Newport’s earlier book Deep Work had a profound impact on how I think about my time, so I had high expectations for his Digital Minimalism.
He begins the book with several studies about how structure of social media affects our brains and works to keep up from productivity and real relationships. The book has good blend of theory, research and practical application. The tone is conversational, and the audio reader does a good job.
The most important takeaway for me was the premise that the problem with social media goes beyond my poor use of it. Social media platforms are designed to extract our attention. Before reading this book, I thought I was simply weak willed. But mobile social media platforms are actually designed to exploit our human weakness for intermittent reinforcement in order to create attention traps.
His second emphasis is on how connection via social media or email/texting does not provide the same benefits as face-to-face conversation. (If we had any doubt about this, 2020’s experience of Zoom work/school/social activities certainly confirmed this for many of us.)
Perhaps the most shocking he recommends is a a month-long “digital cleanse” from social media in order to have the distance from it to reevaluate how we can use it to our best advantage. I’m two weeks into my fast (my word, not his) and have to admit that the thing I miss most from my social media feed is the Jurassic Park Twitter account– though my 20 year-old has made sure I heard the best updates. We’ll see how I feel at the end of the month, and if I will decide to put any social media back on my phone or not. I will certainly be more discriminating in what I download.