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My Notes

  • The attention economy drives companies like Google into a “race to the bottom of the brain stem”.
  • Something about unpredictability releases more dopamine — our sense for craving.
  • Using social media is a gambling exercise — how many likes will you get?
  • Early social media sites featured very little feedback.
  • Peoples personal technology processes currently exist on the early part of the return curve location, where additional attempts to optimize will yield massive improvements.
  • The maximalist philosophy is deployed on the mindset that any potential benefit is enough to start using a technology that catches your attention.

    • “I don’t see no harm in plyaing around with it.”
  • Take an extended break before trying to transform your digital life.

    • Without the clarity provided by the detox, the addictive pull of the technologies will bias your decisions.
  • The goal of a digital declutter is meaningful activity and experimentation.
  • Technology should serve in a supporting role for more meaningful activities.
  • Solitude is about what’s happening un your brain, not the environment around you.
  • Solitude is valuable because of the insight that comes from unhurried self-reflection.
  • “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” — Blaise Pascal.
  • Solitude deprivation — A state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts free from input.
  • Walking is a fantastic source of solitude.
  • Make time to write a letter to yourself when faced with demanding circumstances.
  • Conversation is the only form of interaction that counts toward maintaining a relationship.
  • High-quality leisure — An activity that serves no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates.
  • Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.
  • “Leave good evidence of yourself — do good work.”

Highlights

What many forget, however, was that the original “revolution” promised by this device was also much more modest than the impact it eventually created. In our current moment, smartphones have reshaped people’s experience of the world by providing an always-present connection to a humming matrix of chatter and distraction.

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checking your “likes” is the new smoking.

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“We’re social beings who can’t ever completely ignore what other people think of us.”

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A similar drive to regulate social approval helps explain the current obsession among teenagers to maintain Snapchat “streaks” with their friends, as a long unbroken streak of daily communication is a satisfying confirmation that the relationship is strong.

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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.”

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we’ve been engaging in a lopsided arms race in which the technologies encroaching on our autonomy were preying with increasing precision on deep-seated vulnerabilities in our brains, while we still naively believed that we were just fiddling with fun gifts handed down from the nerd gods.

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To reestablish control, we need to move beyond tweaks and instead rebuild our relationship with technology from scratch, using our deeply held values as a foundation.

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“Why do I need to use Facebook?” I would ask. “I can’t tell you exactly,” they would respond, “but what if there’s something useful to you in there that you’re missing?” This argument sounds absurd to digital minimalists, because they believe that the best digital life is formed by carefully curating their tools to deliver massive and unambiguous benefits.

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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.

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Michal, for example, decided her obsession with online media was causing more harm than good. In response, she restricted her digital information intake to a pair of email newsletter subscriptions and a handful of blogs that she checks “less than once a week.” She told me that these carefully selected feeds still satisfy her craving for stimulating ideas and information without dominating her time and toying with her mood.

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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.

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“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.”

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Once we view these personal technology processes through the perspective of diminishing returns, we’ll gain the precise vocabulary we need to understand the validity of the second principle of minimalism, which states that optimizing how we use technology is just as important as how we choose what technologies to use in the first place.

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most people’s personal technology processes currently exist on the early part of the return curve—the location where additional attempts to optimize will yield massive improvements.

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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.

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Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? This is the only condition on which you should let one of these tools into your life.

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Lincoln’s commute through the countryside between the capital and his cottage also provided time for him to think. We know Lincoln valued this source of solitude, as he would occasionally sneak out to begin his ride back to the capital without the cavalry company assigned to protect him.

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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.

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solitude is about what’s happening in your brain, not the environment around you.

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You can enjoy solitude in a crowded coffee shop, on a subway car, or, as President Lincoln discovered at his cottage, while sharing your lawn with two companies of Union soldiers, so long as your mind is left to grapple only with its own thoughts.

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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.

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“Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.”

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The iPod was pushing us toward a newly alienated phase in our relationship with our own minds.

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when you avoid solitude, you miss out on the positive things it brings you: the ability to clarify hard problems, to regulate your emotions, to build moral courage, and to strengthen relationships.

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When an entire cohort unintentionally eliminated time alone with their thoughts from their lives, their mental health suffered dramatically.

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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.

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As Thoreau’s example emphasizes, there’s nothing wrong with connectivity, but if you don’t balance it with regular doses of solitude, its benefits will diminish.

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

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I argued earlier in this chapter that smartphones are the primary enabler of solitude deprivation. To avoid this condition, therefore, it makes sense to try to spend regular time away from these devices—re-creating the frequent exposure to solitude that until recently was an unavoidable part of daily life.

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I sometimes go on what I call “gratitude walks,” where I just enjoy particularly good weather, or take in a neighborhood I like, or, if I’m in the middle of a particularly busy or stressful period, try to generate a sense of anticipation for a better season to come.

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I would be lost without my walks because they’ve become one of my best sources of solitude.

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By the time I’m done composing my thoughts in the structured form demanded by written prose, I’ve often gained clarity.

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conversation is the only form of interaction that in some sense counts toward maintaining a relationship.

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Anything textual or non-interactive—basically, all social media, email, text, and instant messaging—doesn’t count as conversation and should instead be categorized as mere connection.

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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.

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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—the detritus of overexuberant network scientists spilling inappropriately into the social sphere.

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As Aristotle elaborates, a life filled with deep thinking is happy because contemplation is an “activity that is appreciated for its own sake … nothing is gained from it except the act of contemplation.”

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a life well lived requires activities that serve no other purpose than the satisfaction that the activity itself generates.

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I never understood the joy of watching other people play sports, can’t stand tourist attractions, don’t sit on the beach unless there’s a really big sand castle that needs to be made, [and I] don’t care about what the celebrities and politicians are doing ….7 Instead of all this, I seem to get satisfaction only from making stuff. Or maybe a better description would be solving problems and making improvements.

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this advice likely frightens social media companies. They’re happy to argue about the importance of their services or give examples of the good things they have provided society. But the one thing they definitely don’t want you to notice is that the only really good reason to be accessing these services on your phone is to ensure companies like Facebook continue to enjoy steady quarterly growth.

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I’m not talking about occasionally blocking some sites when working on a particularly hard project. I want you instead to think about these services as being blocked by default, and made available to you on an intentional schedule.

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Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to be used to support things they deeply value—not as sources of value themselves.

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“Because of technology, I’m a better human being than I ever was before.”

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Books I’ve read.

Johannes Holmberg

Tiny summaries on books I’ve read. Sorted by latest read. But you can also sort on top recommendations. Highlights and covers are copyright to their respective authors.