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Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
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Many of us are glued to our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, slavishly checking Facebook updates, refreshing email, and scanning Twitter. Although most people adopted these technologies for their benefits, they’ve become so tethered to them that they’ve lost control of how they spend their time and attention. People feel overpowered and exhausted by the multitude of digital tools at their fingertips, including devices like smartphones and tablets, websites, addictive apps, and social media platforms. Meanwhile, tech companies continue to invest major resources into making their products and services addictive so that you’ll continue scrolling and tapping.

This book explains how practicing digital minimalism can loosen technology’s grip on your attention. Digital minimalism is a philosophy that aims to maximize the benefits of technology and avoid the pitfalls by identifying your values and determining how to use technology to support them. First, we’ll discuss the principles of digital minimalism and explain why it’s an effective way to improve your digital (and real-world) life. Then, we’ll review practical strategies for implementing digital minimalism.

Before we talk about how to break our technology obsession, let’s explore what makes it so addictive in the first place.

Digital Devices Are Engineered to Be Addictive

If you ask people how much time is a reasonable amount to spend on these activities, their answer would probably be less than the amount of time they actually spend. Why are people spending more time and energy on devices than they think they should? The answer: Tech companies carefully engineer their products to keep your attention for as long as possible, because the longer your eyeballs are glued to the screen—where advertisements are placed strategically among your friend’s cat videos—the higher their revenues. This is the attention economy.

In order to drive profits, digital tools are specifically designed to promote addiction in order to support the attention economy. Of the various features that encourage technology addiction, we’ll explore two:

  1. Intermittent positive reinforcement means that, when you get unpredictable rewards for your behavior, you’re more driven to continue that behavior than if the rewards were consistent. On social media, the “Like” button is one form of intermittent reward: When you post a photo on Facebook, you may get a swarm of likes and comments, or you may get none.
  2. The drive for social approval means that humans have an evolutionary impulse to seek and reciprocate social approval. On social media, likes and comments convey social approval. Your ancient social urges push you to compulsively check your notifications to find out whether your peers have validated you with the thumbs-up button—and, when you don’t get that feedback, the feeling of distress and rejection urges you to keep checking your notifications.

Digital overuse causes a number of negative effects, but, above all, technologies’ addictive designs rob you of your autonomy to decide how and how much you use your digital tools. Digital minimalism can help you reclaim the power to decide how you allocate your time and attention—because if you don’t feel that you have control over your digital habits, you become a victim of their negative consequences. Since your tech addiction has been engineered, you have to be diligent and deliberate about breaking that addiction and creating new habits.

Digital Minimalism Hinges on a Philosophy of Tech Use

A growing number of people are preaching the benefits of pulling back from the total technology immersion that has become the default for many. Those who promote reducing technology use typically advise simple hacks like turning off notifications. However, instead of hacks, most people need a complete overhaul—and that starts with developing a philosophy of technology use. Digital minimalism is one such philosophy, which requires that you identify what values and activities are priorities in your life, determine which digital tools promote those priorities, and implement constraints for using these tools to maximize their benefits and minimize their harm and distraction.

Let’s explore the three main principles of digital minimalism:

  1. Eliminate clutter. Digital minimalists assess technology with cost-benefit analyses, which involves asking yourself whether a technology adds value to your life beyond minor convenience, and whether the technology is the best way to support your values. In other words, Facebook may be an easy way to keep up with family and friends, but is it the best way? You may be better off calling or visiting them. If you assess every digital tool with these criteria, you’ll likely end up reducing or eliminating your need for these devices.
  2. Optimize your technology use. Once you’ve pared down your apps and devices, decide how to get the most benefits with the fewest distractions. Instead of looking at an app or device as a single tool, think about it as a collection of features, such as direct messaging and marketing platforms. With this view, you can optimize your digital use based purely on the tools they provide, and it’ll be easier to bypass the rest of the noise.
  3. Take control and feel empowered. One of the most harmful effects of technology addiction is that users feel that they don’t have control over their own time and attention. But you can avoid all of the issues that come with technology overuse if you can simply control your digital habits, and reclaiming that control is empowering.

Start Your Tech Transformation With a 30-Day Digital Declutter

The most effective way to adopt digital minimalism is to start with a digital declutter, which is a 30-day detox from all non-essential technology. **The digital declutter allows time for you to break your addictive habits, engage with more meaningful...

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Introduction

Many of us are glued to our smartphones, tablets, and laptops. When most people first got smartphones or signed up for social media, they envisioned the benefits they’d reap, from the convenience of having a pocket-sized computer to the connectedness they could feel with friends and family across the globe. But, over time, the urge to slavishly check Facebook updates, refresh email, and scan Twitter has become so strong that many people feel that they’ve lost control of how they spend their time and attention. Many people feel overpowered and exhausted by the multitude of digital tools at their fingertips, including devices like smartphones and tablets, websites, addictive apps, and social media platforms. People want to use digital tools, they don’t want to feel used by them.

There are a number of strategies for loosening technology’s grip on your attention, but simple hacks meant to alter your habits aren’t potent enough to overcome technology’s addictive...

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Part 1 | Chapter 1: Digital Devices Are Engineered to Be Addictive

Technology addiction is insidious. When social media and smartphones were first introduced, neither the creators nor the users had any idea that the technologies would evolve to become the ever-present, addictive forces they are today. The technologies transformed daily life and culture accidentally and unexpectedly.

When Facebook launched in 2004, people signed up for the service to keep in touch with friends and family. Similarly, when Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs promoted it as a hybrid of a cell phone and an iPod—in fact, Jobs initially rejected suggestions to frame the iPhone as a small, ultra-mobile computer. As people spent more time using these digital tools, their usefulness morphed from convenient ways to stay connected to constant distractions pulling your attention away from the person sitting in front of you.

Today, many people spend hours on their devices, scrolling through their news feeds and compulsively checking emails. If you ask people how much time is a reasonable amount to spend on these activities, their answer would probably be less than the amount of time they actually spend. Where’s the disconnect? Why are people spending...

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Shortform Exercise: What Are Your Digital Habits?

Are you in the grip of a tech addiction?


How much time would you estimate you spend on your smartphone (or tablet or computer) per day?

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Chapter 2: Digital Minimalism Hinges on a Philosophy of Tech Use

As we’ve seen, your tech addiction is by design—and that means that you have to be just as deliberate in breaking that addiction and creating new habits. In this chapter, we’ll explain how to do that with the philosophy of digital minimalism.

A growing number of people are preaching the benefits of pulling back from the total technology immersion that has become the default for many. Those who promote reducing technology use typically advise simple hacks like turning off notifications; a New York Post columnist wrote that he took back his life by disabling notifications for 112 apps on his iPhone. However, simple strategies don’t address the root of the problem, which is that cultural norms and addictive designs are the reason that writer had 112 apps in the first place.

Instead of hacks, most people need a complete overhaul—and that starts with developing a philosophy of technology use. Digital minimalism is one such philosophy. Digital minimalism requires that you **identify what values and activities are priorities in your life, determine which digital tools promote those priorities, and implement constraints for using these tools to maximize their benefits and...

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Shortform Exercise: How Could You Reduce Your Tech Use?

Reflect on how you could apply digital minimalism to your life.


Digital minimalism promotes using technology to support your values and interests. What are some of your values and interests (such as family or a musical hobby)?

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Chapter 3: Start Your Tech Transformation With a 30-Day Digital Declutter

You now know the principles of digital minimalism, but your persistent technology addiction makes implementing them difficult. That’s why the most effective way to adopt digital minimalism is to start with a digital declutter, which is a 30-day detox from all non-essential technology. The digital declutter allows time for you to break your addictive habits, engage with more meaningful activities, and get a clean slate from which you can set the parameters for your long-term digital use.

Let’s discuss the three steps of the declutter process.

Step #1: Outline the Rules for Your Declutter

The digital declutter involves banning all optional technologies, so you must first define what is an optional technology. The answer will be different for everyone, but it should fit two criteria.

First, “technology” includes websites, apps, and other digital tools that you access through your phone or computer. Video games and television and streaming services are gray areas, depending upon whether you feel that you rely on them in a way that’s cluttering your life. If you often feel an addictive pull to your gaming system, or if binging on Netflix constantly impedes your...

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Shortform Exercise: What Would Your Digital Declutter Look Like?

If you were to commit to a 30-day digital declutter, what would that entail?


Think of all the technologies you use, including websites, apps, and other digital tools that you access through your phone or computer. Which of these could you eliminate for a month without damaging your personal or professional life?

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Part 2 | Chapter 4: Reclaim Time for Yourself

In Part 2, we’ll examine various benefits you’ll enjoy when you reform your digital use, and we’ll share some practice advice for becoming a digital minimalist. When you start to realize all the time you could gain by changing your digital habits, your mind might jump to the ways you could fill that free time and all the things you could accomplish (we’ll talk more about these kinds of activities in the next couple chapters). But it’s important that you also spend some of that time doing nothing.

Because digital tools are ubiquitous and addictive, they have robbed us of invaluable solitude. With smartphones, no small moment—while waiting in line or commuting on the subway—is without a digital crutch keeping our attention. This may seem like a small loss, but even brief moments of solitude are critical for your mental and emotional well-being.

Solitude Is Essential to Your Well-Being

It’s easy to overlook the value of solitude, because our culture places a high value on connectivity. That emphasis on constant connection can also obscure technology’s harmful effects: Facebook’s mission statement is to help people build community and make people all over the world...

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Shortform Exercise: How Much Solitude Do You Get?

Reflect on the role of solitude in your life.


When and how do you get solitude in your daily life?

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Chapter 5: Reclaim Your Relationships

Just as important as humans’ need for solitude is their need for meaningful social interaction. The human brain evolved to be extremely sophisticated in navigating social interactions because relationships have always been vital to humans’ health and survival: When our ancient ancestors lived in tribes, each individual’s survival depended on whether her relationships with other members of the tribe supported cooperation and goodwill. However, digital communication has replaced most face-to-face and phone conversations, but texts, comments, and emails fail to feed people’s deep psychological social needs.

Social Interactions Are Essential to Your Well-Being

Humans are wired to be social. In fact, scientists have revealed that during moments of mental idleness, certain areas of the brain continue to think about your social connections. When you communicate with people face-to-face, on the phone, or over a video call—any means that’s not text-based—it stretches your mental muscles for social connection, such as reading body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. **Humans evolved over millions of years to perform the immense mental feat of having face-to-face...

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Shortform Exercise: How Can You Strengthen Your Relationships?

Reflect on how you could improve communication with your closest friends and family.


Name two of the most important people in your life.

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Chapter 6: Reclaim Your Leisure Time

In order to successfully reduce your digital habits, you need to first identify the meaningful leisure activities that will take their place. In recent decades, the rise of technological overuse has coincided with the decline of high-quality leisure activities: Employers have demanded constant access to employees, the line has blurred between people’s personal and professional lives, and community bonds and traditions have fallen by the wayside. These lifestyle changes have created a void in satisfying and social leisure activities—and, instead of facing this void, most people fill it with mindless social media browsing and other digital fill-ins, the equivalent of empty carbs for your brain.

While scrolling and tapping on your devices may feel like pleasant ways to decompress, they are low-quality leisure activities—they don’t contribute much value to your life and they don’t energize you. When you cut down on your digital use and deliberately fill that time with meaningful activities, the high-quality leisure will leave you feeling more energized and fulfilled than your digital habits did.

Brainstorm High-Quality Leisure Activities

As you think of the ways you...

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Shortform Exercise: How Can You Upgrade Your Leisure Time?

Reflect on how you could enjoy more high-quality leisure time.


What are a few of your most common leisure activities?

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Digital Minimalism Summary Digital Minimalism Guide Chapter 7: Reclaim Your Attention

You have the knowledge and the strategies to break technology’s hold on you. In this final chapter, we’ll reiterate the goals of digital minimalism and provide practical suggestions for implementing it.

The attention economy—in which advertisers pay publishers or platforms for access to people’s time and attention—actually existed long before smartphones and tablets, but its current size and power is unprecedented. This business model traces back to 1830, with the publication of the first penny press newspaper, the New York Sun. Instead of printing high-quality stories and charging accordingly, the Sun’s publisher filled the paper with advertisements and mass-interest stories, and he dropped the price to just a penny. The business model was then adopted by tabloids, radio, television, and the internet. Then, iPhones and subsequent smartphones marked a significant turning point: Portable digital devices made it possible to grab consumers’ attention throughout the day, while the data they collected on consumers’ habits and preferences enabled advertisers to launch hyper-targeted ads.

Since tech companies have a vested interest in keeping you addicted to your...

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Shortform Exercise: Would You Adopt Digital Minimalism?

Is digital minimalism the right philosophy for you?


After reading this summary, would you consider adopting (or trying out) digital minimalism? Why or why not?

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction
  • Part 1 | Chapter 1: Digital Devices Are Engineered to Be Addictive
  • Exercise: What Are Your Digital Habits?
  • Chapter 2: Digital Minimalism Hinges on a Philosophy of Tech Use
  • Exercise: How Could You Reduce Your Tech Use?
  • Chapter 3: Start Your Tech Transformation With a 30-Day Digital Declutter
  • Exercise: What Would Your Digital Declutter Look Like?
  • Part 2 | Chapter 4: Reclaim Time for Yourself
  • Exercise: How Much Solitude Do You Get?
  • Chapter 5: Reclaim Your Relationships
  • Exercise: How Can You Strengthen Your Relationships?
  • Chapter 6: Reclaim Your Leisure Time
  • Exercise: How Can You Upgrade Your Leisure Time?
  • Chapter 7: Reclaim Your Attention
  • Exercise: Would You Adopt Digital Minimalism?