Technology & Humanity

Cal Newport on Digital Minimalism

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question which digital communication tools add the most value to your life.

The Curmudgeonly Optimist

People are sometimes confused about my personal relationship with digital communication technologies.

On the one hand, I’m a computer scientist who studies and improves these tools. As you might therefore expect, I’m incredibly optimistic about the role of computing and networks in our future.

On the other hand, as a writer I’m often pointing out my dissatisfaction with certain developments of the Internet Era. I’m critical, for example, of our culture’s increasingly Orwellian allegiance to social media and am indifferent to my smartphone.

Recently, I’ve been trying to clarify the underlying philosophy that informs how I think about the role of these technologies in our personal lives (their role in the world of work is a distinct issue that I’ve already written quite a bit about). My thinking in this direction is still early, but I decided it might be a useful exercise to share some tentative thoughts, many of which seem to be orbiting a concept that I’ve taken to calling digital minimalism.

The Minimalism Movement

To understand what I mean by digital minimalism it’s important to first understand the existing community from which it takes its name.

The modern minimalism movement is led by a loose collection of bloggers, podcasters, and writers who advocate a simpler life in which you focus on a small number of things that return the most meaning and value — often at the expense of many activities and items we’re told we’re supposed to crave.

Minimalists tend to spend much less money and own many fewer things than their peers. They also tend to be much more intentional and often quite radical in shaping their lives around things that matter to them.

Here’s how my friends Joshua and Ryan (aka, The Minimalists) describe the movement:

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

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