April 11, 2020 ~ 5 min read

5 Lessons From Digital Minimalism

First - let me say that I enjoyed reading Digital Minimalism and am a fan of Cal Newport in general.

Taylor being compared to Cal Newport

a.k.a the biggest complement I've ever received

If you currently access social media apps on your phone and are highly ambitious, you should consider reading the book.

1. Tradeoffs

Every technology comes with a series of trade-offs, it's up to us to decide whether those trade-offs are worth it. This is probably the most important philosophy that this book ingrained in me. The benefits of using new technology are immediate: a dopamine hit, a unique experience, a feeling of creativity, or connection. But I often fail to consider the long tail of costs.

While reading this book, I deleted Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter from my phone, and have stopped using all 3 of them altogether except for messaging. This was an easy decision once I took the time to do a cost-benefit analysis. These services were costing me hours of every week, and the only real benefit I was getting was through messaging close friends. Most people would agree that scrolling various feeds does not add much value to their lives.

“You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?” - Marcus Aurelius

Dating apps, however, are a much more interesting example.

Right away - I deleted tinder and bumble from my phone. These apps have never created any meaningful value for me, so this was again an easy decision. But currently, I still have Hinge on my phone and am wrestling with whether I want to continue using it.

On the one hand - finding a girlfriend that enriches my everyday life is a high priority for me. What's more, is that dating apps can work! I know multiple happy couples (and even a married couple) that met on an app. I have met some great people on Hinge myself.

Maybe the biggest irony of this all is that I read this book because a hinge girl convinced me to.

But what is the cost? The most obvious price is the time you spend messaging strangers on your phone. But the cost I'm really concerned about is much worse. What if dating apps give you the illusion that you're getting closer to finding a great life partner when the actual probability is very low? What if dating apps cause you to pursue fewer situations where you have a much higher likelihood of finding a girlfriend?

The specifics of my decision making are not important. But the idea of occasionally experimenting with new technologies and honestly reflecting on the costs vs. benefits that they bring you is the most important mindset that I will take with me from this book.

2. Take long walks

I don't think long walks are strictly necessary. But maintaining some habit that allows you to be completely alone with your thoughts is essential.

“Solitude Deprivation A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.”

Just the few multi-hour walks I've taken by myself (no phone) since starting this book have had a considerable impact on my overall well-being.

3. Hobbies

One idea that I didn't expect from this book, but that I absolutely love, is the chapter around cultivating hobbies. For me - this made the arguments to give up a technology much more exciting.

Rather than "this is bad for your brain" the argument becomes "look at all the fun things you can do once you start using technology more intelligently!"

I think Cal was trying a bit too hard when he talks specifically about cultivating a hobby around building, but that's beside the point.

When you stop wasting hours of your week on social media, there will be a void to fill.

Find something that you enjoy doing or want to get better at, and pursue it!

Things I'm hoping to pursue in the coming years:

  • more piano
  • bread making
  • Arduino project
  • making beats / producing music

Convincing readers that giving up social media will be exciting is difficult - and Cal does it.

4. Don't click like

I love this rule because it's so simple.

What would happen if you stopped liking anything on social media? Why do we "like" things in the first place?

5. Prioritize real modes of communication

View texting, messaging, social media, etc as a means for setting up "real conversation."

In Cal's mind (and I'm inclined to agree), none of these mediums contribute towards building life-long relationships. Life-long relationships can only be cultivated through "real" interactions, which the book defines as audio, video, and ideally in person.

Once you believe this (if not - read the book 😃), messaging back and forth with friends no longer counts towards building friendships. It is useful for logistics, but nothing more.

This is something I think we all know intuitively. At Bucknell, I took incoming college freshmen on backpacking trips. Phones were not allowed. We consistently saw students form close relationships (many of which went on to span their 4 years of college) in a short period.

Real conversations create bonds in ways that texting friends every day never can. I don't see this changing any time soon.

Tools / Ideas I'm experimenting with

  • Self Control
  • News Feed Eradicator
  • No social media, email apps on my phone
  • Removed Spotify from my phone
  • Removed google chrome from phone
  • Instapaper for reading email newsletters on my phone
  • Considering going podcast free for a few months
  • Hobby planning (creating goals and scheduling time for hobbies)

Maxi Ferreira

Hi, I'm Taylor . I'm a software engineer/maker/amateur chef currently living in San Francisco. You can follow me on Twitter , see some of my work on GitHub , or read about my life on Substack .