10 things I learned from Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism

I’ve been practicing minimalism for 5 years now and realized that I have to take a step further into Digital Minimalism to free up more time and energy. The book stressed the importance of scaling down my daily usage of the internet and live a more satisfying life.

1. A Dopamine Hit

These applications we built have behavioral studies in mind. Social media and gaming applications are the “heroin” of the future. The thumbs up and the hearts give us intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval. If you look at people these days, we are constantly on our phones even in the elevators. We refuse to see the beauty around us, the people we meet constantly, saying hello to people. Smiling at others. Basic human interactions that are awkward but in fact are important and healthy.

2. Minimalism is not just having less but increasing the time spent on things we value.

When I moved to Manila in 2015, I was intentional on having less stuff. I decreased it significantly to 15% of the total of the things I own. It was a breakthrough! After reading the book, I took it a step further in my digital presence and the way I manage my personal email. I have unsubscribed to a ton of newsletters which I don’t care about.

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During the exercise, I’ve significantly reduced my accounts online, deleted some profiles that doesn’t make sense and kept the only ones that truly matter. I also culled people from my friends list. I have realized the importance of Dunbar’s number. Robert Dunbar is an anthropologist who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. He proposed that humans can comfortably maintain 150 close stable relationships. I’ve proven this in different experiments in social media, and it’s just impossible to connect to so many people at once.

3. There is life beyond the glowing screen.

As technology equipment became cheaper and smaller that it can fit in our pockets, we became accustomed to staring at screens all the time even before going to sleep. I’ve realized how much of my life is consumed.

Instead of scrolling through my social feed for one hour, I can spend that time to have a walk in the park, to exercise, to read a book,  fix things, have an interesting hobby, appreciate the person next to me, or have a meaningful conversation. Isn’t that how we humans do normally?

4. Inactivity leads to boredom. 

After removing the distractions, I was left with more time in my hands. This led me to schedule more face to face meetups, take care of my health, to cook more, read an interesting book, and write more. It was important to fill up the void with activities that doesn’t require me to get a wifi. To completely disconnect is relaxing, the feeling is similar to having a beach vacation.

5. Nobody has to know your whereabouts 24/7

I find it liberating having not to feel the need to post as soon as I’m doing a great activity. Sharing offline with a friend or family offline makes it feel authentic.

6. Using technology as a tool to do something but not everything.

Multi-function devices are everywhere but does it really add value to life? Not in my books. For one thing, I absolutely dislike the constant alerts of a new message coming up on my screen. It’s one of the reasons I gave up on using my iPad when I read books. There’s always the constant distraction and the ease of use that I can easily leave where I’m at to check on my mailbox, or to send a message and other things.

He could talk to them about the importance of experiencing life beyond a glowing screen, he realized, but the message wouldn’t stick until they saw him demonstrating this behavior in his own life. So he did something radical: he got rid of his smartphone and replaced it with a basic flip phone. – Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism


To rectify this behavior, I still use technology but I buy things that only has a few purpose rather than having everything in one device. For example, to lessen the distraction, I got a kindle to read books instead of using my iPad. It not only lessens the distraction, but I get to have a lighter object in my bag that I can carry anywhere so I can read it. It fits in my small purse when I go for a coffee break or when I just need to relax. It’s brilliant,  I can read more!

I also got a fitbit to monitor my active hours. It alerts me on my calendar events, calls and messages which are the only important ones for me. I don’t have to constantly look at my phone because I can just see it on my wrist.

7. Putting a stop to low-quality relationship nudges.

I urge you, for the sake of your social well-being, to adopt the baseline rule that you’ll no longer use social media as a tool for low-quality relationship nudges.”

I see this as more than just a request but a plea to save ourselves from mental health issues. It was an awakening, why do I have to post all the time? Why do I need all these digital cries of attention? Is adding a headline, posting how much we value a person tell us that you really have a good relationship? Posting our message to the person for the whole world to see, it gets creepy overtime. Why can’t we just value the person and tell them face to face what we want to say?

8. Having your own thoughts is healthy. 

Marketing has never been so good until now. We see ads everywhere, it’s influencing on steroids. Every click, every like, every move we make in all these online applications are traps. It’s a slot machine right in our pockets. We buy more things, we are influenced by how we like things.

Has it ever occurred to you that you are influenced every minute of your life?  Think about it, at least be mindful of how you consume.

9. Politically charged articles makes us more anxious. 

I see this often in some of my friends and family. Don’t let politics ruin relationships, if you must read news about politics, learn to understand all sides to give you a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. It can be emotionally draining for most people.

For my friends and family in the US, give All Sides a try. Don’t be fooled by fake news and media bias.

10. Life is short, long and it is unpredictable.

We have witnessed many lives ending short and people living more than a hundred, all of it gives us one important thought: Time is valuable. We have to use the time on things, people and events that are meaningful to us. Most of us think that time is infinite but the truth is, it’s a commodity we can no longer take back.

If you count the hours you spend in the internet, multiply it to the number of days in a month, in a year or in a decade. What else can you do with that time?

Applying the knowledge I’ve learned from this book and from Yuval Noah Harari’s book Lessons from the 21st century, I’ve set some time to learn a new skill and develop a hobby.

Conclusion: As someone who works in technology, information can be overwhelming  and can make us realize a different set of behaviors as we evolve as a species. The book taps into the complexity of the technology we’ve created and how we can balance our life to be more human.