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  • Rob Orman

25. Digital Minimalism

Our digital lives have become cluttered, scattered, and reflexive rather than intentional. Is it time for a change? In this episode, Rob and Dan McCollum, review the principles and exercises laid out in the book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Taking it a step further, they share what happened when they went full on guinea pig and dove deep into the process.


Guest Bio: Dan McCollum, MD is an emergency physician, associate professor, and associate residency director at the Medical College of Georgia. Here more of Dan from Stimulus Episode #1 Verbal Judo.


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We discuss:


Why digital minimalism is something we might want to consider doing [03:07];

  • Digital minimalism is a philosophy whereby the use of technology is intentional. It guides us to focus our online tools on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support the things that we value.

  • It is motivated by the belief that intentionally removing low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that matter, can significantly improve your life.

“Digital minimalists...believe that the best digital life is formed by carefully curating their tools to deliver massive and unambiguous benefits. They tend to be incredibly wary of low value activities that can clutter up their time and attention and end up hurting more than they help.” Cal Newport

The fact that most of the interactions that we have with social media are of low value [05:40];

  • We are inundated with continual, low-quality interactions which can clutter up our time and attention.

  • The energy we put into Twitter or Instagram is energy that doesn’t get put into something else.

The truth about why most people participate in social media [06:15];

  • Our motivation is usually not for the betterment of the world/community.

  • A significant motivator for posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is to seek personal attention and validation.

  • A motivator for checking social media is the fear of missing out.

The core principles of digital minimalism [07:20];

  • Clutter is costly. A large percentage of what you read on social media is low value. It doesn’t help you, and if it sets you off or is upsetting it can be costly.

  • Optimization is important. If we focus on what is the purpose of using social media tools, we might find that there are better ways of achieving that. For example, if you read Facebook as a newsfeed, would you better meet your goal by subscribing to a high quality magazine?

  • Intentionality is satisfying. You should use these tools exactly how they were meant to be used. Your time is an irretrievable and invaluable precious resource that we don’t give enough respect or attention to.

“The cost of a thing is the amount of… life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” Henry David Thoreau

Cal Newport’s method for using phones, computers, and apps in a way that they are net positive [11:00];

  • Take a 30 day break from optional technology.

  • During this break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.

  • At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies, starting from a blank slate.

  • For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how you will use it so as to maximize this value.

Tips and observations from Rob’s and Dan’s 30-day breaks from technology {13:10];

  • They cut out TV/Netflix, but allowed it if they were watching with another person. This kept it a social interaction.

  • Rob started listening to podcasts only with others, which then led to a conversation about the topic and an enriching experience.

  • They removed all social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) from their phones and turned off all notifications.

  • Rob made a “high use app” folder on his phone where he stored apps he wanted to curtail, such as email, texting, Slack, and Safari. He moved this folder several pages away from the center location so it was harder to find.

  • Rob elected to check email only twice a day.

  • They kept their phones on “do not disturb” except for when they chose to engage with it.

  • Both didn’t recognize how bad their addiction/compulsion was until they went through this detox process.

“It’s easy to be seduced by the small amounts of profit offered by the latest app or service, but then forget the cost in terms of the most important resource we possess -- the minutes of our life. More often than not, the cumulative cost of the non-crucial things we clutter our lives with can far outweigh the small benefits each individual piece of clutter promises.” Cal Newport

The process for reintroducing technology after the 30 day declutter [19:00];

  • Start by phasing in the activities that you just eliminated. Judge each engagement, asking, “Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? And is this technology the best way to support that value?”

  • The reintroduction makes you ask yourself deep and hard questions about exactly what impact each app or technology has on your life.

  • Rob and Dan both found that old habits were very easy to fall back into. The things that they cut out easily crept back in unless they were really specific about how they were going to limit them.

Strategies Rob and Dan have employed for using technology differently, months after a declutter [21:00];

  • Place limits on watching TV, checking social media, and reading news.

  • Set phone timers to restrict how much time you can spend on particular apps or games.

  • Exchange Twitter and Facebook for other blogs and podcasts.

  • Batch tasks (such as checking email) so that you’re not wasting time switching back and forth between things.

  • Keep high use apps (such as email, texts, etc) in a less visible but separate folder on your smartphone.

  • Keep phone on “do not disturb” so notifications aren’t dictating your actions.

  • Pause before using any electronic tool, questioning whether it really is making your life better.

  • Check news and sports only once a day.

Dan’s bottom line about digital minimalism [27:25];


“Digital tools are just that, a tool. Much like a hammer can be used to build a house, or it could be used as a weapon, a tool is only as valuable as how you use it...Many people are leading shallow lives and wasting their precious life on meaningless digital activities...In just one month, you can find out how much control these things have over you. It’s up to us to take back our lives from digital overlords and reassert our dominance over our digital tools.”

And more.


Shownotes by Melissa Orman, MD

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