Digital minimalism

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

This is a good book for people who have been distracted with too much use in their life of smartphone apps, watching movies in Netflix, wasting time in social media and have ended up destroying their ability to concentrate on their studies or focusing on their job or listening intently from others. “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” by Cal Newport guides us through the philosophy on the use of technology based on our deepest values. The idea is to keep only those apps that enhance our values. On the core value of learning for example, the reading app that fits for it is Kindle. For the core value of creating, you can select any note taking app that would enhance your ability to take note of ideas and write impromptu essays. And for the core value of family connections, you may use Facebook, and other social media apps as long as you don’t spend unnecessary time on them. Using technology according to our values is like eating healthy food instead of junk foods.

The importance of having that skill of being able to concentrate on what we are doing cannot be overemphasized. The author would call it a super power. Losing your ability to concentrate is like Stephen Curry losing his ability to shoot a three‐point shot or a Major League pitcher in baseball losing his ability to throw a fastball. Without concentration, you can’t perform your best and produce work that changes your career trajectory. If you do not filter your technology use through your values, you will clutter your life with distracting technology and destroy your ability to concentrate because you will be checking every 5 minutes a text message that has arrived, a new Netflix movie, or a reply from your social media app. Therefore, you must declutter your digital life so that you can sustain your ability to concentrate. Start the process of decluttering your digital life by taking on a three‐week device detachment challenge.

Week One: Spend One Hour a Day Alone Without your Devices. 

To practice not getting attached to your smartphone, don’t use it for an hour a day.  No texts, no phone calls, no news, and no podcasts. Either go for a long walk or a bike ride alone, or read a book or practice a hobby without a phone, computer, or TV near you. Think of your hour of solitude as time in which you store up your productive power. Like how a dam can generate

hydropower by interrupting the flow of water in a river, you can produce productive power and strengthen your ability to concentrate by interrupting social input and being alone with your thoughts. To get started with your week one challenge, create a solitude plan: Where will you go for an hour to find solitude?  What time of day will you go there?

This spending time alone with one’s thoughts has been a lost art and has grown in value as we have more distractions come to our lives.  An even more effective activity than spending time alone, is to practice meditative prayer with God.   We don’t just talk to ourselves but talk to God.  We not only grow in our relationship with Him but also get that grace and help to tackle the daily challenges we plan for that day as well as those unplanned challenges that come our way.

Week Two:  Stop Using Devices During Free Time.

The idea the author wants to convey is that if we use our devices during our rest time between work periods, we might get carried away with the use of it and go back to our problem from square one.  It would be like an alcoholic who tries to cure his addiction but would still drink a little thinking it won’t harm his overall plan of getting rid of his addiction.

Mr. Newport has made extensive research on better alternatives or he calls it “leisure lessons” to using our phones during relaxation time that will give us more enthusiasm and energy to go back to our work.

Leisure lesson #1:  Demanding activity is more restorative than passive consumption. By expending energy, you gain energy. It’s like the old entrepreneurial adage, “You have to spend money to make money.

Leisure Lesson #2: Using skills to produce valuable things in the physical world is more stimulating and rejuvenating than spending time in the digital world.

Leisure Lesson #3: Real‐world, structured social interactions are more enjoyable and rewarding than social interactions on devices.

He recommends week two device detachment plan to come up with a list of two demanding activities (ex: exercising and learning a new hobby), two skill‐based activities that produce things in the physical world (ex: cooking and drawing), and two structured social activities (ex: playing board games with family and having coffee with a friend) you can do instead of consuming content or playing games on your devices.

Week Three: Be an Anti‐texter.

If you’re like most people, your friends and family have trained you to stop what you’re doing and respond to their texts immediately. It’s as if you have an obligation to be “on‐call” when their next text arrives. Stop being “on‐call” and strengthen your relationships by taking on the following anti‐texting challenge:

  • Turn off all text notifications so that texts are silent and do not appear on your home screen.
  • Select the three times you will respond to texts during the day. If someone gets mad that you did not get back to them quicker, say, “I only check my texts a few times a day. If something urgent comes up, call me.”
  • When someone texts you a question that could lead to a text chain, call them. If you have a long commute, use your drive time to call someone who has recently texted you.