Book Review. Digital minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

"Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" is Cal Newport's new book. The topic of the book is clear from the title. You should be quitting your Facebook checking, Twitter chatting, Imgur browsing, phone fiddling habits. No more monkey business. It is time to get to work. Deep work.

In Chapter 4 of the book, Calvin forms the term *solitude deprivation*. Solitude deprivation is on the other end of the spectrum to solitary confinement, but it can also be bad for you as well over a long duration. The book argues that today we all experience solitude deprivation. The smartphones, laptops, and screens do not give us time to be alone with our thoughts and process things in our speeds. I had heard a nice story, where the Amazon natives recruited for an expedition in to the jungle would take long breaks after doing some walking. They would say they are waiting for their soul to catch up to their bodies. Today we don't give time for our souls to catch up to us, and process both emotionally and rationally the flood of events/news we are bombarded with every day.

So I really liked Chapter 4 that talked about solitude deprivation. This chapter made me really worried that online connectivity, and never getting bored, could be doing more harm to me than I thought.  This chapter made a much more convincing case for the need for quitting social media than the first couple chapters in my view. But maybe it is because I am more of an abstract ideas guy.

Calvin's previous book "Deep Work" had a lot of impact. I think "Digital Minimalism" may not have that much impact. (Well, Digital Minimalism already has become a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestseller... I guess I mean more impact than that ;-) Deep Work had a positive message, "embrace deeper concentration", whereas Digital Minimalism has a negative message, "prevent digital clutter". I know, I know... For each book, you could simply switch the statements from positive to negative and vice versa. I am just referring to the tone/mood of the books. Digital Minimalism is more of a self-help/how-to book. It prescribes lists of things to do and not to do in a somewhat patronizing voice. The Deep Work book was more conceptual and thought-provoking, and less of a how-to self-help book. I have listened to Deep Work at least three times. I don't see that happening with the "Digital Minimalism" book. I would have liked to read a book titled "Deep Solitude" from Calvin, which I am sure I would be re-reading several times.
If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In any case, I think this is a book you should definitely check out. I wish Calvin best of luck with getting these ideas adopted. They are very timely and important.  In 2005, I was labmates with Calvin at Nancy Lynch's theory of distributed systems group. Calvin is like a real life Captain America. Always responsible, kind, tidy, and disciplined. He would arrange his working hours carefully and would optimize everything. He is super smart and productive. His publication record is impressive. He is a theory and abstract thinking person at heart. He thinks clearly and in a sound manner with much deliberation. He is both a successful professor and a successful writer. He is walking the walk as well. So we should pay attention when he is talking.

MAD questions

1. Is social media more dangerous than TV was? 
It may be so because it is algorithmically manipulated to be addictive. Technology companies completed the loop and this is a quick feedback loop fed by millions of people participating in the experiment.  On the other hand, I have heard of a hypothesis that, since the kids are raising up with this technology, they will develop ways to be immune to it. But I don't know if I am convinced by that argument. Parents should definitely regulate/restrict for these technologies. And I think even the governments should be regulating for these technologies. The Digital Minimalism book cites that mental health is at crisis level for millennials raised with this technology available to them. I see students on their phones walking in the halls and fiddling with their phones even in class. They are always busy catching up to what is on their screens, but they are missing up on things happening around them, and most importantly happening within them.

2. Is it possible to have a good social media tool?
Things have a way of going south quickly for social media and common collaboration tools. Quora, which was once where insightful articles reside, is a cesspool now. I guess we chalk it up to human nature.

I like my Twitter-verse. It is nicely curated to give me a chance to observe interesting people chat and think. It is like watching passersby at a coffee. It is not deep conversation, but it is still useful to keep me inspired and informed on these people's interests. I wish we could write paragraphs on Twitter, but then, maybe people wouldn't write and interact that much.


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