Digital Minimalism Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: Digital Minimalism shows us where to draw the line with technology, how to properly take time off our digital devices, and why doing so is the key to living a happy, focused life in a noisy world.

Read in: 4 minutes

Favorite quote from the author:

Digital Minimalism Summary

Video Summary

YouTube video

Do you feel you look at screens too much? I know I do. We may have a long way to go towards digital freedom, but thanks to Cal Newport‘s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, we now at least have a map. He makes our goal of balancing our real lives with our digital ones more attainable than ever.

Digital Minimalism comes from the principles Marie Kondo promotes: less is more and better living comes from less. Does this website, app, or social media platform support what you value? It’s about maximizing purpose while reducing the cost of time and energy.

Here are my 3 favorite lessons about having a better relationship with technology:

  1. Digital minimalism centers on 3 principles – clutter is costly, optimization is vital, and intentionality is satisfying.
  2. Plan downtime events which are a source of inward joy and deep contemplation.
  3. Quick fixes and “life hacks” might prompt a healthy new habit, but they don’t promote sustainable change.

Can we liberate ourselves from the shackles of email, social networks, smartphones, and screens? Let’s dive in and find out!

Digital Minimalism Summary

If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.

Download PDF

Lesson 1: Follow the principles of New Economics, the Law of Diminishing Returns, and Amish wisdom.

Henry David Thoreau promoted the first principle in his book, Walden. It’s based on the idea of New Economics, which examines additional, non-monetary costs when you are calculating the value of something.

An example of this would be purchasing a car to drive into town rather than walking. The price you pay for the car isn’t the only cost involved. You need to also consider the effort and stress it would take to earn this money. Then, there’s keeping the car secure and maintained.  When weighing all the factors, maybe the healthy practice of walking a few miles into town is a better choice.

We should apply this same thoughtfulness to the digital media we let into our life.

The second component is called the Law of Diminishing Returns. This principle illustrates that you can’t just continue adding stuff and expect continued improvement.

One example is my manager at work. When there’s a big project, her solution is to round up a small army of people to get it done. I always say no and instead ask for a team of two or three good workers. I know that too many people will only cause a mess.

We can look to the Amish for another principle to help us have healthier relationships with technology. These people don’t reject it outright. Instead, they test and question new ideas and products first. If the item passes their test, they will gladly use it. If not, it will be banned. We should use this same value-based approach when evaluating which digital technology to use.

Lesson 2: One aim of digital minimalism is to make room for more high-quality time while limiting low-quality activities.

Aristotle pointed out that, to live the good life, one must have the downtime needed for deep contemplation – for no other reason than to enjoy the thinking process itself. Actions that provide a source of inward joy are vital to a satisfying life.

Newport refers to these as “high-quality leisure,” while calling distractions such as social media and absent-minded binging “low-quality recreation.” We should maximize space for our best projects by reducing the less impactful ones to a minimum.

Hobbies requiring strenuous effort might sound tiring, but you’ll often come away feeling satisfied and energized. Physically engaging ones with three-dimensional objects are especially beneficial. YouTube tutorials, though still on a screen, can help you learn how to build a backyard pond, play an instrument, or complete a woodworking project.

I consider writing a high-quality endeavor that brings me joy. I invested in an 18-hour video tutorial called Write Like a Pro, to help me reach my writing goals. For this, I needed to make incremental investments of time on my laptop. But this screen time has proven to be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling investments I’ve ever made.

If it weren’t for making decisions like giving up Facebook, I wouldn’t have had the time to put into this rewarding course.

Lesson 3: Solitude is one way to get the feeling of meaning that is missing from most digital-based habits.

As with any habit that you are working to improve, the best plan isn’t necessarily going cold turkey to eliminate the bad behavior. This can easily backfire and result in a relapse of old behavior patterns. The problem with many quick fixes is that they don’t set you up for sustainable change over the long term.

Luckily, digital minimalism has a variety of recommended practices that provide the meaningful and rewarding feeling that is absent from many digital-based activities. One of them is solitude.

I’m old enough to remember what life was like before the smartphone, but anybody who was born after 1995 grew up with these devices and now spends hours every day on them. Smartphone addiction is related to depression, eating disorders, loneliness, and anxiety.

Another term for what this group of young people, dubbed iGen, is suffering from is “solitude deprivation.” Spending time alone is crucial for helping us process emotions. Reflecting on relationships and giving the brain some calm and clarity are also essential to general mental health and well-being.

The good news is that solitude is easy to find if you want it.  We can choose it even in a crowded cafe or a train. It’s about being alone with and mindful of our thoughts.

Digital Minimalism Review

You could easily devour Digital Minimalism in a couple of sittings – and you probably should. I found the book very revealing – it was like looking in a mirror at times. Yes, I pick up my smartphone constantly, I’m always checking for new text messages and emails. It’s a bit like junk food, we know it’s unhealthy, but it’s become a habit. This book has a lot of good ways to break free.

Who would I recommend the Digital Minimalism summary to?

The 24-year-old grad student who’s hopelessly addicted to Fortnite, the 55-year-old multimedia specialist who spends multiple hours trolling for “likes” on Facebook, and anyone interested in socializing with real-life people.

Last Updated on June 15, 2023

Rate this book!
This book has an average rating of 4.8 based on 5 votes.

Jim Farina

Seeing as he was a longtime reader and writing course student of mine, I was thrilled to see Jim write 20 summaries for us in 2019 and 2020. Hailing from Chicago with a full-time job as a manager and a family, I've watched Jim go from complete writing obscurity to having his work read, improve, and even featured on places like Better Marketing, the magazine I ran on Medium. He's now freelancing part-time, writing great stuff for companies like Best Buy and Bloomingdale's, and his first screenplay, Martin Eden, made quite the splash in several competitions.