Dear Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport:
Given the current pandemic and ensuing lockdown measures, it’s not an overstatement to say that the majority of my daily communication for the past few months has been digital. From online classes and Zoom lectures to work emails and phone calls, I’ve gotten used to going about my day from behind my laptop screen. This lack of face-to-face interaction has left me feeling a bit scattered and overwhelmed, and ultimately led me to seek out books about digital technology and its effect on us. That’s where you entered the picture, Digital Minimalism.
You raise several important issues involving the detrimental effects of social media and the pervasive use of smartphones. Not only are we more easily distracted by all of our gadgets nowadays and therefore have shorter attention spans, but we also seemingly make less time to explore hobbies and other interests. Most notably, you discuss the negative impact our increased use of technology can have on our emotional and mental health, causing us to constantly compare ourselves to what we see online. Sometimes it’s easy to simply look at social media and phones as tools for positive change and communication in the world; however, it is important to recognize that these same “tools” often have selfish, profit-orientated motivations.
Alongside this information, you provide examples of changes we can make in our daily lives that will help reduce our dependence on smartphones and social media. Reading these examples felt bittersweet: although helpful in some circumstances, many of them are rendered futile or even impossible during our current pandemic situation. However, I think it’s also important to note that you don’t really acknowledge that much of your advice is only realistically possible given a certain amount of privilege–the privilege of having significant amounts of free time, the privilege of being able to afford to regularly do certain hobbies or activities, etc. I couldn’t help but feel as though your “practice pointers” seemed directed at a certain demographic of people, made even more clear when you delineated between what appeared to be your target audience and the young people who grew up with the Internet at their fingertips. As someone in this younger age range (I’m in my early twenties), it almost felt as though you didn’t expect someone my age to be reading you. In this regard, I’d say that you present a bit of a distanced, dated perspective on that experience.
Personally, I feel as though your strongest point was your discussion of solitude and how we have lost sight of this important experience in our society today. In this discussion, you state that:
“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.”Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
Solitude isn’t something I’ve read much about in this context, and I appreciated your use of writers and historical figures as examples of how people used to seek out solitude much more frequently. This is the section that made me reevaluate my own dependence on my smartphone more critically. You talk about how rare it is for us to be alone with our thoughts anymore. I realized how true this is for me. Usually if I’m not doing something that requires writing, reading, or speaking with others, I tend to listen to an audiobook or podcast while multitasking. It’s rare that I go for a walk or do an activity that doesn’t require me also listening to something. There isn’t much true solitude in my daily routine, which is something I would like to change.
Despite my few qualms with some of your points, I think you’re a really valuable resource for anyone looking to make practical, lasting change in their habits involving smartphones, social media, and digital technology in general. I’m not quite sure I’ll be putting much of this into practice in the midst of a pandemic, but you provide some good tips to keep in my back pocket for later.