F04: Walk, Listen, Talk — “Digital Minimalism”

In 2006, Cal Newport released a book called How to Become a Straight-A Student. Here’s an excerpt about procrastination:

That little procrastination devil on your shoulder is an incredible salesman. If you give him even a glimpse of an alternative to your work, then he will close the deal. To neutralize this devil, isolate him.

In the 13 years since then, that devil’s feasted on our attention and become more powerful. We also decided it’d be great to carry him around in our pockets and check in like every 7 seconds.

The latest solo episode is about Newport’s latest book, Digital Minimalism. His previous books have been pretty influential for me. So Good They Can’t Ignore You changed how I viewed careers. (“Follow your passion” works great if you excel at your passion and it involves valuable skills. You’re going to have to put the work in.) Deep Work changed how I block time off each day and how I set up my environment for getting work done.

Room 1: Kitchen with a Las Vegas buffet set up

Here’s a summary of what digital minimalism is:

Digital Minimalism 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.

If you’ve read Deep Work, you might remember his description of the farmer and his tools. If there’s some value in a tool, that doesn’t automatically make it worth the cost. For a farmer, there are more things to consider than just the monetary cost of a tool. The same goes for how you use technology. Assuming these things are pretty much all free, the cost is your time, attention, and energy.

I get a lot of value reading subreddits about government policy and educational reform. Ok so it’s actually r/NBA and r/MMA. The content there is entertaining and pretty self-contained. There are highlights and I’ll check out a few of the top comments and then I’ll get out of there. I try not to get too sucked into reading too far into the comments.

I try avoiding anything that presents a bunch of articles. Not that I don’t think the content is good. It’s really just too much of a good thing. There’s always going to be a handful of links to open up if I check Twitter and then a dozen if I open up Hacker News. If I read all of that, it’s an hour lost. If I see all of that and don’t read it, it’s a little more FOMO to carry through the day.

Instead, I’ve created an echo chamber in my email inbox that I’m addicted to. I’ll work on that, but let’s move on…

minimalists don’t mind missing out on small things ; what worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make a good life good.

Alright so you see the prime rib at the other side of the buffet. Someone’s carving it up and passing it out. Actually he’s going pretty fast. It’s toward the end of the night so you know it might be the last few juicy slices.

But you stop at each station on the way there to grab like a mini slice of pizza, a scoop of pasta, a couple pieces of spicy salmon. Hey there’s a charcuterie station.

Of course, the prime rib station closes.

Should’ve gone there first.

Fill your plate with analog interactions. Put the effort in to schedule and spend time with people in person. Make time to call people. Live across the country from a friend? Start a podcast with them even if you have no listeners!

Room 2: Living room filled with smoke, cigarettes, and your friends

Newport talks about technology being addicting.

Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.

Look at all these kids on their phones all the time. Actually look at everybody on their phones all the time. (Thanks to The Big Picture, you can see this around the world.)

I’m addicted to my phone and have thought it’s a bad thing for a while. I’m guessing some people know they’re addicted to their phone but don’t think it’s a bad thing. And then there are probably people who don’t think they’re addicted to their phones.

If you’re at least aware you’re addicted, you’ll find a ton of value in Digital Minimalism. If you don’t think the excessive technology use is bad, it might change your mind a little bit. If you do agree it’s bad, then the tactics in the book should help. (Intermittent fasting, but for your phone.)

Room 3: Swimming pool filled with bells, chimes, and broken glass

I sort of skipped explaining why I put broken glass in the room for this memory palace. It was to represent our shattered attention.

The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life

All the distractions throughout the day make it challenging to be intentional. Deep Work opened my eyes to just how fractured my attention was. (And still is.)

I had a classmate in college (“Back in my days…”) that mentioned to the class that she’s addicted to her email and gets a twitch when she can’t check it. It seemed kind of extreme at the time. Now, an NFL team gives its players cell phone breaks.

Check out Digital Minimalism and I’ll now go and do things that are definitely not checking my email.