digital minimalism summary

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport BOOK SUMMARY & NOTES

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.
Digital Minimalism

Published: 2019 by Penguin Random House LLC

Self-help | Internet addiction | Technological Innovations

Buy the book: AbeBooks | The Book Depository | Better World Books

Ebook: Kindle

Audiobook: Audiobook (Free)


Resonating Quotes:

Where we want to be cautious . . . is when the sound of a voice or a cup of coffee with a friend is replaced with ‘likes’ on a post.

A face-to-face conversation is the most human–and humanizing–thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.

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.

Summary Notes

Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in the 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.

Tristan Harris, former start-up founder, and Google Engineer says “This thing is a slot machine. (while holding up his smartphone). Every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see ‘What did I get?’ There’s a whole playbook of techniques that get used [by technology companies] to get you using the product for as long as possible.”

Technology is not neutral. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money“, he added.

People don’t succumb to screens because they’re lazy, but instead, because billions of dollars have been invested to make this outcome inevitable.

The average Facebook user, by contrast, uses the company’s products a little over fifty minutes per day.

Tech companies encourage behavioral addiction through:

1. Intermittent positive reinforcement

Something about unpredictability releases dopamine, a key neurotransmitter for regulating your sense of craving.

The original Zeiler experiment that proved this has pigeons pecking at a button that unpredictably released a food pellet. Tech companies replicated it in the feedback buttons that have accompanied most social media posts since Facebook introduced the Like icon in 2009.

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.

Users are gambling every time they post on the social media platform. “Will I get likes or retweets or will it languish no feedback?”

2. The drive for social approval

The thought process that went into building these platforms was “how do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? And that means that we need to sort of giving you a little dopamine hit once in a while because someone liked or commented on your post or whatever” – Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook when he spoke about the attention engineering by his former company in 2017

If lots of people click the little heart icon under your latest Instagram post, it feels like the tribe is showing you approval.

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.”

Principle #1: Clutter is costly.

Digital minimalists believe that when they spend 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.

The Digital Declutter: On (Rapidly) Becoming Minimalist

Here’s how Newport describes what he calls, The Digital Declutter Process:

Put aside a thirty-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life. During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful. 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.

There are three steps to The Digital Declutter Process:


During the 30 days of your digital declutter, you’re supposed to take a break from optional technologies in your life. This includes apps, websites, and related digital tools that are delivered through a computer screen or a mobile phone and are meant to either entertain, inform, or connect you.

A borderline case is a television, or streaming Netflix and it’s equivalents

My general heuristic is the following: Consider the technology optional unless its temporary removal would harm or significantly disrupt the daily operation of your professional or personal life


During this month-long process, you must aggressively explore higher-quality activities to fill in the time left vacant by the optional technologies you’re avoiding. This period should be one of strenuous activity and experimentation.

Remember that the goal is not to simply give yourself a break from technology, but to instead spark a permanent transformation of your digital life.

This will help you make smarter decisions at the end of the declutter when you reintroduce some of these optional technologies in your life.


To come back in your life, the technology must:

  1. Serve something you deeply value (offering some benefit isn’t enough)
  2. Be the best way to use technology to serve this value (if it’s not, replace it with something better)
  3. Have a role in your life that is constrained with a standard operating procedure that specifies when and how you use it.


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.

Humans are not wired to be constantly wired.

You can enjoy solitude in a crowded coffee shop, in a subway car, or sitting on your lawn. Leave your mind to grapple only with its own thoughts.

Abraham Lincoln spent his summer nights at his cottage before returning to the bustling White House in the morning. Lincoln’s time alone with his thoughts played a crucial role in his ability to navigate a demanding wartime presidency.

Solitude Deprivation: A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.

Young people born between 1995 and 2012, the group called “iGen”,

  • Have very poor psychological health
  • Rates of teen suicide and depression have skyrocketed
  • The only factor that has increased is the number of young people owning their own smartphones


Young people worry that even temporary disconnection might lead them to miss out on something better they could be doing.

Parents worry that their kids won’t be able to reach them in an emergency. Travelers need directions. Workers fear the idea of being both needed and unreachable. And everyone secretly fears being boring.

In 90 percent of your daily life, the presence of a cell phone either doesn’t matter or makes things only slightly more convenient. They’re useful, but it’s hyperbolic to believe its ubiquitous presence is vital.


The hardest part is finding time but the rewards are big. Taking long walks will make you happier and more productive. On a regular basis, preferably go somewhere scenic.

Take these walks alone, which means not just by yourself, but also, if possible, without your phone.

If you’re wearing headphones, or monitoring a text message chain, or, God forbid, narrating the stroll on Instagram—you’re not really walking, and therefore you’re not going to experience this practice’s greatest benefits.

Only thoughts reached by walking have value.” To underscore his esteem for walking, Nietzsche also notes: “The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit.”


Always keep a notebook. They provide a way to write a letter to yourself when encountering a complicated decision or a hard emotion or a surge of inspiration. Writing helps you gain clarity.


The “Like” button was introduced as a simpler way to indicate your social approval of a post, which would both save time and allow the comments to be reserved for more interesting notes.

Facebook posts attract a large number of comments that were all saying more or less the same thing; e.g. “Great!” or “I love it!”

Facebook rebuilt itself from a fun amusement that people occasionally checked, to a digital slot machine that began to dominate its user’s time and attention.

Don’t click “Like”. Ever. And while you’re at it, stop leaving comments on social media posts as well. Remain silent.

It’s worth noting that refusing to use social media icons and comments to interact means that some people will inevitably fall out of your social orbit—in particular, those whose relationship with you exists only over social media. Here’s my tough love reassurance: let them go.‍


A major obstacle in attempting to shift your social life from connection back to the conversation is the degree to which text communication—be it delivered through SMS, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp—now pervades the definition of friendship.

Keep your phone in Do Not Disturb mode by default. This allows you to be more present when you’re not texting and it can upgrade the nature of your friendships.


Put aside set times on set days during which you’re always available for conversation. Depending on where you are during this period, these conversations might be exclusively on the phone or could also include in-person meetings.

For example, you can say with your friends and family that you’re always available at 5:30 pm every day. This will make them feel more comfortable calling you on a whim, as they know you’re available then and always happy to take their call.

When someone instigates a low-quality connection (say, a text message conversation or social media ping), suggest they call or meet you during your office hours sometimes when it is convenient for them.


A good leisure pursuit, in Bennett’s calculus, should require more “mental strain” to enjoy (he recommends difficult poetry).‍

Leisure Lesson #1: Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.

Leisure Lesson #2: Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.‍

Leisure Lesson #3: Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.

4 suggested practices for reclaiming leisure

1. Fix or build something every week.

  • changing your car oil
  • installing a new light fixture
  • learn a new technique on an instrument
  • build custom furniture
  • start a garden plot

2. Schedule your low-quality leisure.

3. Join something: Join clubs, associations, etc.

4. Follow leisure plans: Create a seasonal leisure plan (broken out into objectives and habits/behaviors) and a weekly leisure plan based on the longer-term seasonal plan.

Join the Attention Resistance

Attention Resistance Movement: individuals who combine high-tech tools with disciplined operating procedures to conduct surgical strikes on attention economy services–dropping in to extract value, and then slipping away before the attention traps set by these companies can spring shut.

Newport suggests several practices to facilitate that resistance:

  • Delete social media from your phone.
  • Turn your devices into single-purpose computers. Newport suggests the practice of default blocking certain apps at certain times. Freedom app (website blocker) users gain, on average, 2.5 hours of productive time per day.
  • Use social media like a professional. Filter what is useful and have a careful plan on how to use platforms.
  • Embrace slow media. Focus only on the highest quality resources. Limit your attention to the best of the best when it comes to selecting individual writers you follow.
  • Dumb down your smartphone. Don’t replace your existing smartphone but instead extend it to a simpler form.


I’ve read this book in April 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I did what Cal suggests, I deleted all my social media apps. That helped me reduce my addiction and reliance on technology.

I realized that it’s good that I’m being mindful and controlling my technologies instead of letting them control me, but after several months I came back to my addictive nature.

I’m not the type of person who is the most digitally connected in the first place, but I feel the pressure and the “itch” to check my phone once in a while.

Last month, Netflix released the documentary drama “The Social Dilemma” which explores the dangerous human impact of social networking. I watched it and it dawned on me that the problem is really serious and we’ve been ‘deceived’. Social media is making us mindless zombies.

I only wrote this summary and notes just now because I’m going to try out the 30-day challenge. It would be a great experiment! I plan to document each day and post it on my blog.

5618Thanks for reading! Comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Review Date
Author Rating
Product Name
Digital Minimalism : Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Shopping Cart