Study Hacks Blog

Why You Should Pre-Order Digital Minimalism

January 12th, 2019 · 35 comments
A copy of my new book, hot off the presses, on the custom-built minimalist library table I use to find focus in an otherwise noisy world.

My new book, Digital Minimalism, which comes out on February 5th, is available for pre-order.

If you live in the US, you can pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or a local bookstore (as well as many other retailers).

If you live in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India or Africa, you can pre-order the UK edition at Amazon UK. (The book is also being translated into over a dozen different languages, but these will come later.)

For multiple reasons, pre-orders are much more useful than normal sales, so if you were already thinking about buying my new book, I want to humbly nudge toward considering a pre-order, and if you already pre-ordered, I want to underscore my gratitude.

To demonstrate my sincere thanks to those who take the time to help my book in this manner, I’ve put together the following incentive packages:

If you pre-order 1 copy of the book before February 5th, you’ll receive:

If you pre-order 2+ copies of the book (one for you and one for a friend) before February 5th, you’ll receive:

  • All of the above bonuses.
  • Access to the private Digital Minimalist Book Club. For one month after the book releases in February, I’ll be be posting a weekly private video for book club members where I answer their questions about the book (or any related topics), submitted through a special email address provided only to book club members.
  • Claim your 2+ copy bonuses here…

TO ACCESS THE BONUSES:

  • Pre-order Digital Minimalism from any retailer and in any format. If you have already pre-ordered (thank you!), you just need to find your invoice number from the digital receipt.
  • Fill out THIS FORM with your invoice number(s) and contact details. (Note: If you ordered 2+ copies using multiple different orders, that’s no problem: the form can accept multiple invoice numbers.)
  • Gain immediate access to the bonuses. Once you’ve filled out the above form, links for downloading the bonuses will appear on the form’s confirmation page.  For those of you who order 2+ copies, you’ll also be provided the special email address for submitting questions for the book club. The instructions for how to access the book club videos will then be emailed to you in February.

Are Smartphones Necessary Anymore?

January 8th, 2019 · 60 comments

When I was researching Digital Minimalism, I came across an interesting article written by Vlad Savov for The Verge. It was titled: “It’s time to bring back the dumb phone.”

I’ve both read and written numerous articles about the negative aspects of the modern smartphone, and have interviewed many people who have returned to a simpler alternative with few regrets.

But what caught my attention about Savov’s piece was the following new (to me) argument he made in favor of stepping back from these devices:

“This is not as drastic a regression as you might think — or as it might have been a few years ago. In the age before paper-thin tablets and laptops, your smartphone truly was the only viable connected device you could carry around everywhere.

But nowadays? I have paper pads thicker and heavier than the Apple MacBook…[y]ou can tuck a tablet discreetly into a large jacket pocket, and it can connect to LTE networks.”

Like Proust’s Madeleine, this comment sparked in me memories of the early smartphone era; a time when laptops were large, bulky affairs and accessible WiFi connections scarce. In this context, a “smart” phone that might allow you to send an email or perform rudimentary document edits could significantly improve your productivity when away from the office.

But as Savov notes, there are now many other affordable, portable, connected devices that offer much better productivity experiences than even the largest phone.

So why do smartphones persist in a world where their original rationale has dissipated?

My current theory: Steve Jobs.

Read more »

Join Analog Social Media

December 29th, 2018 · 30 comments

A phenomenon I noticed when researching Digital Minimalism is that many people are confused by the creeping unease they feel about their digital lives. This confusion is caused in part by problems of scope.

When you take an activity like social media, for example, and zoom in close, you isolate behaviors like commenting on a friend’s picture, or encountering an interesting link, that seem mildly positive. What harm could there possibly be in clicking a heart icon?

When you zoom out, however, the cumulative effect of all this swiping and tapping seems to add up to something distinctly negative. Few are happy, for example, after allowing yet another movie night to devolve into side-by-side iPad idling.

The dynamic at play here is that digital activities that are mildly positive in isolation, combine to crowd out other real world activities that are potentially much more satisfying. This is what allows you to love Twitter in the moment when you discover a hilarious tweet, but at the end of the day fear that the app is degrading your soul.

Understanding this dynamic is critical because it tells you that you cannot improve your life by focusing exclusively on digital tools. Triaging your apps, or cutting back phone time, will not by itself make you happier. You must also aggressively fill in the space this pruning creates with the type of massively satisfying, real world activities that these tools have been increasingly pushing out of your life.

It is with this in mind, and in the spirit of the New Year, that I suggest you make a simple resolution: join analog social media.

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From the Hyperlink to the Stream: Hossein Derakshan’s Critique of the Internet in the Age of Social Media

December 20th, 2018 · 14 comments

The Six Year Transformation

A friend recently pointed me toward an essay published on Medium in 2015. It’s written by Hossein Derakshan, a Canadian-Iranian blogger who helped instigate the Persian-language blogging revolution during the first decade of the 21st century, and whose online truth-telling eventually lead to his imprisonment in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison from 2008 to 2014.

In his essay, Derakshan explores the radical shift in internet culture that occurred between when he entered prison in 2008 and his release six years later. As Derakshan explains, in 2008, the source of the internet’s potency was the hyperlink:

“The hyperlink was my currency six years ago…[it] provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web…a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.”

If the hyperlink was “currency,” as Derakshan elaborates, then blogs were the market in which this currency was exchanged. You might start a web browsing session at a site you knew well, but a few dozen clicks later might find yourself at a novel corner of the blogosphere, digesting insights from a bright mind you would have never otherwise known existed.

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Is YouTube Fundamental or Trivial?

December 15th, 2018 · 33 comments

The YouTube Conundrum

As a public critic of social media, I’m often asked if my concerns extend to YouTube. This is a tricky question.

As I’ve written, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram didn’t offer something fundamentally different than the world wide web that preceded them. Their main contribution was to make this style of online life more accessible and convenient.

My first independently owned and operated web site from the 1990s, for example, required me to learn HTML and upload files to a server at a local ISP using FTP. Ten years later, expressing yourself online became as easy as using your student email address to open an account at thefacebook.com, and then answering some questions about your relationship status and favorite movies.

YouTube seems different.

Before it came along, there were not many options for individuals to publish original video content online. Now this can be done for free with the click of a button, which is an important shift. Many content creators I know see the democratization of video as a force that’s shaping up to be as disruptive to traditional media as the preceding arrival of web sites.

And yet, at the same time, many of the people I spoke with while researching Digital Minimalism admitted that idle YouTube browsing is devouring more and more of their discretionary time, and they’re not happy about it.

So what’s the right way to think about YouTube: is it fundamental to the internet revolution, or just another source of social media distraction?

The best answer I can come up with for now is both.

On the positive side, video is powerful. Enabling more people to create and publish video will therefore unleash powerful creative innovation. (It will also, of course, enable the creation of more insipid and brain-dulling content as well, but this is an unavoidable feature of any publishing revolution, from Gutenberg onward).

On the negative side, YouTube’s attention economy revenue model, supercharged with statistical recommendation algorithms, creates a browsing experience that can suck you into a powerful vortex of distraction and creeping extremism that cannot possibly be healthy.

A Better Way Forward

Perhaps the best way to emphasize the positives of online video while diminishing its negatives is to deploy a hybrid indie web approach.

Imagine an online world in which people hosted their innovative video on large, big-infrastructure platforms like YouTube or Vimeo, but then embedded the players on their own independent web sites. This would allow users to find interesting new video content by leveraging the same style of decentralized trust hierarchies that structure the blogosphere, instead of relying on artificial statistical algorithms tuned to optimize attention extraction.

Because YouTube came along at exactly the moment when broadband penetration made online video practical, we never had a period of indie experimentation before the market consolidated into platform monopolies. I think it’s worth exploring what we missed.

On Blogs in the Social Media Age

December 7th, 2018 · 51 comments

Twitter Defector

Earlier this week, Glenn Reynolds, known online as Instapundit, published an op-ed in USA Today about why he recently quit Twitter. He didn’t hold back, writing:

“[I]f you set out to design a platform that would poison America’s discourse and its politics, you’d be hard pressed to come up with something more destructive than Twitter.”

What really caught my attention, however, is when Reynolds begins discussing the advantages of the blogosphere as compared to walled garden social media platforms.

He notes that blogs represent a loosely coupled system, where the friction of posting and linking slows down the discourse enough to preserve context and prevent the runaway reactions that are possible in tightly coupled systems like Twitter, where a tweet can be retweeted, then retweeted again and again, forming an exponential explosion of pure reactive id.

As a longtime blogger myself, Reynolds’s op-ed got me thinking about other differences between social media and the blogosphere…

Read more »

My New Book: Digital Minimalism

December 4th, 2018 · 45 comments

A Manual for a Focused Life

I’m excited to officially announce my new book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, which will be published on February, 5th.

My last book, Deep Work, tackled the impact of new technologies on the world of work. After it came out, many readers began asking me about the equally important impact of these tools on their personal lives. This new book is my response.

In it, I argue that we have been too casual in adopting alluring new technologies, and as a result our quality of life is diminishing. To solve this problem I propose a philosophy of technology use called digital minimalism in which you radically reduce the time you spend staring at screens, focusing on a small number of digital activities that strongly support things you deeply value, and then happily ignoring the rest.

In addition to arguing why minimalism is a necessary answer to our increasing digital discontentment, I take the reader inside the vibrant subculture of digital minimalists who have already found great satisfaction and authentic meaning in taking back control of their technological lives — highlighting the key principles they use to succeed in adopting this philosophy.

(Among other things, you’ll learn the detailed story of the digital declutter experiment I ran last January as part of my book research, which ended up growing to over 1,600 participants and receiving coverage in the New York Times.)

I will, of course, be writing quite a bit more about these ideas and this book in the weeks ahead. My purpose for now is mainly to bring you up to speed on what I’m up to.

As a final logistical note: if you have already preordered this book, or are planning to preorder it, hold on to your digital receipt, as I’ll soon be offering a large preorder package — including advance content from the book, a detailed look inside my personal productivity systems, and access to private Q&As — as my way of saying thank you. (Preorders are incredibly important for a book launch, so I’m incredibly grateful for anyone who takes the time to support me in this way.)

Stay tuned!

Is Facebook the AOL of the 2010s? A Skeptical Examination of Social Media Network Effects.

November 28th, 2018 · 38 comments

The Law

In economics, a network effect is a positive benefit created by a new user buying a product or joining a service. In the context of computer networks, these benefits are commonly believed to scale quickly with the number of users.

In technology circles, perhaps the best known instantiation of network effects is Metcalfe’s Law, named for Ethernet co-inventor Bob Metcalfe, who was likely inspired by similar theories developed at Bell Telephone in the early 20th century.

This law concerned the value of the Ethernet network cards sold by Metcalfe’s company 3Com. It states that given a network with N users, buying one additional Ethernet card provides you with N new possible network connections (e.g., from the new card to each of the N existing users).

It then follows, roughly speaking, that the value of N network cards grows as N^2 instead of N. Once a network achieves a certain critical size, therefore, the value it returns will quickly begin to far exceed the cost of joining it, creating a powerful positive feedback loop.

Metcalfe’s Law is incredibly influential in Silicon Valley, where it’s often applied to justify the monopoly status of the social media conglomerates. If a network like Facebook has over a 1,000,000,000 users, the law tells us, then its value to users grows as (1,000,000,000)^2 — a quantity so vast that any attempt to compete with this giant must be futile.

It’s widely believed among many Silicon Valley types that this calculus helps explains the lack of venture capital investment in new social media start-ups in recent years. The power of network effects in this sector is unimpeachable.

But should they be?

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