Along with posts explicitly about running, I’m going to write some about a new book I’m exploring: Cal Newport’s, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. I picked it up because, like most people, I’ve been feeling increasingly distracted by all the digital options that vie for my attention.
The book introduces readers to philosophy for technology use, an idea Cal calls “digital minimalism.” According to Newport, “Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It’s the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world. “
Cal first set out to understand what is the heart of the problem for people who feel barraged by all the constant demands of their digital lives yet seem powerless to get them under control. During his research and interviews, Cal found that most people described it as exhaustion: “It’s not that any one app or website was particularly bad when considered in isolation. As many people clarified, the issue overall was the impact of having so many different shiny baubles pulling so insistently at their attention and manipulating their mood.” Their frustration isn’t with a particular app or website but the feeling that this part of their lives seems out of their control. “The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life.”
The result is a rather common feeling that we are losing the ability to truly decide for ourselves how we invest our time and attention. It makes us less productive at work and often diminishes the quality of the very relationships the digital revolution promised to strengthen. How often have you been sitting with a friend and, in a lull of conversation, you pull out your phone? It also changes the way we see ourselves. We see other people’s “carefully curated” lives on social media and feel insufficient. For kids, it’s often yet another way to be excluded from the larger group.
What can be done? Go off the grid? Trash your smart phone? Succumb to the digital demands?
The appeal of Cal’s book is his recognition that it isn’t practical for many of us to give up our smart phones, social media, and text messages. Nor does he think these things are intrinsically harmful. Many of us have to use the internet and email for our jobs; business owners may find it hard to compete without the large reach of Facebook and Instagram, and we can use these things to stay in touch with people we really care about. The digital tools are not the problem, the problem is the way they slowly dominate our lives.
He also believes that the usual fixes – taking a tech “Sabbath,” keeping your phone off at night, turning off notifications, etc. – are insufficient. These are temporary breaks that do not address the root of the problem. Instead, argues Newport, what’s need is a “full-fledged philosophy of technology use, rooted in your deep values, that provides clear answers to the questions of what tools you should use and how you should use them and, equally important, enables you to confidently ignore everything else.” This is digital minimalism in a nutshell.
I’ve only finished the introduction (I read it in a coffee shop and left my phone at home) so I don’t know yet know the details of this philosophy, but I’m excited to see what Cal has in store.
What does this have to do with running? Well, a lot, in my opinion. As with many other interests, the pursuit of excellence in running means having sustained, focused attention to our craft. It means cultivating meaningful relationships- in person- with people who can help us be the type of runner and the type of person we want to be. It means avoiding things that damage our sleep patterns, and it means not feeling inadequate when watching what other athletes are doing. There is even research to suggest that using your smart phone while you run leads to a worse workout. In short, we runners all feel better about running when we are focused, attentive, feel valued and appreciated, and well-rested.
I’ll share more as I get deeper into the book.