Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy WorldDigital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little over a year ago, I posted an entry to my blog softly decrying the place that social media and screen time was playing in my life. A few months later, as I was preparing for a trip to Europe, I vowed to go without social media for two weeks while I was away (outside of texting my kids). I was . . . mostly successful. I was on very little, far less than "normal". And my strategy of taking a notebook with me and writing every night proved successful. But I didn't drop everything all the way.

Now, as I said in the blogposts referenced above, I am no luddite. Not by a long shot. Okay, so I'm not on the bleeding edge of technology, either, but I am facile in the use of technology and catch on fairly quickly.

But I do recall a time, many years ago, when I spent far less time online and was more satisfied with life, in general. I think that the quality of my online experience has diminished a great deal since those early days. Some of it has to do with the fact that those days were the "wild west" of the web when you could code your own (admittedly crappy) web page, you had to look hard to actually find information (remember webcrawler?), and the internet was far less homogenized.

So, I decided I'd give Newport's book a read. I was leaning this direction anyway (c.f., my blog posts), and I'm not one to just swallow people's advice, but I was curious what he had to say about "choosing a focused life in a noisy world". I expected to read a lambasting of those who spend time online, a hard stance against distracting technology, a flaggelant's guide to the evils of the internet.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case at all. Newport's arguments are measured and logical in a way that isn't derisive or condescending. It can be brutally honest, at times, and a touch too ascetic for my tastes. But only a touch. There is a lot here to learn from.

Rather than go through Newport's arguments, I'd like to present what I've done already and will be doing as a result of this book. First of all, my habits on Goodreads are not changing at all. In fact, I would expect to see more action out of me, rather than less. Because reading is one of my core values, and I need to feed those core values. And I love other readers, for the most part. Goodreads, despite it's difficulties, feeds my soul.

Facebook is dead to me. Yes, I'm there, but only to see cute pictures of my grandkids. I can do without Facebook, and am barely ever on there now. I keep a presence there so old high school friends can keep in touch and for family stuff, but I am now barely ever on there. Newport's book didn't start my process of leaving, but it definitely accelerated it.

I love Twitter. I know, there's a lot to hate, but I do love it. However, I have changed my presence there dramatically. I followed about 4,000 people at one time. I've cut that down to under 1,000 and feel pretty great about that. Because now I can actually see the posts my friends make and the free static is much diminished now. I spot more articles and art that I like (loving art is another core value of mine), much of which I missed before because of all the flotsam and jetsam surrounding the really good posts.

One habit I have changed on Twitter as a result of reading Newport's book is that I no longer "like" posts on Twitter. If I really like the post enough, I'll retweet it. Even better, if I really, really like the post, I will respond to the poster directly, rather than just clicking the little heart icon. I mean, really, who remembers who has "liked" their posts? Almost no one, in the long run. But I can recall some meaningful conversations that have happened between me and others on Twitter because I chose to respond and engage in real interaction rather than just satisfying my conscience by clicking like. I value those qualitatively-better conversations more and more as I avoid hitting the like button. This has made a huge difference in how I feel inside when I go online. Sounds corny, but it's true.

Next month is February. I plan on taking the month offline except for Goodreads and blog posts. I have several blog posts that I have promised myself (hello, bullet journal) I would create, but have not. It's easier to go around liking stuff than it is actually creating stuff. And far less satisfying . . .

I plan on re-engaging for that month as a creator. I have a denim jacket I got for Christmas that I'm going to sew over with patches I've bought. I will write more. I will read more. I will practice guitar more. I will RPG more. I will, in essence, live more. I will have to, in order to avoid boredom. Or, rather, to engage with and tackle boredom again. Then I'll come back and reassess my relationship with social media. You know, in some ways I really, really miss boredom. I need to go get into more trouble.

Again, Goodreads friends need not worry. I will be here. And for the few people who actually read my blog, there will be posts. Many more posts. I've got to fill all that extra time up.

Speaking of which, I need to do a few blog posts about my trip to Europe. I took lots of pictures . . . with my phone. See? I told you I wasn't a luddite!

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