“Philip Morris just wanted your lungs, the App Store wants your soul.”
~ Bill Maher
I think that quote pretty well summarizes the content of this book. If, like me, you find yourself desperately checking your phone for new garbage in all unstructured time, this book will be a breath of fresh air. It's not a new idea, focus in the past few centuries has become increasingly illusive. But the illusiveness of focus has reached an almost comical fever pitch in the last 20 years. The picture is a bleak reality of subway cars full of disillusioned passengers glued to their phones. We are living in a dystopian novel.
Newport has a few tricks up his sleeve to bring our control and awareness back to life. He suggests that we embrace a new 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.”
This is a self-help book clothed in socio-economics. The strong call to action is to regain focus over our lives in order to be satisfied. It's a simple less is more argument with clear and practical advice on how to remove distractions from your digital life. Things like turning on "Do Not Disturb" when you're in the middle of something, turning off notifications and deleting apps which notify you regularly, setting office hours when people can get in touch with you or setting structured times aside to check certain platforms. And (of which I'm sometimes guilty) let's all stop hitting "like" already because what does it even mean anymore?
Inside, we discover an illuminating study that finds a disturbing correlation between social isolation and social media use in the U.S.
We find observations about the dangers of asynchronous communication like text messages, which seem innocuous but create endless conversations and "a fraught sense of obligation in friendship... being a friend means 'on call' - tethered to your phone, ready to be attentive, online" (Sherry Turkle)
Newport himself is a computer science professor, showing that even someone steeped in technology need not fall into thoughtless patterns of technology use.
It's worth taking stock of our current relationship with technology and considering deeply how we want engage with each other in this farcical 21st century existence. It can only get more ridiculous from here.
Get it on Amazon or of course at your local library (affiliate link, no cost to you, but I make a commission).