Cal Newport suspects you’re a digital maximalist — someone who believes that any potential for benefit is reason enough to start using a new technology. Don’t feel bad. That’s how most of us are. That’s how society teaches us to be.

Newport wants us to become digital minimalists. He defines digital minimalism as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected activities … that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

Newport is making a bid to be the Marie Kondo of technology: someone with an actual plan for helping you realize the digital pursuits that do, and don’t, spark joy and bring value to your life. This is a conversation about becoming a digital minimalist: why to do it, how to do it, and what it might get you. Whether you want to try Newport’s whole plan or just pick and choose some good ideas from his buffet, there’s a lot in here that will help you find a healthier, more intentional approach to technology.

Book Recommendations:

The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul

Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White
United States


00:00:00I mean it was really a technological miracle that even made it possible for us to try this experiment of can we go a standard day with no moments of solitude 10 years ago 20 years ago would be near impossible to avoid Sala TV on a regular basis to a typical day
00:00:26Lil wop music Lounge on the VOX media podcast Network like yesterday is a returning guest one of my favorite guess Cal Newport who is a computer scientist at Georgetown University the author of a bunch of really fascinating books on technology and how to use it or not use it you'll probably heard me talk about the pork which is book of his influence me quite a bit but he's got a new one coming out called digital minimalism I need to find some as a philosophy of Technology use it what you focus your online time a small number of carefully selected and optimize activities that support things you value and then you happily miss out on everything else we've a lot of conversations on the show about ways in which technology maybe is bad or is using us rather than us using it and of course we talked about some of that in in this episode to what's interesting to me about Newports work is that he's actually coming up with a way to maybe reboot a way to develop a different set of habits on technology and a different set of philosophies for when
00:01:24how to use it so this isn't just a conversation and complaining visit conversation with some very actionable ideas and some ideas you can put into play in your own life to see where you really stand with it and I think Fitbit that we formatting are individual and social philosophies and Technologies actually pretty important here so I think this one is is very much worth that have a pretty cheap discussion right at the top about Solitude which has left me with some ideas I want to maybe Explore More on the show in the future does you can email me as a client show at box.com here is Cal Newport thank you as always a pleasure to talk with you so I wanted to begin with Solitude you have a definition of it in the book that I like nude can you talk a bit about that the other definition I use I actually borrowed from a book called lead yourself first which has to do with Solitude and Leadership is actually Co-op third of all people by Raymond kethledge one of the
00:02:24the judges that was on the short list for the Supreme Court last cycle around such a little bit of interesting trivia but it's just book on leadership and it had a definition of solitude now that really resonated with me which is freedom from inputs from other Minds
00:02:41and I thought that was interesting because a lot of people think Solitude in terms of isolation am I far away from other people I'm I far away from stimuli and my up in a cabin in the woods but the definition I talk from there is no no it's about what is your mind processing and so if your processing input from another mind so looking at your phone reading something talking to someone sorry to say I listen to a podcast any of this means you're not in the state shut your mouth with your processing and put some of their minds you're not in solitude in on the flip side if you are alone with your thoughts even if you're in a crowded coffee shop around a subway car that could be a state of solitude and so my short summary of my argument on that is that Solitude is really really important so I think the image a lot of people have a Solitude maybe even the image I have of solitude as you imagine somebody
00:03:41The Cabin in the mountains summer reading a book that doesn't qualify here ironically that's not Solitude where I was just sitting with nothing in your ears in the most crowded subway car would be I was thinking about this after I read it and I was realizing that I probably don't spend 10 minutes a day in solitude and maybe I do because I meditate so I guess during that. Of time I do but with the exception of that I don't think I spend 10 minutes a day in solitude probably even cumulative lay between the things I'm doing between you know listening to the music and podcasts I mean I am constantly getting input from other minds and I think a part of me thinks that's a good thing right to always be surfing and informational wave to always be giving my my mind things to process to always be grabbing more information out of the environment around me why why do you think it isn't what what you're under estimating is it just how much raw cycles of solitude is required to actually do that processing
00:04:41and so if you're only ever exposing yourself to interesting information if you're only ever expose yourself to the stimuli but not taking the time to actually think about it the process it to look at it from different angles to try to run it against other Paradigm four structures you have in your current mental schema you don't do that work of just being alone with your own thoughts you're probably extracting just a small fraction of the potential value and it's also emphasized in how radical what you just said actually is this is really a say the last 10 years is probably the the first time in human history that is even possible on a consistent basis to actually banished Solitude essentially completely from the everyday experience this require technological Miracles we had an amazing Point actually it really is I mean we had to cover the entire country with high-speed high-capacity wireless internet we had to develop who knows how many different breakthroughs to get modern smartphones to work I mean it was really a technological miracle that even made it possible for us to try
00:05:41experimental can we go a standard day with no moments of solitude 10 years ago 20 years ago would be near impossible to avoid Solitude on a regular basis to a typical day and biscuits for something in bed in your other book deep work is influenced me a lot and and we talked about before but the way that our brain gets trained into and out of different kinds of expectations and I was thinking about this definition of solitude and the degree to which I cannot hide from it is I recognized it when I sit without input and now feels very strange if I'm meditating I mean it's almost like exercising or something it's there's a push on that that I'm doing but to just sit there and think my mind at this point like like repulses from that from that practice and that training myself out of solitude and probably the trail a lot of us training ourselves out of solitude that feels like something worth
00:06:41apera gating a little bit more but what do you think is being lost individually or culturally by this you know I just say only last decade destruction of a basaltic and possibly for a lot of us capacity for it well there's a couple issues so one is the positive things that you miss and then to is the negative things that you introduced that the next exist for sale on the positive side I mean Solitude as a mission before is this is when you you process information and extract Insight from it one of the big types of insights of people traditionally pulled out of solitude is actually self Insider self-reflection and it's something I touch on it and some more detail in the book but if you really want to understand your life and what's going on in your life and then try to integrate it into a a story that makes sense on which you can actually make actions and choose what to do in this requires lots of just self-reflection at which requires lots of solitude if you want to understand what you're about set your principles structure your life
00:07:41values there's no way to the shortcut lots of just time alone with your thoughts thinking professionally the issues you mentioned play a big role if you're not comfortable thinking about things you again or extracting only a small amount of the potential value that your brain is capable of extracting and then on the flip side there's some concerning evidence that this experiment of not giving your brain that I'm just away from processing and put some other Minds which is by the way it's exhausting process our brain takes it seriously it's sort of an all-hands-on-deck evolutionary directivo we have another mind or encountering we have to simulate that other mind we have to put in a social context it's a very draining think we have some hints and and in the research literature that removing almost all Solitude from your day might actually lead to negative effects in your brain High Point in particular to the work on the youngest generation jinsi which is a generation that is I guess the most connected and Lee
00:08:41likely to participate in solitude of all of us this is a generation that is constantly connected and we see this really troubling rise and anxiety and anxiety-related disorders among the generation there's obviously a lot of factors at play there but it seems like the damaja demographers and psychologists are increasingly heading towards this consensus that smartphones are playing a big role in it and part of that is probably the brain does not function properly when you don't actually give it down cycle time they just think or take things in or be by itself so we talk about this in terms of big picture but neurological development but something you see in some Beach NC data and something that I see in myself and I want to be careful because I'm only describing my own subjective experience of it but but I suspect that it is shared by it by more people than is that when we say we teach the brain out of being able to Bear boredom or bear solitude
00:09:37it's a little bit unclear what is experientially happening there but but I fight for myself that what is it spiritually happening there is a kind of anxiety that when there's not enough going on I feel like I can almost got like a nervous etch it needs to be relieved and the particular way in which a lot of these Technologies seem to me to be training us the way it's experienced is his constant like background Hama being nervous about you know did I get enough likes on that or is there something I need to worry about in my email or oh yeah I did have this task I should go look on Amazon how much that thing is that the thing it seems to activate is is a kind of anxiety I'm curious if one if you feel bad or or two if in your research on the stuff that that seems like it's a generalizable thing or or that's just my own idiosyncratic pathology I think it's a reasonable conjecture that is it could be generalized main this is why I think we we see in the in the demographic data
00:10:37this big jump in anxiety anxiety Related Disorders I mean I remember when this first came to my attention I was actually this was a few years ago talking to the head of mental health at a major university that was given to talk there and you'll something she mentioned to me is there's been this big change I mean we used to get this wide variety of different issues coming to our office is that the sort of normal cross section of a mental health issues you might expect a young population there was some Eating Disorders there was some complete sets of compulsive disorder there's some really severe homesickness and she said it all switched recently and almost everyone coming in as with an anxiety or anxiety related disorder and there's many many more people coming in mail to our office than ever before I don't know what's causing this and and she didn't even take a Beachside smartphones this is the first generation is always connected there's always things to look at there's always things you could be missing out on and then then we get the data that comes out afterwards that the generation is most connected has the highest eggs
00:11:37the jumping this is something that we've never seen before it in her generational Gap we don't usually see such big changes between generations and then we have more controlled study environments where they'll literally sent someone down and don't have their smartphone nearby but not in reach and then they'll call it or otherwise have it buzz and under the guise of doing some other type of experiment they actually have a logical monitors on the subject and they can actually see the autonomic nervous system react with with braiding xiety just thinking there's something going on there I should be doing around missing and so I mean I think you're experiencing, I think most of us have this background hum of anxiety that we just accept it I guess this is just Modern Life that we don't realize the degree to which is probably arbortorium constructed this is something that I've begun to I don't know if worried about is the right way to put it but but think about more which is
00:12:30I don't think we have really a model of what are the emotions and drives that technology is taking advantage of to produce behaviors that it produces I think we become a more more where the behaviors right we're distracted we're constantly checking things and somebody should become more aware of the effects and maybe even negative effects on ourselves but it does seem to me that the hooks are in things like anxiety sociability that it is they're very powerful being a latent qualities in in in the human brain and I don't think we have a lot of good modeling or very good transparency on which ones are being tapped into and see which ones are being built in strengthening us at any given time and this feels to me to be more of an issue around some of these devices and some of those who have overall technological ecosystem we live in than we give it credit for I feel like if some of these things came with a warning and said the way this is going to work is it we're going to
00:13:30to intensify your constant feeling of anxiety in order and build that up and make that stronger in order to make you more always on for your people work email and slack and other things you said I don't want that at all but it just says oh we're going to make you more available to your work email thing. That sounds great but there's his kind of mediating role of our emotions or or things are in our psychological Hardware that I have to be activated for these things to work and I don't think we have much of a discourse or dialogue around that what we know more about it than we used to impart we have for sample researchers like Adam alter who is drawing on his his background in Psychology to better understand specifically the psychological hooks that technology is exploiting and we also whistleblowers like Tristan Harris who's come out of past couple of years former Google employee who starting to talk more publicly these are the types of things that companies in Silicon Valley specifically do to
00:14:30in the sense of anxiety and compulsive behavior and what we're learning from them is where we're getting inside until at least some of the psychological hooks that seem to be causing this Behavior so actually social media is probably the right experiment the right case study because this is a technology that was unlike what's a email this was a technology that was specifically altered to try to hide in the sense of anxiety and compulsive you so we can actually look at what they specifically did what worked to get a sense of what's going on more broadly in terms of our technological ecosystem and a couple things you learn when you studied social media transformation from what it used to be which was a relatively static medium mediated through a web browser where maybe you updated your profile once or twice a week if you checked your profile in the morning and check your friends profiles in the morning there is no reason to check it again that day because probably nothing had changed somewhere around the time when let's say Facebook
00:15:30was making the shift the mobile and their duster for getting itchy right we need are we need our hunter tax return we need to go public that means the revenue numbers need to go up they really got serious about this attention engineering as we know from the whistleblowers like Tristan Harris some of the things they did was first of all they added a lot more social approval indicators that into the experience and so we're used to now the idea that you click like or that heart on Instagram or you retweet something are you you know whatever tag someone's photo but a lot of this was invented and one of its primary uses of that it creates a much richer stream of potential social approval indicators coming at you is the consumer of social media so now when you tap that app and you see some of these social approval indicators 10 minutes later there could be more rights that was invented that makes you tap that app all day long where I was before and you'll browser-based system to be no reason for you to take back in facebook.com into your browser and into the social approval indicators are beans
00:16:30liver Dan intermittent fasting sometimes when you click on it you get these rewards sometimes you don't then we've known since you know that the classic experiments with pigeons for these behavioral psychology experiments that something about intermittent reinforcement short-circuits is are dopamine system and makes us do something well more than we should or we think is healthy I've been hearing increasing rumors that both Facebook and Instagram will actually artificially batch some of these social approval indicators like your likes to make sure that they delivered in a more assertive haphazard intermittent fashion Brenda psychology 101 so intermittently reinforcement social approval indicators was engineered into his platform and the result is they became massively massively profitable because it changed people's behavior from I sometimes go to this website into I can't stop checking this out but I'm not sure why this quote in the book from I think it's from a Facebook engineer says it's hard to exaggerate how much the like button changes they called you a Facebook use I've been doing all this work for a book I'm writing about
00:17:30identity in Psychology and you know how human beings relate to one another and I'm very very convinced that this basically no stronger Drive in the human being I mean when you get past food and water then sociability and it when you're playing with those when you're playing with group identity and when you're playing with sociability you're playing with some of the most Primal and uncontrollable forces in her psyche and this is much more powerful than we realize and it's much more dangerous actually than we realize you know how I feel a bit of myself I think about this the other day when I was a blogger I would write things all the time that people would argue with or they would attack or they would make fun of and it never read as social rejection to me it always read his argument okay. Person disagrees with me that's fine and now you know I'll write something or I'll tweet something and people will attack it in The Social Network see how adorable getting a seven-year-old between a thing in it
00:18:302000 things about how I'm in 2,000 likes on how I'm an idiot and I feel that much more social rejection I feel it much more is like being bullied in elementary school and is something about that shift is very strange to me and it makes me much more cautious for one thing I dislike the feeling of it much more than I disliked the feeling of being argued with in the blogosphere and just talk another journalist I I hear it from them to like there's a level of anxiety about feedback in Twitter and other places that there never was when things were coming through letters or emails or other people riding like a counter column somewhere else you'd be happy about people paying attention to yourself and arguing with an ulcer before that there's something about when this gets moved into a context or people are feeling social approval or rejection where there's a lot of danger in it for folks and I don't I don't think it's healthy for us and I also think it's like the way that context got constructed as subtle enough that I don't even think that most of us realize certainly I didn't when when or how
00:19:30passed from one thing that in its way with Social cuz her people involved to another thing which was about social dynamics and how different that really was well I mean I think we appreciate how dangerous it was to have essentially small groups of 20-somethings no with hooded sweatshirts working in you know around ping pong tables in incubators thinking we can monkey with something as powerful as human sexuality which I agree with you is one of those strongest drives that we have is human being to sort of massive amounts of our brain is dedicated to working on this and worrying about this being concerned about this we built up social structures and social dynamics you know over decades and centuries to sort of be carefully compatible with this neural hardware and then suddenly you get you know some kids at Harvard or some such they're like oh we can just redo this whole thing at Dad's a Hubris in it and it and it does cause it does cause a lot of problem I mean even the blogosphere I'm a huge blocks of Porter you know I'm a
00:20:30lucky I've been blogging for over a decade and I'm convinced part of the reason why that feels different is it in the blogosphere where reputation is managed by the hyperlink there is the emergent decentralized trust higher keys so over time you would you would earn reputation it allows you to understand what the relative reputation was of other people that you were talking with and it was all very humid in Albury emergent had to do with who was Lincoln to who and overtime how those Dynamics change and as a result that you understood you had a more complex social dynamic in which to interact with people I'm so you know if someone it was well established in the blogosphere Rota counter column you felt like will this is us for a professional respect and I professional respect this person if someone who was low on this emergent descendants trust higher key was you know saying something kind of stupid or trolling you it was in a context of like yeah but that's not it that's not a common I have to take it seriously because this is not someone who sort of the Indus decentralized for moved up to it
00:21:30leveled reputation Richard think about it and that's really mimicking what happens and sort of in person or classical social structures to work pretty well social media homogenized all of that it said no everyone is essentially the same everyone has an account we will but there aren't they sort of implicit link based the hierarchies were people sort of urn intellectual credibility / X everyone for the same and we'll have these algorithms that kind of speed to you what you should be looking at and it may be trying to manipulate your emotions to some degree I think it was a really significant and dangerous shift in the way that we were or socializing in a technological space
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00:23:17okay so I have a lot of conversations on this podcast about how social media and the kind of current digital ecosystem is bad but you're different you have an actual recipe for making things at least on the individual up a little bit better so let's start here tell me about the road to digital minimalism where did the term come from are you a minimalist you think of yourself as a minimalist putting digital homicide not in all aspects of my life I think minimalism is a concept it you know it goes back to Antiquity and it comes up again and again and is applied in contacts after contacts and is often quite successful so I think it's one of these ideas that's just in the the operating system of our human culture that you can look at it historically it shows up again and again and again all these different context Even in our modern context there's many places it applies right I mean if you apply minimalism to your work you have Greg McEwen essentialism right if you apply it to your Finance
00:24:17is you have the financial Independence Movement there's just this whole culture of online minimalist like my friends the minimalist themselves right Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn who apply a lot of the ideas of minimalism to stop in your house right so these ideas come up all the time I'm definitely a digital minimalist I try to be a work minimalist and is so it's like a general tool that can be applied to a lot of places to various degrees what is digital minimalism digital minimalism is a philosophy of Technology use so instead of just a collection of tips are good intentions as an actual philosophy of Technology use that you basing your values of something that you can believe in and gives you a consistent way to approach the question of what text should I be using it what text should I not so it gets rid of the sort of ad hoc nature of most people's relationship with technology and is talking about technology primarily in your personal life and the basic idea is in a classic minimalist fashion
00:25:17but you wipe the Slate clean of all of the Clutter that's just built up haphazardly in your Digital Life you wipe the Slate clean and then you only add back things in that you believe are going to significantly support something that you really value and then this is a key part you're just happy ignoring the rest even if some of the stuff you're ignoring might have some minor value or inconvenience you only bring back into your personal technological life tools apps or services that give you big wins on things that you really care about what they do a lot of people it feels like that's impossible their friends are on Facebook you know on Twitter that that's where the news is people are inviting each other two things baby pictures are on there but even if you don't like it anymore even if you don't like a lot of this stuff you can't get away from it it's essential in some fundamental way how do you get over that feeling
00:26:17the other people from that feeling is true well I think one of the key things about minimalism is that it doesn't predetermine this is what's good in this is what bad the thing that a predetermined is that what's important are your deepest values the thing that matters most and the core mathematics behind minimalism is that if you put most of your energy into the small number of things that matter most you will end up better off than if you take that same energy and try to dissipate some of it among lower-value Alternatives so the way I usually recommend that people enter minimalism is sort of a rip the Band-Aid type of approach and basically I have this process called the digital declutter which is you take 30 days you leave everything you get back in touch through self-reflection with what matters and then at the end you very carefully add things back to last January I invited some of my readers let's go through and do this the Clutter together because I want to learn about it as part of the research for my book and because this is a big ask leave everything for 30 days and then be very sad
00:27:17what about what comes back I thought that maybe 50 or 60 people would sort of bravely agree to do this and in the end over 1,600 people signed up and did it and I got reports back from hundreds of them and the changes that they made we're really drastic and the benefit to reported were really big and so I think we're at a time now which is different than even say 2 years ago or people are ready to consider much more drastic overhauls of what exactly they're Digital Life looks like and what exactly you're trying to do in it I like the idea that this is a philosophy and the book that you can pair with the flossing digital maximalism which is a mindset and which any potential for benefit from a technology is enough to start using that technology can you talk a little bit more about that and talk a little bit more about what you think the philosophy under which we adopt technology is now maximalism is the sort of classic foil to minimalism and it's an idea especially now especially in Western culture it is quite dominant and it still
00:28:17ocean. You focus almost exclusively on the potential value that you can get out of something so from this mindset when you think about Facebook or something you just think about what are the potential values I could get out of it the issue with maximalism is that you then think about not using something in terms of lost value so you think about all these things I'm not using that's all value I could have its money left on the table and I'm walking away from it so you think almost like this value is being taken out of my life where minimalism flips that and says we'll figure out the most important things and put all of your energy into that and don't worry so much about the small value leaving behind that you'll end up better off now there's some pretty simple mathematics behind it I mean essentially in almost at any Endeavor and certainly in your digital life that the distribution of return you get from various activities is not linear it's actually usually pretty nonlinear so the things that are most value
00:29:17give you significantly more value than things that are less valuable in your hierarchy and once you have a distribution like that if you want to maximize your value is almost always the right thing to do to put as much energy as possible to these things to give you the really big returns because you know every you'll say our you take away from one of these high-return activities to spread among lower return activities yeah you get a little bit of value from those but you're missing this huge amount of value that you could have gotten so when I was researching the book I actually I went back and reread Walden which is one of my favorite books and minimal is that people often wrongly think about this as a book about nature but it is actually a a profound economic argument in favor us or the minimalist approach to your into your work and life into very interesting argument but the real has his great example because when he's talking about the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation who was mainly talking about the heavily mortgaged Farmers near him in Concord Massachusetts at the time and it was really worth
00:30:17read about how much of their lifetime their life force in their labor they weren't they were giving up in order to get these sort of small benefits like Venetian blinds and better pots any of this great example of think about the farmer who purchases a carriage to get the town and the farmers happy because it was on the carriage and only takes 20 minutes to get the town and when he has to walk it takes him an hour but the Roses if you go and do the math you know it turns out that he's having to work an extra two hours per week to afford to Carriage so he's actually worse off he actually has much less time than if he just didn't work two extra hours and then took neo40 more minutes to walk into town and now it's the rose way of getting out this problem with maximalism is that there's a cost associated with what you spend your time on in this cost is not just what directly you get from that activity but what you could have been investing that time and instead and that's really the foundation for minimalism in general and definitely for digital minimalism seems to be circling around the Society of crowd out
00:31:17we're very good when adopting something or looking at something at understanding the benefits of what it could bring to us but the problem is what is it crowding out and it seems to me that often you have something like Twitter or Facebook or whatever might be I mean in a previous era was television I've been reading a lot of Neil Postman lately and he's writing these would turn out to be extremely prescient criticisms of these new technologies but it's all about television and it seems to me that the thing that keeps happening is it we crowd out things that are like Solitude or like open space on a on a day planner where a lot is coming out of it potentially but those benefits are not exactly calculable and then slowly like what you you begin to cut out things are just slower right I mean Twitter is going by and it's disappearing whereas like the New Yorker on your nightstand it's going to be there but in the end you don't end up Reading New Yorker cuz you keep
00:32:17Twitter and you end up like continuously crowding-out things that are Urgent or feel a sense of scarcity or design but since of scarcity and you got all these things are hard but the things that are in how to cut a value to them but it's simply not being shouted quite as loudly I think this is exactly the problem that has been 14 a lot of positive action on these sort of ambiguous on use the people are are increasingly having with their digital lives and I know I say this right in the the first chapter of the book is that the issue we're having is not about usefulness it's about autonomy it's not about is this thing I'm doing right now bad for me or worthless it's am I spending so much time doing these things that I'm missing out on things I think is more important am I losing my ability to actually shape a meaningful life and they are funny example that sort of made this really clear to me was no back in 2016 when this is really when I first started noticing that people were were were start
00:33:17shift from you don't self-deprecating jokes about their phones to really getting concerned so this was right before the shift started to happen I wrote this op-ed for the New York Times in which you know I was just being provocative and saying bad things about social media interest normally happens after you write something like that for the time to do some some ancillary media so I did an interview on a national Radio Show in Canada and so they had me on their ask me some questions and then they they sprung this Ambush is it a Hobbit Now joining us on the line is this artist who uses social media to find his audience to sell his artwork and the implication from the host and and the social media expert they also brought on his part of the ambushes like a high we've got you here said you want this got to starve yeah this is something that you can do with social media so you really need to stop criticizing it but as the conversation went on at one point the artist admitted you know I found myself having to take long breaks from social media
00:34:17so I could actually get my art done in the first place
00:34:20encapsulated in this one interview was all of the problems we have in actually trying to face these issues is that too too often were like to host of this program and we're focused on the usefulness is there any used to these tools if there are will you please stop criticizing them and we don't enough think about autonomy that yeah maybe this makes it easier for me to sell my art but if it's preventing me from doing art in the first place am I really winning in this exchange and so I've definitely been trying to push that message that's why minimalism starts with values and work backwards as opposed to trying to eliminate cuz as soon as you start saying let's try to eliminate from your lives Neo technology that is not so good you just put someone in this this sort of utilitarian calculus of well how much is 6 baby pictures worth shito in exchange for you know 20 minutes less time to get on this impossible calculus so when you go additive okay here so I really value let me see if I can really pump those things up and not be too concerned about everything else that seems to work better. There are a lot of people who hear
00:35:20and what'll be reminded of what you hear about people doing all the time right now is a digital detox and your critical in the book of the idea of a digital detox do you want to talk a little bit about what is the difference between the digital minimalism digital decluttering we are talking about and the digital detox Azure people take a week or a month off of a couple Technologies yeah she think about the context in which we appropriate the term detox it usually comes out of the substance abuse Community where the idea is if you have a substance addiction you need to first episode of remove the grip it has on your mind before you can go forward and and be successful in rebuilding a life without it but you would never hear someone say you know you know as well as I think you have a real problem with this drug but don't worry I have a great plan we're going to we're going to take a week and you're not going to take that drug at all for a week and then afterwards of course we'll go back to using it like you did before what problem have you solved maybe you got a little bit of relief but but the bigger question is what
00:36:20the issue that made me feel like I had to take a break in the first place that's what we need to solve and so I'm not a big fan of this idea that just stepping away temporarily from your Digital Life is is all you need to get around some of the issues that people are feeling I think we have to confront the underlying problem and so that's why I ship to the terminology from detox to declutter I'm not just trying to give you a break from technology I think you actually have to step back look at your over crowded house get all that stuff out of there and then just bring back into things that you really need I mean we're used to this A Course in the context of physical clutter and so it's moving that exact same mentality is your Digital Life. You do this to clutter there is a detox effect as part of it but like a good detox in the zone of substance abuse Community it's followed by a transformation of your life going forward to making this is that if you're taking things away you have to put things in intentionally can you talk about that because that's struck me is pretty profound and a key part of this type of minimalism trans
00:37:20process is that the rule I have is that you essentially work backwards from the things you value most see what you identify these clearly is a self-reflection and then for each you ask what is the best way to use technology to support this value that might be lots of different things I might offer some benefits to let's say your desire to be social or connected to your community or to your family or whatever we can I get lots of different things that have some some benefit they offer you say What's the best way what's the thing I can do this going to give the best oral I and then you allow your answer to those questions that basically stand as defined in your personal Digital Life so it's about these are things I intentionally chose because they give me huge Returns on things I care about and I'm just happy with that I don't care about the other things I'm missing out on I'm much more interested in spending time on the things I already know for sure really matter and I know what I'm doing here is giving me a huge boost on those
00:38:20example of something that I've been trying to do on this which is I've been trying to set as a rule that I have to spend more time reading books each day than reading social media
00:38:31because what I found was it if I just tried to do less social media I didn't really end up working like to go back to crowd out if there's nothing there then there was just like the space for the thing to come back in that I actually had too crowded out with other things where I couldn't feel the benefits of those other things accruing at overtime that really worked for me a really really helped but but they're needed to be alternative they needed me something new new to jump to I'm curious given that you did this with 1,600 people what are some of the examples you saw that really seem to work well this was actually one of the big surprise experiment was the degree to which people had eliminated these type of we can call it high quality analog leisure activities from their lives two things that people always used to dedicate a good portion of their Leisure Time to the degree to which people had allowed the digital to push it out and the degree to which people were very uncomfortable when they suddenly had to face
00:39:31life away from the little distraction without having yet replaced this time with high-quality analog Leisure and soda sit me down this Rabbit Hole the really understand what why is it so important to follow this Trail all the way back to Aristotle writing the Nickelodeon ethics this idea that actually human beings need to flourish activities that they do just for the sake of that activity that this is sort of the recipe for been able to find some sort of Joy or beauty or meaning and a life is otherwise going to have a lot of sort of hardship and things that you can't control it's the sort of fundamental human need any time throughout the history of human civilization that people have been lucky enough to have some leisure time they almost immediately fill it with some sort of structure of high-quality analog laser and so what's happening now in the last 10 or 15 years is actually again just like the lack of solitude is remarkably rare in our human history which is that we have especially young people don't have any of these high-quality activities that you do just for the sake of the quality
00:40:31and so this is a big issue that when people remove distraction from their life it can be incredibly uncomfortable essentially been papering over the void in our life has been created by not having these sort of Aristotelian high-quality activity we've been papering it over with constant distraction the kind of keeps our eyes just slightly averted from the existential void right and so then you can't help but turn and face it once you get rid of all the distractions at is a sort of like Nietzsche with Facebook or something so it is quite scary and I was surprised that agreed to wish I was important to the point now where I actually advised people if you want to do something like a declutter you might want to take a few months first and actually just work on the analog side of your leisure time because it's going to make it much easier to tolerate when you actually do this rip the Band-Aid off type action of of stepping away from all your digital distraction and we're talking about leisure activities and hobbies but actually socializing is in some ways the biggest piece of ass that have a lot of your Social connections have
00:41:31tip your texting people in your emailing people and it seems perfectly true among young people now and there's a huge amount of evidence that a tremendous amount of like Teenage socializing has moved from in person or even on the telephone to the online and overtaxed and it's actually been a fall on the lot of interest in socializing that it becomes much harder right if you if your if you pull back from you sayings and the alternative is loneliness the alternative is that you feel left out I mean that's not going to work at all right we find has been in recent years these these really high-quality sort of epidemiological studies that are finding this sort of puzzling connection that increase social media use is creating increase loneliness which seems to be the opposite effect at that you would expect in in one of the the big hypothesis for why this is true is that digital interaction so interaction that is not have an analog component like listening to someone's voice in the nuances of it are looking at someone's body like
00:42:30which are actually making some sort of sacrifice like I actually had to travel to come see you that digital interaction thank you I appreciate it I flew overnight and it just sort of digital interaction actually doesn't come close to giving the same rewards as like a Sherry turkle would cause a real real conversation into this is why you can actually get more lonely as you spend more time doing digital interaction it's not because the digital interaction itself is causing this negative effect it's because it's crowding out the real good conversation which is what our brain is the Vault actually crave and bring doesn't understand that that number you show or a little comment under a picture on the small glowing rectangle in your hand is another human being who's interacting with you in fulfilling your need for sociology at those understand another some part of your frontal cortex to think that counts and so you do more and more of that you do lost much of the real world that leaves you worse off and so that's why it is scary of course to step away from that digital interaction
00:43:30I need to do that anyways because it's not working it it's not a substitute it's it's a sort of arbitrary activity of the game was cooked up by 20-somethings in some you know incubator rec room over in Northern California is it say you can't take millions of years of evolution and replace it with this new novel activity expect to spend at work and so not not to go on a bit of a tangent but I think that's that scariness is good because then once you remove this you're scared them in a rack you miss going to force you so it wouldn't let me try to reestablishing it's wait that's hard more old-fashioned real-world conversation be sociality that'll actually give me the nutrients that I need for human flourishing true If We crave actual real world conversation then then how come so many of us including me actually have the experience ever sitting in a conversation talking to people and it gets tiring and you begin to Crave looking at your phone you're sitting there with you know your partner and friends are there with family and you find yourself like going to the bathroom to
00:44:30look at your phone it always supposed to be like there's something tiring about actual real world socializing and the phone can be the sort of Escape it's like a it's like a mental break in a way but then you find yourself taking more of it soon enough the whole quality the conversation degrades I mean there's something weird in that wear if the if the internal signals were all as clear as you sometimes make them out to be these conversations you wouldn't have a problem in the first place right but I think the signals are being short-circuited and that's the problem he's singling signaling mechanisms evolve in an environment where we we didn't have these wirelessly connected glowing LED blocks we're not ready for that our brain doesn't understand it so the signals are all getting crossed so this is why you know one part of your brain if your 19 year old he was actually never leave your room thinks you're very very social and you think that you're satisfied logical you think I'm satisfying my needs to be social I've been talking to people all day but then these other deeper parts of your brain or making you feel
00:45:30anxious and lonely because they say hey we haven't been turned on recently you know analyze body language or two to try to process Nuance in invoice and destroy the mirror neurons where's the person in front of us right you know I'm giving sort of non scientifically accurate example there but you get the general Point into all these signals get crossed and then the same thing the way that are dopamine system has been short-circuited by all of this intermittent reinforcement on the phone we suddenly find ourselves like the old lady at the slot machine handle having to sneak out to the bathroom to look at these things again that's a short-circuited signal right I did that one part of our brain to think we have to go pull this lever again we're another part of your brain says this is crazy I need to still sit here with my Mom this is more important so I think we are signals are in portable can't trust him as much to gain short-circuited and it does part of the issue going on here is that these Technologies are messing with our brains in ways that we don't completely understand which is why we're seeing such profound impact that confuse us so much so I'm going to go back to
00:46:30some of the underlying philosophy of how we approach technology now I've been thinking a lot about is like the one called the myth of the lights for the power of anti let it his mm versus idea that at every point when it Technologies introduced to of people who stand in its way and those people are always wrong because look technology is kept going forward and here we are so course they were wrong and I've been going back and reading some of the critics have previous rounds of technology I mention. Postman a couple minutes ago and realizing that a lot of what they said was right I mean yes technology kept moving on yes Society kept moving on but they were also cracked and it seems to me that has a lot of dominant ideologies do our ideologies towards technology has valpes like very powerful defense mechanism said one defense mechanism it has is it if you think of Technology might be bad you're a Luddite and anybody who's against heat reduction of technology is always wrong and it seems to me that aside from just being intentional
00:47:30but how we use technology that we maybe need a different two or more rigorous way of thinking about how to introduce Technologies obviously I don't mean that in regulatory sensor least not for most Technologies but I do mean it in a in a kind of philosophical cultural since there's very little room it seems to me that should be against new things right now but the the complete uncritical adoption if everything from like juul vaping technology to Facebook it seems like we should have some kind of bigger rethink that isn't just about those products but about the culture that is allowed those products to spread like wildfire without thinking twice about it I'm a huge believer in this idea I mean I I read quite widely and does her philosophy of Technology a lot of interesting people have thought about this and I think there's a couple relevant points here first of all I don't think the actual lights are a bad example if you go back and look at what happened in the year
00:48:30Nike Revolution it was actually an economic philosophy that was actually quite plausible at the time right now you go to this particular area and in the UK and there was the Advent of steam rooms were coming this was before we had a lot of rigorous or the economic theory in the way we think about it today and the workers in this town have anything worth thinking about this if we bring in the steam looms almost everyone's going to lose her job but a very small number of people who run these bills are going to actually keep a lot more of this money and then it's just really what we want to do right now you may be the utilitarian argument should be that we should be trying to actually Maca maximize the average utility of the town this maybe this is a bad move now do a modern for the classically trained to, since I know you have to do this creative destruction you know you have high can all these very complicated theories about in a free-market to stop so now we look at that argument is naive but in the context was actually a relatively philosophically profound and plausible argument they're putting forward is like this is actually a good time
00:49:30step back and say what is our goal with Uconnect development and so there's actually something really human the what was happening with the original led a revolution that's actually I think a lesson we should take away witches to encounter new technologies through this human perspective that which we often don't do so they're used to be these really big thinkers like he's big stink thinkers in the 20th century especially the first half of the 20th century that were tackling these issues and had these huge theories that though their academic they read like idea books like I was recently reading Jacques sauveur rules 1967 book The technological society which it it's French but there's a really good translation available to Berkeley pressed and he's basically making exactly the argument you're talking about he talks about the self-perpetuating nature what he calls a technique and how it has is almost at honest try that if it's possible to advance to The Next Step you have to do it and it basically Co-op to talk about how it coops the whole culture so that cultural you think this is inevitable this is what we have to do this is the right
00:50:30before and we had these big thinkers and from what I can understand talking to some people in this field is did we lost a lot of the Vigor and sort of the field of the philosophy of technology that field when it's a sort of fame or internally focused Scholastic type Direction social determinism to sort of the dominant Theory now which is this sort of really complicated narrow Focus looks at the very specific ways in which you know various groups interact with emerging Technologies to serve their needs to sort of the sort of very complex whatever kind of academic type Theory have you approached we've lost these big thinkers like Alo Allure like Lynn white jr. like Mumford who are really grappling with this so I think you're actually on to something that this is something we need to return to is thinking big thoughts about what is the role of technology in sort of a thriving Human Society what's the philosophically speaking what's the right way to tackle them I'm working on this book now about email and like one of the big ideas in his book about email is that
00:51:30it was invented and it said let's just use it and it ended up having these profound impact and what it even meant the work in the knowledge age that was completely Emergen and no one decided and it is we talked about before I had a lot of negative consequences and you see the especially with with personal technology so this is all it's a long ramp because it's something I care a lot about which is we need more postman's and I think we need more a Lowe's and mumford's and Lynn white juniors and all these people used to think big thoughts about how we should approach technology we need basically to be like the original luddites again not the not the cultural bastardization of this term which is disorder neo-luddite straw man that you're just someone that for some reason hates technology I mean I think the Unabomber is the last person I've met that actually agrees with that but there's more human idea of all right I'm glad we have inventions that capability but what do we want to use them for and why but okay so that there's something here that I think is interesting which is that my read of this is that we don't have a theory of Technology it's not even 2
00:52:30maximalism what we have is neoliberalism and the the underlying idea that they secrete everything unless it's one of a small group of things that falls into either or protected or estate category right side like basically drugs or laws is it if something is winning in the market that consumers are choosing it and if consumers are choosing it then it is good right consumers are revealing a preference and who are you to to to question that preference now we don't feel that way if it's a cocaine been working a question the preference up pretty much everything else being out with the exception of some things for children where are you know we won't let that a no 10 year olds watch scary movies or something we we we feel this way about and what is going on here it's not it's something really about technology we don't care if it's new technology or not what we care about is not interrupting the workings of the market and you can have all the technological philosophy you want but
00:53:30unless you have some kind of counter to that it's why I think the the example below date is actually interesting cuz he even in that what you were saying was that they had an economically naive way of thinking about it and I think that a lot of good arguments here would be knocked down by people saying that you cannot be naive when really what they are saying that there is some value I want to place over economic choice ER there's some value that I think is more important then maximize and grow a little bit differently so I think the shortcoming there classical marketview is that it thinks about is that consumers being purely rational in some sort of quantitative science and then the course behavioral economics has has broken that model and we know that there's some sort of systemic biases and we've already booked but the other aspect I don't think we talked about as much is that when it comes to a choice especially consumer Choice I'm just not just a quantitative rational decision you know what's the value to this for me and dollars
00:54:30decisions are also mediated by the cultural firmament in which were surrounded and so when I'm arguing for is not that we need to come in and disrupt this Marketplace let's say in a regulatory fashion for is it us as a culture needs to actually care more about this cultural firmament we actually need to think what is this how do we as a culture like to think about in value Technologies is this right we want to change this that this is from which we base a lot of our decisions as consumers is something that itself we need to analyze cuz I think what has happened is if starting around the 90s we just decided that our our cultural take on new text was basically Silicon Valley was like the quote Bill Maher it's basically nerd God's handy down gifts and it's great it's Innovation is fun it's something to do it replaces you know a lot of things that we've lost until that we're just not going to think about it that much so a lot of what I argue for is that we should have a more sophisticated cultural understanding of tools and how they fit
00:55:30a life well-lived and I think that's actually just a well-functioning market right that's working within the confines of a well-functioning market not actually trying to sort of disrupt the classical structure I mean we do you have in place of a culture about how he got technology that plays a big role in why we use our don't use these things and I think modifying that culture through cultural self-reflection is actually a very healthy operation and if that works within the context of the way that these markets operate is not an external intervention but give me an example of a market where you think that works pretty well because I look at the markets we actually have and what I see is there is a certain amount of cultural mediation across them for sure but for the most part the incentives to get the thing that is cheap and easy now tends to inhabit I mean we burn huge amounts of fossil fuels despite knowing that we shouldn't we packed foods with refined sugar is despite knowing it's bad for us I'm sort of Mark aftermarket aftermarket
00:56:30no I can see places with a culture is offering a message like a maybe that's not such great idea but overwhelmingly the not such great idea works out if it's more addictive and it's more convenient than the other ideas and certainly what were talking about in the cultures of you're concerned about our I'm still at the Technologies are concerned about are things that are addictive and convenient to end to the emotionally sugary and it does not seem to me that we have that that cultural messaging is very effective against out in in very many places are there are there spots you look at that as a bright side because I take your point this is what he conomic says I'm not I'm not putting the Sunday comics profession I I think this is how markets work in practice and we are very we are very loaded question the choices actual consumers make even if those choices are being shaped and influenced by you know advertisers and you know people spending a lot of money to do push-ups incentives around them well and I think a good example of
00:57:30probably Food and Health I mean I think right now we're at we're in the middle of a transformation the way that our culture thinks about things I think 30 years ago to think that the organic sector of food production be so large be crazy right I mean it did not use pesticides on her food like this this this doesn't make sense. That that's grown really huge we see fast food is having trouble and is having to adapt and into me that's an example of what's actually subtly changing used to culture now I agree that when you know messages come down from above so if it's sort of being delivered by a sort of technocratic a lead that says okay listen up people we've been studying this and in this is what you should be doing that doesn't tend to work so well and then this is why for example probably like Michael Pollan has a much greater impact on our nation's Health in the Department of Agriculture ever had in terms of their food pyramids and their Official Guidelines but we showed and shown it to you and so these changes are a little bit more emergent I think for example the all hypotheses I have is about 5 years
00:58:30the way that we can see if up smartphone use among young people who are very different as a culture not that there's going to be a La Paz I just think we're going to have this idea that you would ever give a 13 year old smartphone with social media which is going to think that's crazy right I mean that's a cultural shift I'm starting to see as as people are first hand witnessing the impact and then the data starting become clear so I do think it's possible I think I think we we do see the ships we've seen it in parenting that's another area the fall of corporal punishment I mean that was largely emergent change and that sort of cultural ferment and dictated how people think about parenting in fact the way our generation parents is very different than the way the last generation parents which is very different than what's the generation before then parented so these are examples where people can really strongly change how they behave wants our sort of cultural understanding shifts now I don't know exactly how to spark those shifts I mean I think this is why you know Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point was so popular
00:59:30when it came out and said it seemed to offer some insight into how you might be able to manufacture these type of Lights wide-scale sort of you don't ships and behaviors our thoughts and no one really knows exactly how it works but it's probably more optimistic than you are and maybe it's cuz I'm out there and and I'm and maybe I have a bias amp I hear from the people who want to change but but I really have sensed a shift starting to happen sorry about two years ago in terms of how people are beginning to sort of place digital Tools in a personal life trying to place him what you're trying to understand it's something I really do think it is shipped away I actually agree it's shifting I just I think a lot of peaches and of operating on the margins supposed to supposed in the center of it but to try to be more optimistic for a minute something you write about the end of the book was interesting to me the idea of
01:00:20almost handicapping devices so because they become more single-use so you have say laptop it's really just a word processor you don't allow to connect to the Internet or other things there's a product that came out recently it's actually took the name of Palma bike that fuel pump Pilots but but it's not one but it's like the cell phone from Verizon and it's Macy just a small ad on phone where the idea is you just don't put as much stuff on it so you know it's a phone that maybe you do messaging on your calls on but you don't have social media on and I've been thinking about the ways in which bundling can actually be bad for us I mean you track in the book a bit how the iPhone was initially meant to be an iPod plus a phone right you were supposed to have music and phone we didn't expect it up all these other things that you talk about how babies babies in Facebook where if you use it very specific purposes it can make you happier but the way it gets used in aggregate the way people experience it overall makes him less happy and I've wondered a lot whether or not we need to move for the trend of D Bund
01:01:20playing a lot of these things I mean it seems like it's so it's so great and so useful to have everything on one device but actually maybe it's too much and often find myself wanting not wanting to bring a phone out because I don't want the distraction but I need to be able to get a ride sure home at the end of the night and so you know whether or not there's going to be a move towards giving people devices that are able to accomplish certain specific tasks so that we're not always confronted with everything all at once and just the risks of Temptation or lower go back to looking at personal computers and then even the very early ads for the original Apple one of the original Apple II and of course one of the big benefits of the personal computers that I could do different things and so the very first had talked about like look this guy is using the computer at his work and then he brings it home and does his home finances on it so look you can do multiple things with his computer that was a big element of productivity at some point
01:02:20find the time that we we switched over to a sort of more unik style operating systems like with the Windows operating systems that introduced this idea that you could have multiple things going on at the same time and it's here I think we actually were LED astray so this was motivated by the large timeshare mainframes were the reason why you needed a computer to be able to do multiple things at the same times you had many different user login to the same computer so it had the service multiple different users are each doing one thing well at the computer scientist who were sort of thinking about personal operating systems that this was elegantly brought it over and sit in the personal computer experience shifted to wonder what you could have multiple windows open and is here we start to have a mismatch between the technology and how the human brain functions because the human brain is really not good at contact shifting this is this is something we have a lot of psychological research for that when you shift from this to this there's a real cost for it as real cost and attention shifts so we are ironically can find yourself being less productive
01:03:20by being able to have more things active at the same time but that got us used to this notion that sort of having more things that we can get back and forth between as quickly as possible is what I meant to be productive when I carried over into the way we thought about smartphones and so now we are where we are today where we we have everything you can imagine on a phone we make it as easy as possible that the switch switch between them and yet cause any sort of unintentional harm because there's a difference between having a device that can maybe have various things that can do but this notion that you need to to be jumping between lots of different things all on the same advice the device that's not to tell you what's going to be best for us about a contact so I do think there's something there you know I just wrote this blog post recently or I talked about a lot of the original motivations for the smartphone which was you can do business functions way from your office at those are really disappeared because you can have a tablet or laptops are really small now and it just Technologies are much better for for doing office work you can bring with you and so we
01:04:20lost a lot of that original motivation that we need lots of things on smartphone and so now the fact that we have so many things is almost like a sort of artifact if that if that prior time that's a good place to take them to close so let me ask you the question was end with witches in the digital philosophy space cuz you said you can reading widely here and I'm interested in this as well what a couple books you recommend to people who do you think is people might not have heard of but who you wish had more influence in building this new philosophy of Technology technological Society its greatest hits is huge huge scope for you goes back to the very sort of our earliest tribal societies up until today and understanding the way that we eat the way we function that has different today in his life has been very influential as I've been reading it I also think your interest in the philosophy of Technology you should go back and read the classic work yet medieval technology and social change by Lynn white jr.
01:05:20Genesis great sort of effort of old-fashioned Focus scholarship where he basically systematically makes the argument that the invention of the horse Stirrup led to feudalism in medieval feudalism is is is essentially we had that that structure of government because of the invention of the horse Stirrup and he walked right understanding horse Stirrup first emerged in what societies and he walks through this whole sort of well research carefully footnoted argument about how essentially like the horse Stirrup made it possible to have heard of armored Mount Calvary that these were sort of like the shock troops of the time but in order to actually support you can on mclee standing armored heavily armored Calvary you had to change the way the economically system worked at the try to have much more sort of land was being dedicated to sort of an aristocracy that it was a Gentry walk to the whole thing but it's a it's a great example I think of Natalie just classic
01:06:20technology but it it's a it's a real reminder really fun reminder of the ways in which these Technologies we innovate have these really potentially strong impact that are not pre-planned and they're not deployed by human-to-human intention right that you could invent something casually and then look up 20 years later and you're living in feudal Europe and so I've enjoyed both of those recently had recommended a readable very approachable as well that is an idea I did not expect to hear today but the horse trap led to the evolution of of medieval government the book is digital minimalism Cal Newport play cover much thank you as well
01:07:00bank account for being here like you do all of you for being here thinking it over roof at UC Berkeley to my itchy your truck scaled back in BC to Julie Weinberger my producer will be back in a couple of days
01:07:25for decades whatever people talk about technology they would talk about things like Graphics chips and memory sauce it was like technologist Gadget to his things people produce Hardware software not anymore now everything is Downstream from technology Society politics media it's all Downstream from Technologies Technologies a layer that everything that sits on top of an understanding that layer and the way it is changing us and everything around us took care of Swisher does best on her podcast recode decode karis's down with the world's most influential people on her podcast recode decode Kara sits down with most important people and technology and she gets to the bottom of what motivates them had achieved a breakthrough where they may have failed and what are they even understand what they are doing Cara is unique as an interviewer she is fearless and she is funny and she knows almost everything she's talking about better than her guests do so it makes for a rare conversation conversation with his very little bulshit and where you actually get to the bottom of what people
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