- I’m one of the few members of my generation to never have a social media account, and tend not to spend much time web surfing.
- our culture’s relationship with these tools is complicated by the fact that they mix harm with benefits.
- as is becoming increasingly clear to those who have attempted these types of minor corrections, willpower, tips, and vague resolutions are not sufficient by themselves to tame the ability of new technologies to invade your cognitive landscape
- the addictiveness of their design and the strength of the cultural pressures supporting them are too strong for an ad hoc approach to succeed.
- Because digital minimalists spend so much less time connected than their peers, it’s easy to think of their lifestyle as extreme, but the minimalists would argue that this perception is backward: what’s extreme is how much time everyone else spends staring at their screens
- We require a philosophy that puts our aspirations and values once again in charge of our daily experience, all the while dethroning primal whims and the business models of Silicon Valley from their current dominance of this role
- a philosophy that accepts new technologies, but not if the price is the dehumanization Andrew Sullivan warned us about
- a philosophy that prioritizes long-term meaning over short-term satisfaction.
Part 1: Foundations
Chapter 1: A Lopsided Arms Race
WE DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS
- One of the major selling points of the original iPhone was that it integrated your iPod with your cell phone, preventing you from having to carry around two separate devices in your pockets.
- A college senior who set up an account on thefacebook.com in 2004 to look up classmates probably didn’t predict that the average modern user would spend around two hours per day on social media and related messaging services, with close to half that time dedicated to Facebook’s products alone.
- Similarly, a first adopter who picked up an iPhone in 2007 for the music features would be less enthusiastic if told that within a decade he could expect to compulsively check the device eighty-five times a day—a “feature” we now know Steve Jobs never considered as he prepared his famous keynote.
- when concerns about new technologies are publicly discussed, techno-apologists are quick to push back by turning the discussion to utility— providing case studies, for example, of a struggling artist finding an audience through social media,* or WhatsApp connecting a deployed soldier with her family back home. They then conclude that it’s incorrect to dismiss these technologies on the grounds that they’re useless, a tactic that is usually sufficient to end the debate.
- The techno-apologists are right in their claims, but they’re also missing the point. The perceived utility of these tools is not the ground on which our growing wariness builds.
- we were pushed into it by the high-end device companies and attention economy conglomerates who discovered there are vast fortunes to be made in a culture dominated by gadgets and apps.
TOBACCO FARMERS IN T-SHIRTS
- The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.
- There’s a whole playbook of techniques that get used [by technology companies] to get you using the product for as long as possible
- Fogg’s famed Persuasive Technology Lab is known as the “millionaire maker,” a reference to the many people who passed through his lab and then applied what they learned to help build lucrative tech start-ups (a group that includes, among other dot-com luminaries, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger)
- Minimizing distraction and respecting users’ attention would reduce revenue.
- What’s the single biggest factor shaping our lives today?” His experience of compulsive game playing on his six-hour flight suddenly snapped the answer into sharp focus: our screens.
- to psychologists, addiction has a careful definition that’s stripped of these more lurid elements.
- Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.
- An important 2010 survey paper, for example, appearing in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, concluded that “growing evidence suggests that behavioral addictions resemble substance addictions in many domains.” The article points to pathological gambling and internet addiction as two particularly well-established examples of these disorders.
- how tech companies encourage behavioral addiction: intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval.
intermittent positive reinforcement
- rewards delivered unpredictably are far more enticing than those delivered with a known pattern
- Something about unpredictability releases more dopamine—a key neurotransmitter for regulating our sense of craving.
- “It’s hard to exaggerate how much the ‘like’ button changed the psychology of Facebook use,” Alter writes. “What had begun as a passive way to track your friends’ lives was now deeply interactive, and with exactly the sort of unpredictable feedback that motivated Zeiler’s pigeons.”
- Alter goes on to describe users as “gambling” every time they post something on a social media platform: Will you get likes (or hearts or retweets), or will it languish with no feedback
- the notification symbol for Facebook was originally blue, to match the palette of the rest of the site, “but no one used it.” So they changed the color to red—an alarm color—and clicking skyrocketed.
drive for social approval
- If lots of people click the little heart icon under your latest Instagram post, it feels like the tribe is showing you approval—which we’re adapted to strongly crave.
- The other side of this evolutionary bargain, of course, is that a lack of positive feedback creates a sense of distress.
- “Whether there’s a notification or not, it doesn’t really feel that good,” Pearlman said about the experience of checking social media feedback. “Whatever we’re hoping to see, it never quite meets that bar.”
- As Sean Parker confirmed in describing the design philosophy behind these features: “It’s a social-validation feedback loop . . . exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
A LOPSIDED ARMS RACE
Chapter 2: Digital Minimalism
A MINIMAL SOLUTION
- 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.
- If a new technology offers little more than a minor diversion or trivial convenience, the minimalist will ignore it.
- Even when a new technology promises to support something the minimalist values, it must still pass a stricter test: Is this the best way to use technology to support this value? If the answer is no, the minimalist will set to work trying to optimize the tech, or search out a better option.
- minimalists don’t mind missing out on small things; what worries them much more is diminishing the large things they already know for sure make a good life good.
THE PRINCIPLES OF DIGITAL MINIMALISM
- My argument for this philosophy’s effectiveness rests on the following three core principles:
Principle #1: Clutter is costly.
- Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation.
Principle #2: Optimization is important.
- Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology.
Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying
- Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.
AN ARGUMENT FOR PRINCIPLE #1: THOREAU’S NEW ECONOMICS
- “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
- How much of his time must be sacrificed to support his minimalist lifestyle?
- he determined that hiring out his labor only one day per week would be sufficient.
- This magician’s trick of shifting the units of measure from money to time is the core novelty of what the philosopher Frédéric Gros calls Thoreau’s “new economics,”
- Thoreau establishes early in Walden: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
- Who could justify trading a lifetime of stress and backbreaking labor for better blinds? Is a nicer-looking window treatment really worth so much of your life? Similarly, why would you add hours of extra labor in the fields to obtain a wagon? It’s true that it takes more time to walk to town than to ride in a wagon, Thoreau notes, but these walks still likely require less time than the extra work hours needed to afford the wagon.
- When people consider specific tools or behaviors in their digital lives, they tend to focus only on the value each produces
- How much of your time and attention, he would ask, must be sacrificed to earn the small profit of occasional connections and new ideas that is earned by cultivating a significant presence on Twitter?
- If you value new connections and exposure to interesting ideas, he might argue, why not adopt a habit of attending an interesting talk or event every month, and forcing yourself to chat with at least three people while there? This would produce similar types of value but consume only a few hours of your life per month, leaving you with an extra thirty-seven hours to dedicate to other meaningful pursuits.
- It’s easy to be seduced by the small amounts of profit offered by the latest app or service, but then forget its cost in terms of the most important resource we possess: the minutes of our life.
- He says: keep calculating, keep weighing. What exactly do I gain, or lose?
AN ARGUMENT FOR PRINCIPLE #2: THE RETURN CURVE
- investing more resources into a process cannot indefinitely improve its output—eventually you’ll approach a natural limit and start experiencing less and less extra benefit from continued investment
- Gabriella adopted an optimization to this process: she’s not allowed to watch Netflix alone.* This restriction still allows her to enjoy the value Netflix offers, but to do so in a more controlled manner that limits its potential for abuse and strengthens something else she values: her social life.
- Another optimization that was common among the digital minimalists I studied was to remove social media apps from their phones.
- As the author Max Brooks quipped in a 2017 TV appearance, “We need to reevaluate [our current relationship with] online information sort of the way we reevaluated free love in the 80s.”
- if you think of these services as offering a collection of features that you can carefully put to use to serve specific values, then almost certainly you’ll spend much less time using them. This is why social media companies are purposely vague in describing their products. The Facebook mission statement, for example, describes their goal as “giv[ing] people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” This goal is generically positive, but how exactly you use Facebook to accomplish it is left underspecified
AN ARGUMENT FOR PRINCIPLE #3: THE LESSONS OF THE AMISH HACKER
- Amish communities are not relics of a bygone era. Rather, they are demonstrations of a different form of modernity
- Amish lives are anything but antitechnological. In fact, on my several visits with them, I have found them to be ingenious hackers and tinkers, the ultimate makers and do-it-yourselvers. They are often, surprisingly, pro-technology.
- The Amish start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.
- When a new technology rolls around, there’s typically an “alpha geek”
- in any given Amish community that will ask the parish bishop permission to try it out. Usually the bishop will agree. The whole community will then observe this first adopter “intently,” trying to discern the ultimate impact of the technology on the things the community values most. If this impact is deemed more negative than helpful, the technology is prohibited. Otherwise it’s allowed, but usually with caveats on its use that optimize its positives and minimize its negatives.
- approaching decisions with intention can be more important than the impact of the actual decisions themselves.
- The Amish prioritize the benefits generated by acting intentionally about technology over the benefits lost from the technologies they decide not to use. Their gamble is that intention trumps convenience—and this is a bet that seems to be paying off. The Amish have remained a relatively stable presence in America for over two hundred years of rapid modernity and cultural upheavals.
- at the age of sixteen, Amish youth are allowed to leave home and experience the outside world beyond the restrictions of their community. It is then their decision, after having seen what they will be giving up, whether or not they accept baptism into the Amish church.
- the percentage of Amish youth that decide to stay after Rumspringa is in the range of 80 to 90 percent.
- she has never owned a smartphone and has no intention of buying one.
- In our conversation, she emphasized the importance of being present with her daughter, even when bored, and the value she gets out of spending time with friends free from distraction.
- almost certainly something more fundamental to human flourishing: the sense of meaning that comes from acting with intention.
- the very act of being selective about your tools will bring you satisfaction, typically much more than what is lost from the tools you decide to avoid.
- The sugar high of convenience is fleeting and the sting of missing out dulls rapidly, but the meaningful glow that comes from taking charge of what claims your time and attention is something that persists.
A NEW LOOK AT OLD ADVICE
Chapter 3: The Digital Declutter
ON (RAPIDLY) BECOMING MINIMALIST
- In my experience, gradually changing your habits one at a time doesn’t work well—the engineered attraction of the attention economy, combined with the friction of convenience, will diminish your inertia until you backslide toward where you started.
The Digital Declutter Process
- 1. Put aside a thirty-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life.
- 2. During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.
- 3. At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies into your life, starting from a blank slate. For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it so as to maximize this value.
- A temporary detox is a much weaker resolution than trying to permanently change your life, and therefore much easier for your mind to subvert when the going gets tough.
STEP #1: DEFINE YOUR TECHNOLOGY RULES
- The first step of the declutter process, therefore, is to define which technologies fall into this “optional” category.
- Once you’ve identified the class of technologies that are relevant, you must then decide which of them are sufficiently “optional” that you can take a break from them for the full thirty days of the declutter process.
- consider the technology optional unless its temporary removal would harm or significantly disrupt the daily operation of your professional or personal life
- Similar exemptions also apply when a technology’s removal might cause serious harm to relationships: for example, using FaceTime to talk with a spouse deployed overseas with the military.
- Don’t, however, confuse “convenient” with “critical.”
- use operating procedures when confronting a technology that’s largely optional, with the exception of a few critical use cases. These procedures specify exactly how and when you use a particular technology, allowing you to maintain some critical uses without having to default to unrestricted access.
- A computer scientist named Caleb decided he could still listen to podcasts, but only on his two-hour-long daily commute.
- A college freshman named Ramel abstained from streaming media except when doing so with other people,
- A professor named Nathaniel, on the other hand, didn’t mind high-quality entertainment in his life but worried about binge-watching, so he adopted a clever restriction: “no more than two episodes of any series per week.”
- In the end, you’re left with a list of banned technologies along with relevant operating procedures. Write this down and put it somewhere where you’ll see it every day. Clarity in what you’re allowed and not allowed to do during the declutter will prove key to its success.
STEP #2: TAKE A THIRTY-DAY BREAK
- Many of the participants in my mass declutter experiment, however, reported that these feelings of discomfort faded after a week or two
- A major reason that I recommend taking an extended break before trying to transform your digital life is that without the clarity provided by detox, the addictive pull of the technologies will bias your decisions.
- The goal is not to simply give yourself a break from technology, but to instead spark a permanent transformation of your digital life.
- Reducing the easy distraction without also filling the void can make life unpleasantly stale—an outcome likely to undermine any transition to minimalism.
- the participants in my mass declutter experiment found it easier than expected to reconnect to the types of activities they used to enjoy before they were subverted by their screens
- During his declutter he rediscovered the satisfaction of spending real time with his boys instead of just spending time near them with his eyes on the screen.
- You will probably find the first week or two of your digital declutter to be difficult, and fight urges to check technologies you’re not allowed to check. These feelings, however, will pass, and this resulting sense of detox will prove useful when it comes time to make clear decisions at the end of the declutter.
- During this monthlong process, you must aggressively explore higher-quality activities to fill in the time left vacant by the optional technologies you’re avoiding.
STEP #3: REINTRODUCE TECHNOLOGY
- the digital minimalist deploys technology to serve the things they find most important in their life, and is happy missing out on everything else.
- Is this technology the best way to support this value?
- If a technology makes it through both of these screening questions, there’s one last question you must ask yourself before it’s allowed back into your life: How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?
- many attention economy companies want you to think about their services in a binary way: either you use it, or you don’t.
- Digital minimalists would never simply say, “I use Facebook because it helps my social life.” They would instead declare something more specific, such as: “I check Facebook each Saturday on my computer to see what my close friends and family are up to; I don’t have the app on my phone; I culled my list of friends down to just meaningful relationships.”
The Minimalist Technology Screen
- To allow an optional technology back into your life at the end of the digital declutter, it must:
- Serve something you deeply value (offering some benefit is not enough).
- 2. Be the best way to use technology to serve this value (if it’s not, replace it with something better).
- Have a role in your life that is constrained with a standard operating procedure that specifies when and how you use it.
- These services have a way of entering your life through cultural pressure and vague value propositions,
- It took a declutter for me to notice that these technologies aren’t actually adding anything to my life.
- Caleb set a curfew for his phone: he can’t use it between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
- a computer engineer named Ron gives himself a quota of only two websites he’s allowed to regularly check
- Rebecca transformed her daily experience by buying a watch
- “I estimate that around 75 percent of the time I got sucked down a rabbit hole of un-productivity was due to me checking my phone for the time.”
Part 2: Practices
Chapter 4: Spend Time Alone
WHEN SOLITUDE SAVED THE NATION
- A growing amount of research suggests that the time and space for quiet reflection the cottage enabled may have played a key role in helping Lincoln make sense of the traumas of the Civil War and tackle the hard decisions he faced.
- Lincoln’s time alone with his thoughts played a crucial role in his ability to navigate a demanding wartime presidency
- Everyone benefits from regular doses of solitude, and, equally important, anyone who avoids this state for an extended period of time will, like Lincoln during his early months in the White House, suffer.
THE VALUE OF SOLITUDE
- Raymond Kethledge turned out, relies on long periods alone with his thoughts to write his famously sharp legal opinions, often working at a simple pine desk in a barely renovated barn with no internet connection.
- As Kethledge and Erwin explain, however, solitude is about what’s happening in your brain, not the environment around you. they define it to be a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.
- Solitude requires you to move past reacting to information created by other people and focus instead on your own thoughts and experiences— wherever you happen to be.
- “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” Blaise Pascal famously wrote in the late seventeenth century.
- Benjamin Franklin said "I acknowledge solitude an agreeable refreshment to a busy mind."
- Descartes, Newton, Locke, Pascal, Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein as examples of men who never had families or fostered close personal ties, yet still managed to lead remarkable lives
- Solitude can be just as important for both happiness and productivity
- three crucial benefits provided by solitude: “new ideas; an understanding of the self; and closeness to others.”
- I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone . . .
- “We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness.”
- It’s now possible to completely banish solitude from your life. Thoreau and Storr worried about people enjoying less solitude. We must now wonder if people might forget this state of being altogether.
- Solitude Deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.
- this prioritization of communication over reflection becomes a source of serious concern.
- A college student he interviewed at a residential anxiety treatment center put it well: “Social media is a tool, but it’s become this thing that we can’t live without that’s making us crazy.”
- we need solitude to thrive as human beings, and in recent years, without even realizing it, we’ve been systematically reducing this crucial ingredient from our lives.
THE CONNECTED CABIN
- for every hour you spend with other human beings you need X number of hours alone. Now what that X represents I don’t really know . . . but it’s a substantial ratio
- It’s exactly this alternation between regular time alone with your thoughts and regular connection that I propose as the key to avoiding solitude deprivation in a culture that also demands connection.
- there’s nothing wrong with connectivity, but if you don’t balance it with regular doses of solitude, its benefits will diminish.
PRACTICE: LEAVE YOUR PHONE AT HOME
- The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, doesn’t allow you to use phones once the film begins.
- Here’s their official policy, lifted from their website:
- We have zero tolerance for talking or cell phone use of any kind during films. We’ll kick you out, promise. We’ve got backup.
- Workers fear the idea of being both needed and unreachable. And everyone secretly fears being bored.
- life without a cell phone is occasionally annoying, but it’s much less debilitating than you might expect.
- the urgency we feel to always have a phone with us is exaggerated. To live permanently without these devices would be needlessly annoying, but to regularly spend a few hours away from them should give you no pause.
- smartphones are the primary enabler of solitude deprivation.
- If you’re struggling at first, a useful compromise is to bring your phone where you’re going, but then leave it in your car’s glove compartment.
PRACTICE: TAKE LONG WALKS
- Friedrich Nietzsche said “Only thoughts reached by walking have value.”
- Nietzsche also notes: “The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit.”
- Nietzsche began to walk up to eight hours a day.
- Motivated by these historical lessons, we too should embrace walking as a highquality source of solitude.
- I made this walk every day, regardless of the weather.
- I use these walks for multiple purposes. The most common activities include trying to make progress on a professional problem (such as a math proof for my work as a computer scientist or a chapter outline for a book) and self-reflection on some particular aspect of my life that I think needs more attention.
- The details of this practice are simple: On a regular basis, go for long walks, preferably somewhere scenic. Take these walks alone, which means not just by yourself, but also, if possible, without your phone.
- I’m quite simply happier and more productive—by noticeably large factors—when I’m walking regularly
- Thoreau once wrote: I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.
PRACTICE: WRITE LETTERS TO YOURSELF
Chapter 5: Don’t Click “Like”
THE GREATEST DUEL IN SPORTS
- A natural conclusion of this reality is that we should treat with great care any new technology that threatens to disrupt the ways in which we connect and communicate with others. When you mess with something so central to the success of our species, it’s easy to create problems.
THE SOCIAL ANIMAL
- When given downtime, in other words, our brain defaults to thinking about our social life.
- The loss of social connection, for example, turns out to trigger the same system as physical pain—explaining why the death of a family member, a breakup, or even just a social snub can cause such distress.
- Given the power of the pain system in driving our behavior, its connection to our social life underscores the importance of social relationships to our species’ success.
- humans are wired to be social.
- Much in the same way that the “innovation” of highly processed foods in the mid-twentieth century led to a global health crisis, the unintended side effects of digital communication tools—a sort of social fast food—are proving to be similarly worrisome.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA PARADOX
- Both studies found strong correlations between social media use and a range of negative factors, from perceived isolation to poorer physical health.
- “Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time on Social Media Might Be Why.”
- the researchers found that the more someone used social media, the more likely they were to be lonely.
- The more time you spend “connecting” on these services, the more isolated you’re likely to become.
- replacing your real-world relationships with social media use is detrimental to your well-being.
- The key issue is that using social media tends to take people away from the real-world socializing that’s massively more valuable.
- The small boosts you receive from posting on a friend’s wall or liking their latest Instagram photo can’t come close to compensating for the large loss experienced by no longer spending real-world time with that same friend.
- online interaction is both easier and faster than old-fashioned conversation. Humans are naturally biased toward activities that require less energy in the short term, even if it’s more harmful in the long term—so we end up texting our sibling instead of calling them on the phone, or liking a picture of a friend’s new baby instead of stopping by to visit.
- Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do
- The philosophy of conversation-centric communication takes a harder stance. It argues that conversation is the only form of interaction that in some sense counts toward maintaining a relationship. This conversation can take the form of a face-toface meeting, or it can be a video chat or a phone call
- In this philosophy, connection is downgraded to a logistical role. This form of interaction now has two goals: to help set up and arrange conversation, or to efficiently transfer practical information (e.g., a meeting location or time for an upcoming event).
- If you subscribe to conversation-centric communication, you might still maintain some social media accounts for the purposes of logistical expediency, but gone will be the habit of regularly browsing these services throughout your day, sprinkling “likes” and short comments, or posting your own updates and desperately checking for the feedback they accrue.
- this philosophy has nothing against technology—so long as the tools are put to use to improve your real-world social life as opposed to diminishing it.
- conversation-centric communication requires sacrifices. If you adopt this philosophy, you’ll almost certainly reduce the number of people with whom you have an active relationship.
PRACTICE: DON’T CLICK “LIKE”
- Facebook didn’t invent the “Like” button. That credit goes to the largely forgotten FriendFeed service, which introduced this feature in October 2007. But when the massively more popular Facebook introduced the iconic thumbsup icon sixteen months later, the trajectory of social media was forever changed.
- Instead of seeing these easy clicks as a fun way to nudge a friend, start treating them as poison to your attempts to cultivate a meaningful social life.
- Don’t click “Like.” Ever.
- stop leaving comments on social media posts as well. No “so cute!” or “so cool!” Remain silent.
- The reason I’m suggesting such a hard stance against these seemingly innocuous interactions is that they teach your mind that connection is a reasonable alternative to conversation.
- you may think you can balance both types of interaction, but most people can’t.
- The idea that it’s valuable to maintain vast numbers of weak-tie social connections is largely an invention of the past decade or so
- As an academic who studies and teaches social media explained to me: “I don’t think we’re meant to keep in touch with so many people.”
PRACTICE: CONSOLIDATE TEXTING
- This practice suggests that you keep your phone in Do Not Disturb mode by default.
- this mode turns off notifications when text messages arrive. If you’re worried about emergencies, you can easily adjust the settings so calls from a selected list (your spouse, your kid’s school) do come through.
- Once you no longer treat text interactions as an ongoing conversation that you must continually tend, it’s much easier to concentrate fully on the activity before you.
PRACTICE: HOLD CONVERSATION OFFICE HOURS
- he tells them that he’s always available to talk on the phone at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. There’s no need to schedule a conversation or let him know when you plan to call—just dial him up. As it turns out, 5:30 is when he begins his traffic-clogged commute home in the Bay Area.
Chapter 6: Reclaim Leisure
LEISURE AND THE GOOD LIFE
- Aristotle steps back from this gritted-teeth heroic virtue and makes a radical turn in his argument: “The best and most pleasant life is the life of the intellect.” He concludes, “This life will also be the happiest.”
- a life well lived requires activities that serve no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates.
- low-quality digital distractions play a more important role in people’s lives than they imagine.
- Erecting barriers against the existential is not new —before YouTube we had (and still have) mindless television and heavy drinking to help avoid deeper questions—but the advanced technologies of the twenty-firstcentury attention economy are particularly effective at this task.
THE BENNETT PRINCIPLE
- Pete doesn’t own a television and doesn’t subscribe to Netflix or Hulu. He occasionally rents a movie on Google Play, but for the most part, his family doesn’t use screens to provide entertainment.
- I never understood the joy of watching other people play sports,
- and I] don’t care about what the celebrities and politicians are doing
- I seem to get satisfaction only from making stuff. Or maybe a better description would be solving problems and making improvements.
- If you leave me alone for a day . . . I’ll have a joyful time rotating between carpentry, weight training, writing, playing around with instruments in the music studio, making lists and executing tasks from them.
- inactivity leads to a depressive boredom
- As explained by Liz, a seemingly tedious task like clearing trails can suddenly seem significantly more rewarding than passively surfing Twitter.
- Roosevelt practiced what he preached. As president, Roosevelt regularly boxed (until a hard blow detached his left retina), practiced jujitsu, skinny-dipped in the Potomac, and read at the rate of one book per day. He was not one to sit back and relax.
- One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change—not rest, except in sleep.
- Leisure Lesson #1: Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.
ON CRAFT AND SATISFACTION
- Many people experience the world largely through a screen now,
- Craft allows an escape from this shallowness and provides instead a deeper source of pride.
- Typing computer code into an advanced integrated development environment is not quite the same as confronting a plank of maple wood with a handheld plane. The former misses both the physicality and sense of unlimited options latent in the latter.
- Leisure Lesson #2: Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.
- People are more eager than ever before to play Scrabble with neighbors, or trash-talk co-workers over poker,
- These benefits of old-fashioned, in-person playing help explain why even the fanciest video games and shiniest mobile entertainments haven’t ruined the board game industry.
- When first encountered, CrossFit’s popularity confused industry insiders who for years had focused relentlessly on price and services at their gyms.
- Leisure Lesson #3: Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.
THE LEISURE RENAISSANCE
- I’m pointing this out to push back on the idea that high-quality leisure requires a nostalgic turning back of time to a pre-internet era. On the contrary, the internet is fueling a leisure renaissance of sorts by providing the average person more leisure options than ever before in human history.
- The state I’m helping you escape is one in which passive interaction with your screens is your primary leisure.
- Spending an hour browsing funny YouTube clips might sap your vitality, while —and I’m speaking from recent experience here—using YouTube to teach yourself how to replace a motor in a bathroom ventilation fan can provide the foundation for a satisfying afternoon of tinkering.
PRACTICE: FIX OR BUILD SOMETHING EVERY WEEK
- But maximizing personal and financial efficiency isn’t the only relevant goal. As I argued earlier in this chapter, learning and applying new skills is an important source of high-quality leisure
- here’s a sample list of the types of straightforward projects I had in mind for someone new to using their hands for useful purposes.
- Changing your own car oil
- Installing a new ceiling-mounted light fixture
- Learning the basics of a new technique on an instrument you already play (e.g., a guitar player learning Travis picking)
- Figuring out how to precisely calibrate the tone arm on your turntable
- Building a custom headboard from high-quality lumber
- Starting a garden plot
PRACTICE: SCHEDULE YOUR LOW-QUALITY LEISURE
- You can’t, in other words, build a billion-dollar empire like Facebook if you’re wasting hours every day using a service like Facebook.
- work out the specific time periods during which you’ll indulge in web surfing, social media checking, and entertainment streaming. When you get to these periods, anything goes. If you want to binge-watch Netflix while live-streaming yourself browsing Twitter: go for it. But outside these periods, stay offline.
- I conjecture that the vast majority of regular social media users can receive the vast majority of the value these services provide their life in as little as twenty to forty minutes of use per week.
PRACTICE: JOIN SOMETHING
- Franklin is one of the great socializers in American history
- we can all extract an important lesson from his approach to cultivating a fulfilling leisure life: join things.
- few things can replicate the benefits of connecting with your fellow citizens, so get up, get out, and start reaping these benefits in your own community.
PRACTICE: FOLLOW LEISURE PLANS
- In the professional world, many high achievers are meticulous strategists.
- I want you, in other words, to strategize your free time.
The Seasonal Leisure Plan
- A seasonal leisure plan is something that you put together three times a year: at the beginning of the fall (early September), at the beginning of the winter (January), and at the beginning of summer (early May)
- A good seasonal plan contains two different types of items: objectives and habits that you intend to honor in the upcoming season.
- Example 1:
- Objective: Learn on the guitar every song from the A-side of Meet the Beatles!
- Restring and retune my guitar, find the chord charts for the songs, print them, and put them in nice plastic protector sheets.
- Return to my old habit of regularly practicing my guitar.
- As incentive, schedule Beatles party in November. Perform songs (get Linda to agree to sing).
- it’s always helpful to give yourself a deadline
- here are several examples of the other type of item found on seasonal leisure plans, the habits:
- Habit: During the week, restrict low-quality leisure to only sixty minutes a night.
- Habit: Read something in bed every night.
- Habit: Attend one cultural event per week.
The Weekly Leisure Plan
- I’ve noticed that once someone becomes more intentional about their leisure, they tend to find more of it in their life.
- doing nothing is overrated
Chapter 7: Join the Attention Resistance
- Extracting eyeball minutes, the key resource for companies like Google and Facebook, has become significantly more lucrative than extracting oil.
- You want something valuable from their networks, and they want to undermine your autonomy—to come out on the winning side of this battle requires both preparation and a ruthless commitment to avoiding exploitation.
PRACTICE: DELETE SOCIAL MEDIA FROM YOUR PHONE
- if you’re going to use social media, stay far away from the mobile versions of these services, as these pose a significantly bigger risk to your time and attention.
PRACTICE: TURN YOUR DEVICES INTO SINGLEPURPOSE COMPUTERS
PRACTICE: USE SOCIAL MEDIA LIKE A PROFESSIONAL
PRACTICE: EMBRACE SLOW MEDIA
PRACTICE: DUMB DOWN YOUR SMARTPHONE
- Your Time = Their Money
- we’ve always struggled to imagine the consequences of the electronic communication revolution started by Samuel Morse, and often find ourselves scrambling to make ex post facto sense of its impacts on our world.
- We eagerly signed up for what Silicon Valley was selling, but soon realized that in doing so we were accidently degrading our humanity.
- Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value—not as sources of value themselves.