Notes from the introduction and chapter 1 of Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

In the introduction, Newport highlights:

“the necessity of cultivating high-quality leisure to replace the time most now dedicate to mindless device use.”

The emphasis in the quote above is my own, this mindless device use is something I’m very aware of in my own life and something I’m actively trying to eliminate. In a world where we’re all feeling increasingly busy and like we don’t have time to do the things we want to do, we need to identify the activities we do that have little benefit and replace them with something more rewarding. I’d say this is my drive behind reading the book.

Chapter 1 takes us back to the early days of smartphones and social media. Reminding us of their original selling points, for example the key feature of the first iPhone was that it combined your mobile phone and mp3 player into one device. It evolved from there to become something far more ubiquitous:

“We added new technologies to the periphery of our experience for minor reasons, then woke up one morning to discover that they had colonized the core of our daily life. We didn’t, in other words, sign up for the digital world in which we’re currently entrenched; we seem to have stumbled backward into it.”

From this point, the rest of the chapter goes on to argue that our autonomy in this area of our lives has been taken away.

“People don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy, but instead because billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable.”

The question here is that if we now know this, why do we continue to engage with the technologies, and the companies who make them, that are apparently doing more harm than good? The two reasons Newport gives are intermittent positive reinforcement and social approval, both of which are manipulated by features of the systems, eg tags and likes.

Come the end of the chapter we’re well primed to hear how Newport’s philosophy of digital minimalism can help us regain control.

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