Ep 111. Cal Newport: Digital Minimalism
“The core of what people are uneasy about is not utility, not whether technology is useful or useless, but about autonomy…there’s a sense of emotional manipulation…and who’s in control of what I do.”
Cal Newport is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. He is the author of six other books, including Deep Work (see our earlier conversation), which argued that our ability to concentrate without distractions is becoming rare. He sold his first book to Random House in the summer after his junior year of college. You won't find him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, but you can often find him at home with his family in Washington, DC, or writing essays for his popular website calnewport.com.
Stew and Cal discuss Cal’s research on digital decluttering and how it increases one’s productivity, maximizes the return on one’s investment in technology use, improves one’s overall happiness, and enhances genuine social connections. Cal talks about the ways in which social media companies (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), in order to increase their value for initial public offerings, strategically engineered their products to be sticky, generate compulsive use, and be addictive. He talks about how our overuse of technology does not make us more productive because we’re not using it wisely. He recommends being intentional with our use of technology, adopting a philosophy of digital minimalism. Doing so starts with identifying one’s core values, taking a 30-day decluttering hiatus, re-evaluating what’s really important, realizing the value of solitude, and consciously re-introducing technological tools if and only if they promise real benefit. The result is a greater sense of freedom and enhanced performance.