Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

March 4, 2019

Book Review by Andy Ghillyer

FOMO – the “fear of missing out” – has led our modern society to an almost manic obsession with information. Unless you are online constantly and engaged with multiple social media platforms, you are now outside of the mainstream digital experience.

In his seminal book Deep Work, Cal Newport advocated for the psychological and creative benefits of periods of intense focus in your work life. Readers responded with thousands of inquiries for assistance with the same problem of constant interruption and distraction in their personal lives.

In his new book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Newport draws attention to the increasing dangers of constant immersion in this digital mainstream and its consequences for both individuals and our society as a whole.

An Unsustainable Relationship

The author argues that the initial benefits of convenience and connectivity of such platforms as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have long since given way to intrusive attention-grabbing and mood manipulation through highly targeted news feeds. Twitter in particular has given rise to the ubiquitous “trolls” who are eager to drag readers to “emotionally charged and draining extremes. Newport’s readers wrote of physical and psychological exhaustion from this constant barrage of information and asked for guidance in regaining control of their digital lives.

Digital Minimalism

Newport proposes a solution in the form of a “full-fledged philosophy of technology use.” Acknowledging the existence of neo-Luddites abandoning most technology at one end of the spectrum, and “Quantified Self” enthusiasts looking to openly embrace all technology at the other end, the author’s philosophy ends-up somewhere in the middle.

The basic premise is a transformation of your relationship with technology to where you determine how its use benefits your life rather than letting it control your life. The first section of the book addresses the first step in the process–– “the digital declutter,” where you’ll wean yourself from digital activities and replace them with analog interactions such as reading real books and actually talking to people.

The second section examines ideas and stories from a digital declutter experiment that Newport ran in 2018 in which over 1,600 people participated. Action items include reintroducing yourself to solitary walks outside in the fresh air, embracing real connection as opposed to clicking “like” on someone’s post, and reclaiming leisure as a part of your everyday lifestyle.

One of the more heretical suggestions is to “dumb down your smartphone” ––either by removing distracting apps altogether or going even further and retiring it in favor of a classic “clamshell flip phone” with no enticing screen to constantly drag your attention away from engaging with family and friends.

Digital Minimalism warns of the growing physical and psychological dangers of immersion in the mainstream digital experience. Starting with a ‘digital declutter,’ the author presents a path to a more balanced world in which technology enriches but does not control your life.


Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs.