Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
By Cal Newport
Would you have more life if you had less tech?
Cal Newport explores this question in Digital Minimalism, and his answer is emphatically “yes.”
Newport considers the effects of technology and social media on our productivity and wellbeing. While various social platforms can have many upsides, Newport reminds us that they come with many downsides, too. Smart phones and social media are not neutral. They come with assumptions built in, and businesses sit on the other side of our screens, engineering their products to draw us into the web.
Newport’s Digital Minimalism is then a call to wake up to these effects and be more intentional with our engagement. He is not suggesting we abandon all such technologies. Rather, he invites us to be more cautious in our adoption and use. He asks us to do cost-benefit analysis of using these platforms.
His goal is not for us to become luddites but for us to have fuller lives by encouraging us to run our technology and instead of allowing it to run us.
Digital Minimalism is a good primer on this discussion. It’s brief and easy to read. It is also very practical. Newport offers several suggestions and best practices for trying out his brand of minimalism.
My critique of his thoughts are mainly that Newport represents a unique person in a unique career setting. Newport holds a PhD from MIT, and he is a professor. And so, the level of intentionality and focus he brings to this kind of thinking (like, keeping a spreadsheet of his email-checking habits) is well beyond what most of us would care to analyze. And most folks are not having to worry about creating headspace for writing peer-reviewed articles, and so they will not resonate with level of focus he is aiming to achieve.
But again, I think this is a helpful and worthwhile read. For anyone wanting to reconsider their digital life, this is a great place to start. And for any knowledge workers whose jobs call for deep work, it is well worth considering Newport’s advice.
Newport, C. (2019). Digital minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a noisy world. Portfolio.