Three Things I Learned from Digital Minimalism

Am I a digital minimalist? No. Far from it.

Am I on my way? Probably.

While I didn’t appreciate Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism quite as much as his previous book, Deep Work, I did feel the spark to trim the noise.

Here’s what I learned:

We didn’t choose this

This might sound a bit “conspiracy theory”-ish, but I don’t think it is. Working in tech, I believe it.

We didn’t sign up for the digital lives we now lead. They were instead, to a large extent, crafted in boardrooms to serve the interest of a select group of technology investors.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Does this mean that social media and digital content consumption is bad? Probably not. But acknowledging the interests of the companies that control our digital lives immediately lets us reorient the relationship.

Minimize the harm

There’s a good bit of the book that explores the practices of the Amish, whom I’ve encountered in my life living in eastern PA.

The problem is not electricity, it’s the fact that the grid connects them too strongly to the world outside of their local community, violating the Amish commitment to the biblical tenet to “be in the world, but not of it.”

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

In order to use technology, there’s a need to vet that its good greatly outweighs the impact of its harm. There’s also a need to continuously monitor that, and optimize usage such that the harm is minimized.

In their default state, social media and most tech tools do not do this. It’s on us to treat these as tools.

Embrace solitude and leisure

I blogged a bit about solitude a few weeks ago as I was reading the book.

Newport also focuses on the importance of leisure. He leaves three main lessons to follow:

  • Leisure lesson #1: Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.
  • Leisure lesson #2: Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.
  • Leisure lesson #3: Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.

In the end, build stuff with people. (Maybe this is why Lauren and I appreciate jigsaw puzzles so much.)


Tom Tate

I'm a suburban polymath living just outside Philadelphia with my wonderful wife and three kids. Digital marketing nerd for a SaaS company by day. Rabid movie, music, game, and book consumer by morning, noon, and night. I share life hacks and learnings via email at Weekly Coffee. I also host Power Time Podcast, a Nintendo retrospective. Sometimes I write stuff. Most of the time, it's on the internet.