Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

(New York: Penguin, 2019), 304

Books Mentioned


  • we need a "full-fledged philosophy of technology use" (xiv)

Part I - Foundations

Chapter 1 - A Lopsided Arms Race

  • recall that the iPhone was originally just designed to be a phone and a music player...the internet connectivity took over later
  • digital experiences are addictive, especially with respect to intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval (17)

Chapter 2 - Digital Minimalism

  • Digital Minimalism - A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
  • minimalist philosophy: work backwards from your deeply held values when deciding how to live your life (31)
  • constantly perform cost-benefit analyses
  • Principles of Digital Minimalism:
      1. Clutter is costly: Thoreau's key insight is that there is a cost in "life" (time) that we need to weight against any benefit
      1. Optimization is important: remember diminishing returns, but most of us are on the left hand side of the curve and have huge gains to realize through some optimization
      1. Intentionality is satisfying: for the Amish, intention trumps convenience: intentionally vet technology based on its impact on their core community values

Chapter 3 - The Digital Declutter

  • The Digital Declutter
    • For 30 days, put aside optional technologies
    • During this period, rediscover activities and behaviors that you find meaningful (and make decisions about technology use while away from its aura)
    • Reintroduce optional technologies starting from a blank slate. For each determine what value it offers and how to maximize this value. Each technology you include must:
      1. Serve something you deeply value
      2. Be the best way to use technology to serve this value (if not, replace it with something better)
      3. Have an SOP defining when and how you use it

Part II - Practices

Chapter 4 - Spend Time Alone (in Solitude)

  • interesting discussion of Lincoln's solitude (away from the White House at the Soldier's Home) which "helped save the nation"
  • 2019-03-10-Lead Yourself First by Raymond M. Kethledge, Michael S. Erwin
    • their definition of solitude: "a subjective state in which your mind is free from the input from other minds"
    • Newport counters with solitude deprivation: a state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from the input of other minds (103)
  • "the iPod provided for teh first time the ability to be continuously distracted from your own's now possible [with smartphones] to completely banish solitude from your life" (100-101)
  • solitude deprivation leads to mental health problems, particularly axiety, as shown by iGen kids who are always connected and never have time alone with their thoughts
  • Solitude practices:
    • Leave your phone at home: strive for significant periods without your phone most days
    • Take long walks: Thoreau's 2019-02-20-Walking, Newport: "I would be lost without my walks because they have become one of my best sources of solitude." (120)
    • Write letters to yourself: keep a notebook for your thoughts

Chapter 5 - Don't Click 'Like'

  • 2007 Rock Paper Scissors Championships
    • "our brains can be understood as sophisticated social computers" (130)
    • --> don't let technology mess with this
  • Book: Social by Matthew Lieberman (131): given downtime, our brains think about our social life (133)
  • Social media is like fast food for the brain: lacking in needed substance (136)
  • results of studies: some isolated social media activities provide measurable benefits, but the net effect of heavy use is less time for important real-world socializing and therefore more isolation and loneliness
  • Book: Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle (144)
    • distinguish between conversation and just connection --> we should practice conversation-centric communication
  • Practices:
    • Don't Click Like: don't comment/like/reply on social media
    • Consolidate Texting: set phone on do not disturb as default
    • Conversation Office Hours: schedule regular time for spontaneous conversations

Chapter 6 - Reclaim Leisure

  • Book: Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (165)
    • books 1-9: practical virtues
    • book 10: happiness (for its own sake)
  • Digital minimalism will leave you feeling empty unless you cultivate high-quality do this before getting rid of technology (168-169)
  • The Bennett Principle: prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption (177)
    • FI people are a good study of leisure (MMM); TR lived a strenuous life (174)
    • Book: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett (174)
  • Practice a Craft: use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world
    • Book: Handmade by Gary Rogowski (178): "Leave good evidence of yourself. Do good work." (182)
    • Book: Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford (179-180): the "infallible judgment of reality"
    • leisure must be mediated by the physical world, not video games
  • Supercharged Sociality: seek activities that require real-world, structured interactions
    • Book: The Revenge of Analog by David Sax (182)
    • F3 workouts (I originally heard about this from AOM (185-186)
    • social interaction + structure --> more freedom of expression (189)
  • Leisure Practices:
    • Fix or build something every week
    • Schedule your low-quality leisure (20-40 min/week)
    • Join Something: if it doesn't exist, create it (like our book club)
    • Follow Leisure Plans:
      • seasonal plans: give objectives and habits
      • weekly plans: roll into your ongoing weekly planning

Chapter 7 - Join the Attention Resistance

  • Book: The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu (215)
    • "Extracting eyeball minutes, the key resource for companies like Google and Facebook, has become significantly more lucrative than extracting oil." (216)
  • follow the Ginsberg and Burke example of choosing which services to use and how, without falling into the trap of constant use
  • Resistance Principles:
    • Delete social media from your phone
    • Turn devices into single-purpose computers
      • Freedom or other apps to block websites
      • the key is to use the same device for multiple tasks, but to use it for only one thing at a time (227-228)
      • like information security, use least privilege principle, i.e. block by default and allow only when you want to use (229)
    • Use social media like a professional
      • use Twitter for professional news, separate accounts for work/personal
      • curate to only high-quality influencers
      • TweetDeck or similar service to filter out the noise
    • Embrace Slow Media: The Slow Media Manifesto
      • seek out world-class influencers you trust
      • seek out arguments against your position
      • schedule your consumption and at those times give it your full attention
    • Dumb down your smartphone
      • Your Time = Their Money


  • "Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value—not as sources of value themselves" (252)
  • "It's not really about technology, but is instead more about the quality of your life" (253)

Personal Notes

  • I need to find a better way of tracking the source and path of ideas. For instance, now I list books I want to read on my Amazon wish list and note who I heard about it from, which helpful especially when recommended from various sources. But I need a comprehensive system1 for tracking information that comes into my brain, whether it be ideas, book recommendations, articles, etc. This would be particularly useful for evaluating the quality of social media channels. I know I have come across excellent articles and tools on Twitter, but knowing where or who from exactly would be helpful, for instance, in curating the list of people I follow.
  • I decided while reading this book to modify my method of taking notes when reading a library book I can't write in. Instead of reading with my computer nearby and typing notes into markdown while reading, I folded a piece of paper in half and wrote notes on there which are later transcribed into markdown. I spent a whole evening reading about a third of the book in this manner without touching my phone or computer once.
  • I culled my Facebook friends down from 534 to 1612

Created: 2019-02-09
Updated: 2022-02-24-Thu

  1. 2022-02-24 update: Obsidian is becoming the main tool by which I build and manage this "comprehensive system". 

  2. 2022-02-24 update: I deactivated my Facebook account in ~early 2020, and deleted it entirely in ~late 2021, partially inspired by 2021-11-30-Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now