by Cal Newport
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.Profiles in Catholicism
This is a book everyone should read! The author describes minimalism as the art of knowing how much is just enough. It applies this idea to our personal technology. It’s the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world. Digital minimalist are calm, happy people who can hold long conversations without furtive glances at their phones. They can get lost in a good, book, a woodworking project, or a leisurely morning run. They can have fun with friends and family without the obsessive urge to document the experience. They stay informed about the news of the day, but don’t feel overwhelmed by it. They don’t experience “fear of missing out” because they already know which activities provide them with meaning and satisfaction.
The author succinctly and thoughtfully proposes that history places digital minimalism in a somewhat grandiose position, but as we explored implementing this philosophy is largely an exercise in pragmatism. Digital minimalists see new technology in highly selective and intentional ways that yield big wins. They are comfortable missing out on everything else. The key to sustained success with the philosophy is accepting that it is not really about technology, but is instead more about the quality of your life. The more you experiment with the ideas and practices, the more you’ll come to realize that digital minimalism is much more than a set of rules, it’s about cultivating a life worth living in our current age of alluring devices.
Those who are committed to the digital status might attempt to cast this philosophy as somehow anti-technology, the author is convinced that in this book that this claim is misguided. Digital minimalism definitely does not reject that innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools. As a computer scientist, the author makes a loving helping to advance the cutting edge of the digital world. Like many in this field, the author is enthralled by the possibilities of our techno=future. The author is convinced that we cannot unlock this potential until we put in the effort required to take control of our own digital lives in order to confidently decide for ourselves what tools we want to use, for what reasons and under what conditions. That isn’t reactionary, it is common sense.
This book opened with Andrew Sullivan’s concern about losing his humanity in the electronic world wrought by Samuel Morse, “I used to be a human being,” he wrote. My hope is that digital minimalism can help reverse this state of affairs by providing a constructive way to engage and leverage the latest innovations to your advantage, not that of faceless attention economy conglomerates, to create a culture where the technologically savvy can upend Sullivan’s lament and instead say with confidence: “Because of technology, I’m a better human being than I ever was before.”