders and designers how to use it at Stanford and in his bootcamps. His model alters our neurochemistry and uses fear, hope, pleasure, pain, social acceptance, and rejection as levers to manipulate our behavior. In Fogg’s own words:

Persuasive technology will touch our lives anywhere we access digital products or services — the car, in our living room, the web, our mobile phones. Persuasive technology will be all around us, and unlike other media types where you have a 30 second commercial or a magazine ad where you have genres you can understand, when it comes to computer-based persuasion, it’s so flexible that it won’t have genre boundaries. It will come to us in the ordinary course of our lives — working on a website, editing a document, as we’re driving a car — and there won’t be clear markers about when you’re being persuaded and when you’re not.



Wasn’t Marshall McLuhan making similar arguments 50 years ago?

Instead of tending towards a vast [Alexandrian library] (the world has become a [computer], an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of [science fiction]. And as our senses have gone outside us, [Big Brother] goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. […] Terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the time. […] In our long striving to recover for the [Western world] a unity of sensibility and of thought and feeling we have no more been prepared to accept the tribal consequences of such unity than we were ready for the fragmentation of the human psyche by print culture.



Fogg leaves me conflicted; I’ve read his book Tiny Habits and found it to be insightful and positive. There’s real brilliance in his approach to starting small and building habits over long periods of time. I’m a big fan of this side of his work.

But he’s also demonstrated the same appliance of this principle in the social engineering headspace, with equally effective results there… but with perhaps less positive outcomes. I’m sure that wasn’t the outcome he was hoping his data would effect on this world, but here we are.

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I’m close to being done with the book. I’ve been procrastinating honestly. I’m still going to finish the book. That said I think that Cal comes from a perspective of being so against social media. I think it would be much harder for someone to quit it cold turkey. I do agree though in pairing down and examining one’s social media and it’s usefulness.



I finished the book. It was shorter than expected. Here’s my casual review from GoodReads:

Decent and packed with good ideas… but by now we know most of them. Ironically, I learned most of these strategies from Newport’s blog, which makes me wonder why this wasn’t a long blog post instead of a book. Still, the book is good, the intentions behind it are good, and everything is backed up with science and/or stories. If you’re in the productivity space, this book is redundant, but if you’re struggling to stay focused, give this a read.

Agree with @Jonathan_Davis that Newport’s attitude towards social media/internet is too strong for most, but I chalk that up to him being a tenured professor who makes his own schedule. A lot of his advice isn’t easily replicable to us workers stuck in an open office all day.



I completely agree with this, I think he’s in a fortunate position where he can make his own schedule. For example in contrary I’m in education and often never have dictation of my own schedule (middle school students) except for during my planning periods.

I did however enjoy the last two chapters of the book. I also couldn’t help but laugh that he said something along the lines of how tech writers can’t sound cool when they brag about their 39 day tech sabbatical!