“Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport – Lessons and Book Review

Title: Digital Minimalism

Author: Cal Newport

Category: Non-fiction, Self-help, Technology

Rating: 3/5

10-word summary: Use social media less, focus on your friends and hobbies.

About Digital Minimalism

In a world that is more and more connected, we need to learn how to disconnect and live a great life. The book Digital Minimalism aims to help you beat your social media addiction and take back control of your time and attention.

While I do agree with Newport’s philosophy, I have to say that this is definitely not one the best books I’ve read on the subject. Some of his ideas seem a bit illogical, while others seem pretentious. Nevertheless, the book does have some suggestions that can be useful – especially if this is the first book you’ll read on the topic of social media and the effect it has on our lives.

Lessons from Digital Minimalism

Do a digital detox

Many of us are addicted to social media and we use it more than we have to or want to. Thus, Newport believes that trying to limit your social media use will probably fail unless you do a digital detox first. If your brain is addicted to the dopamine you get from checking social media every hour, you will think that social media is useful and important to you.

But your opinion may change after your gave your brain enough time to recover. He recommends a 30-day digital detox – a period when you do not use social media (or other online websites or apps) at all. Instead you should use this time to reconnect with the people in your life, read more books or find new hobbies you enjoy.

Social media is not good for your social life

Newport believes that when you interact with people on social media, you feel like you are improving your relationships to others. But he argues that this is just an illusion. If you want to nurture your friendships, liking a picture on Instagram every now and then is not enough.

In order to get to know a person and have a quality relationship, you need to spend time together – face to face. Such interactions are much richer and they should be prioritized over online interactions.

Find better ways to spend your time

Newport believes that the time spent online does not bring many rewards. According to him, you would benefit more from building or fixing something with your own hands, doing an activity that takes effort, finding a hobby you enjoy or simply spending time alone with your own thoughts.

What I like about Digital Minimalism

1. The main philosophy

The whole idea behind digital minimalism is using social media (and other online apps, website and video games) less – or at least as possible. Use social media if you need to or if it represents the best way to do something.

For example, if you have to use it for work, continue using it. But if you use social media to “connect” with friends, know that this is not the best way to do that. So instead of liking a friend’s picture, it’s better to invite them out for a cup of coffee to catch up.

Even though I did not like or agree with everything in this book, I think that the philosophy behind it makes sense and it can be very useful nowadays. Using social media less and more mindfully will probably make your life better.

2. It has some good advice

Newport give some good advice in Digital Minimalism. He acknowledges that just using social media less is not enough. You also need to find new and better ways to spend your time. So he suggests exploring, doing new things and finding new habits and hobbies that you enjoy (and don’t use technology). I think that this is a good piece of advice that could make life more interesting.

3. It talks about some of the problems of social media

Even though more and more people use social media, I think that the vast majority is oblivious to the negative effects it has – on an individual, as well as global level. That’s one reason why I’m currently reading more books that expose the problems behind social media and offer solutions.

Newport also addresses some of these problems such as the fact that many people are addicted to social media and that spending so much time on such apps prevents us from doing better things and achieving more in life. I, for one, am glad that he addressed these problems and that he wants to encourage people to be more mindful of how they spend their time.

What I don’t like about Digital Minimalism

1. It is not based on personal experience

Whenever I read a book, I also want to know how trustworthy the author of the book is. I think about whether or not they have expertise (through study or personal experience), if the information in the book is researched and if it makes sense.

And frankly, I was very disappointed that Newport wrote a book on how to overcome social media addiction when he was never addicted to it in the first place. Moreover, he never had a Facebook account.

As much as I believe his intentions were good (or I hope so), I found it surprising that he would write a book about something he never experienced. Therefore, his perspective on social media use and addiction is obviously superficial. Yes, anybody can read about social media use and addiction – but it’s not the same as experiencing it and dealing with it yourself.

When it comes to books that offer a solution, I prefer to learn from the people who needed to find that solution because they had the same problem themselves. Why would I read a book about depression, substance abuse or low self-esteem from a person who never even experienced this in the first place? While someone’s knowledge may still be very useful, a person experience adds insight and a much better understanding of the phenomenon.

To be honest, had I known that Newport wrote this book just based on research (and no personal experience), I think that I would have never bought it in the first place.

2. Questionable reasoning at times

The lack of personal experience was one thing that eroded Newport’s reliability for me. And some of his arguments also did that. When a book includes information that seems to not make much sense or that relies on a questionable logic, I usually don’t expect much from a book anymore.

The book Digital Minimalism was pretty well-written and the information in it made sense…until Newport used the Amish community as an example to justify digital minimalism. He argues that, as the Amish people can live and function without using much technology, we can too. If they do not need electricity or modern medicine, then surely we can use less social media (or maybe none at all).

And here’s where the logic falls apart. While I don’t know much about the Amish people, I do know that they are renowned for rejecting most technological advancements that most of us use – electricity, the internet, cars, birth control and so on.

Yet Newport’s philosophy of reducing social media use or online activity is predicated on the Amish rejection of modern inventions. This seemed an illogical argument to me.

Claiming that we should use the internet less because the Amish communities can thrive without them is like saying we should reject modern medicine because there is an indigenous tribe in Africa who have no access to any medical treatment.

Well, if the Amish are forbidden to try using the internet, they cannot really tell if the internet is useful or not. Just like that, an African tribe cannot comment on the advantages of modern Western medicine because they never had access to it.

This type of illogical arguments are always off-putting for me when I read an otherwise good non-fiction book. Ever since I started reading more good non-fiction books, I realized that the perfect book may not exist. However, I have a hard time overlooking logical fallacies or bad arguments. Nevertheless, I forced myself to finish reading the book because I still liked some of the ideas in it.

3. A bit pretentious/ unnecessarily complicated

Digital Minimalism was well-written and easy to read. However, every now and then, Newport would use a language that seemed a bit pretentious to me. For example, at one point he talked about the fact that we rarely spend time alone, only with our own thoughts because we consume so much content. And instead of referring to this as “not spending time alone”, he used the phrase “solitude deprivation” which seemed unnecessary and a bit pretentious to me. There were a few more instances where I would have simplified the language to make it clear and easier to understand.

I realize that this may be more of a personal preference. And Newport may be using the language that is most familiar to him, even if it’s not the language you and me would be using. Anyway, this will not prevent you from enjoying the book, I think.

4. It asks for an identity shift early on

When I bought the book Digital Minimalism, I didn’t know anything about the philosophy. I assumed it referred to using less social media or online apps, but that was all I had in mind. So, like most people who pick up this book, I wanted to learn about this concept and see if it’s something I want to try.

However, while reading, I felt that this book was written for the people who already knew they wanted to become digital minimalist. Quite early in the book, I felt like the author asked me to make an identity shit and subscribe to his philosophy – before even understanding what it means.

I think that when a book presents a certain philosophy, perspective or way of living, it is best to explain everything in the first part of the book. The invitation to the reader to adopt the philosophy in the book should come towards the end of the book, when the person already has a better understanding of the subject and can make an informed decision.

If an author writes as if you already agreed to changed, it can be perceived as if he is limiting your freedom of choice, instead of inviting you in to explore a different way of thinking and living. Again, this could be more of a personal opinion and your own experience could differ.

Quotes from Digital Minimalism

“We added new technologies to the periphery of our experience for minor reasons, then woke one morning to discover that they had colonized the core of our daily life.”

“We didn’t sign up for the digital world in which we’re currently entrenched; we seem to have stumbled backward into it.”

“We didn’t sign up for the digital lives we now lead. They were, instead, to a large extent, crafted in boardrooms to serve the interests of a select group of technology investors.”

“The urgency we feel to always have a phone with us is exaggerated.”

“The more time you spend “connecting” on these services, the more isolated you’re likely to become.”

“We might tell ourselves there’s no greater rewards after a hard day at the office than to have an evening entirely devoid of plans and commitments. But we then find ourselves, several hours of idle watching and screen tapping later, somehow more fatigued than when we began.”

“Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.”

“A foundational theme in digital minimalism is that new technology, when used with care and intention, creates a better life than either Luddism or mindless adoption.”

“You can’t build a billion-dollar empire like Facebook if you’re wasting hours every day using a service like Facebook.”

“The average user now spends fifty minutes per day on Facebook products alone.”

Should You Read Digital Minimalism?

If you use social media every single day and you worry about the time you’re wasting, Digital Minimalism can be an eye-opening and useful book for you. This book can be informative and helpful even if you never worry about your online habits – many of us don’t realize we may have a problem unless we better understand the subject.

This is a great introductory book for you, if you have never read anything about social media – how it works, the negative effects it can have and how to use it in a better way. I think there are better books who discuss the same topic and offer more information, but this is a great book to get started!

3 thoughts on ““Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport – Lessons and Book Review”

  1. I wasn’t a huge fan of Digital Minimalism either, but this book review was extremely poorly written and inaccurate. For instance, when he talked about the Amish, he said that they DO use technology, and some communities have their own private electricity generators. His point was that the Amish think critically about the risks and benefits before introducing new technologies into their lives, and that we should do the same. It’s pretty clear that you just skimmed over the book without actually understanding it. Please read a book more carefully before you write a book review. Also, take some writing classes.

    1. Alright. First of all, I realize criticism is necessary and I welcome it. But I think criticism should be fairly accurate – and I don’t think that is the case here.

      Regarding the Amish argument, perhaps you should have checked my review before writing your comment. Here’s exactly what I said in my article:
      “The book Digital Minimalism was pretty well-written and the information in it made sense…until Newport used the Amish community as an example to justify digital minimalism. He argues that, as the Amish people can live and function without using much technology, we can too. If they do not need electricity or modern medicine, then surely we can use less social media (or maybe none at all).”

      “And here’s where the logic falls apart. While I don’t know much about the Amish people, I do know that they are renowned for rejecting most technological advancements that most of us use – electricity, the internet, cars, birth control and so on.”

      Have I said that the Amish use NO technology? I haven’t, so where did you get this idea?

      Also on the Amish and the possibility of introducing new technologies – yes, they are definitely more deliberate when it comes to the adoption of new technologies. But how can they think critically about something they have never used? And if they don’t usually use Internet, I don’t think they do this by looking up research papers on the positive vs negative effects of the Internet and social media. Critical thinking requires proof, facts, statistics. In order to get these, you would normally have to use the internet to look at the research (especially since it changes so fast that books are quickly becoming out of date). Another way to assess the effects of new technology is to conduct your own research – give that technology to as many people as possible and then collect data on use and effects. Given the Amish people’s reluctance to adoption, I don’t see this as a likely scenario.

      So please tell me, what did I not understand about this book? Actually, I think you’ll only find what you didn’t understand.

      Secondly, why was this review “poorly written and inaccurate”? As far as I am concerned, you were mistaken in your assumptions. So if you think that there were other mistakes (and that is true), I would like to hear about them.

      Thirdly, why do you think you know if I read a book or not? I find it quite bold and reckless of you to make such assumptions. But let me make it clear for you: I never skim books. And if I ever did, I would have the decency to mention this in my review. Also, I’ve never read a book in English that I did not understand. Again, bold and reckless of you to think you can assess my comprehension level, don’t you think?

      And what do you mean I need to take writing classes? What is the problem with my writing? If you are better at writing than I am, surely you could point out my mistakes and suggest how to correct them, so I’ll wait. Also, if you don’t like my writing, why waste your time reading what I write?

      Lastly, yes, English is not my native language. However, I’m pretty much at native level, so if you are American (no idea, just giving an example), there’s a high chance I speak your own language better than you.

      While I do appreciate the second comment (the one with the apology), I am quite upset by the inaccuracy and ridiculousness of your initial comment. I know it’s easy for you (and everyone else) to get carried away with nasty comments online. But at least try to get your facts right when you do that, alright?

      P.S. If you ever want to leave better comments (more accurate, not necessarily all positive), I’m here. As I said, I expect criticism and I know it’s necessary. But I expect accurate criticism. Otherwise, I’ll just point out what is wrong with it. Also, had your comment been more balanced or more closer to the truth, I would have responded in a different tone. But I adapt to each situation as I see fit.

  2. Sorry, I did not realize English is not your first language. Very uncool of me to write that comment and I’m sorry. Kudos to you for reading books in English and writing reviews in English! That’s not something I would be able to do in a second language.

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