Do you have a Facebook-Instagram-Twitter-LinkedIn account? If so, you need to read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport! This book opened my eyes to the truly addictive nature of social media. Guess what? You are the product on social media. You essentially have no privacy, even if your account settings are set to private. Your data, your posts, and your likes are all being aggregated by massive advertising databases and algorithms so that products can be target-marketed to you. Worse than the privacy risk is the risk of literally wasting hours of your life on social media. Digital Minimalism is call to action to live a deeper life offline by minimizing or even quitting your use of social media. Below are 10 tips from this powerful book, including several quotes, a video and some actions I personally have taken recently to reduce my use of social media.
1. Cal Newport is one of my favorite authors on the planet. He blogs at www.calnewport.com and wrote Deep Work, which is a terrific book about personal productivity at work. Deep Work advocates that we each aim for 4 hours a day of "deep work," to truly make a difference in our jobs and world. Most of us do "shallow work" most of the time: meetings, emails, and low priority tasks. Deep Work has changed the way I work. I make sure not to over-schedule myself with shallow tasks during the day and I do seek to schedule at least 4 hours a day of "deep work." At the end of Deep Work, Cal advocates quitting social media, which is a very shallow activity. Digital Minimalism picks up where Deep Work left off. (If you liked the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, you'll appreciate Deep Work.)
2. “The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.” This is a bold quote from Bill Maher at the beginning of Digital Minimalism which throws down the gauntlet on Cal's views of social media. Social media is engineered to be addictive. Cal describes how Facebook changed their notifications from the color blue to the color red, because they found that the color red created a more urgent response in social media users to check their notifications. This is one small example of many ways that Digital Minimalism details how social media is engineered as a "virtual slot machine" where we keep scrolling and scrolling while looking for that next jackpot of a dopamine hit.
3. “Digital Minimalism is 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.” Cal doesn't suggest in this book that we try to live life without the internet or digital tools. He recognizes that there are many technological advances that save us time. The challenge is when we can't turn off our connection to the internet, primarily due to our smart phones and social media usage. One of the problems with social media is FOMO: the fear of missing out. You will always see someone posting something on social media that you might wish you were doing, buying, or consuming. Cal gives some great tips in this book on how to turn your smart phone into a "dumb phone" so that you can focus on living a full and deep life offline. This book can help turn your FOMO into JOMO: the joy of missing out! :-)
4. “Where we want to be cautious is when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.” I appreciate that Cal doesn't simply malign social media in this book, but he explains what we might be missing out on in real life if we spend too much time online. Cal worries, and I think we'd all agree, that there are times when we or our kids or friends are looking at our smartphones when we should be actually talking to each other. This book does a great job of giving tips on how to turn off the phone and turn on real life engagement for a rich life. Social media promises friendship and engagement, but if we're not careful it can leave us feeling quite empty.
5. "By cultivating a high-quality leisure life first, it will become easier to minimize low-quality digital diversions later.” Cal advocates in Digital Minimalism that we all develop offline hobbies and friendships to live a full and deep life. These high-quality leisure activities are so much more fulfilling than the low-quality digital distraction of social media. What are some hobbies, activities (exercise...) or friendships you feel like you never have time for? Might cutting back your time spent online give you back the time you crave? (The answer is... Yes.)
6. Digital Minimalism describes how you can undertake a digital declutter: "Put aside a thirty-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life. During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful. At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies into your life, starting from a blank slate. For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it so as to maximize this value." Cal led this digital declutter experiment with readers of his blog and learned that many of his readers never went back to social media after taking a break from it for 30 days. Others found that they could check social media for only 30 minutes total a week and get the same benefit of their prior 30+ minute daily usage before the digital declutter.
7. Digital Minimalism's chapters, listed below, will give you a good overview of this book's structure:
1. A Lopsided Arms Race
2. Digital Minimalism
3. The Digital Declutter
4. Spend Time Alone
5. Don't Click Like
6. Reclaim Leisure
7. Join the Attention Resistance
8. After reading Digital Minimalism, here are the actions I have taken. I started with simply deleting Facebook and Instagram off of my smartphone. This is one of the most powerful steps you can take: get social media off of your phone. You won't have the compulsion to check it throughout the day. I haven't quit Facebook or Instagram, and still check them maybe once day on my computer, but my usage is way down. I am now also in process of getting family photos off of my social media accounts, primarily for privacy reasons. It has been a joy to share our family's adoption journey this past several years on social media, but I'm now wanting to protect my family's privacy going forward.
9. Digital Minimalism doesn't go into details of cyber security, but it is a personal passion of mine at work and now personally too. I found a terrific 10 point guide that I shared with my team at work and I recommend you read it to protect your privacy and data online at this link. You might also want to consider how your web browser is tracking your online activity data for advertising purposes and decide to switch to a privacy browser.
10. Check out this video interview with Cal Newport below, which gives a great overview of the book:
Have you taken any steps in your life to reduce your usage of social media? Does anything above stand out to you as an idea you might want to implement? Have you read read Digital Minimalism or any of Cal Newport's other books? Please share in the comments section below, thanks! (I should note that Cal's 2012 book, So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, is fantastic too! It is particularly great for 20-somethings embarking on their careers.)
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