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Digital Minimalism and Ancestral Health (Or, Would Grok Tweet?)

The ancestral health movement argues that over long periods of time, evolution adapts species to their environments. It follows that when it comes to human well-being, we should pay attention to how we ate and behaved throughout the vast majority of our evolutionary history.

Like most lifestyle movements, ancestral health has spawned its share of hucksters and extremists, but the underlying logic seems self-evident, and the success stories can be compelling.

After recent appearances on Paleo Magazine Radio and Mark Hyman’s podcast, and my embrace of Mark Sisson’s advice to help stay lean and energized on book tour, I’ve begun to think more about the natural intersection of digital minimalism and ancestral health.

Consider these points, all of which I provide detailed arguments for in Digital Minimalism:

  • Humans have evolved to build strong social connections with family, close friends, and community through face-to-face interactions that require non-trivial sacrifices of time and energy. (For more on this, see Chapter 5, or the book Social.)
  • The human brain requires regular periods of “solitude” in which it is alone with its own thoughts and observing the world around it. (For more on this, see Chapter 4, or the book Lead Yourself First.)
  • Humans have a strong drive to see their intentions manifested concretely in the world, be it shaping a spear, starting a fire, or bending electrical conduit into an efficient pattern. (For more on this, see Chapter 6, or the book Shop Class as Soulcraft.)

A side effect of our current techno-culture is that it radically diminishes these ancestral drive in our daily lives.

Social media, for example, reduces our sociality to low-friction online likes and comments, which provide a simulacrum of connection, but are barely recognized by our primal brain as socializing at all — leaving us paradoxically lonelier.

Algorithmically-optimized distraction delivered through a ubiquitous screen provides a pleasant escape in the moment from the difficulties of our lives, but it also banishes every last vestige of solitude, throwing our brains into a shocked state of low grade anxiety.

As we become used to these spoon-fed digital trinkets, we also become less likely to put up with the friction involved in high quality leisure activities, like coercing your fingers to cleanly place a guitar chord — stymying our brains instinct to shape things with our hands.

Which is to all say that it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that if you’re serious about ancestral health, you should be as concerned about your iPhone and Instagram as you are about grain and sugar, as the former are equally as foreign to our evolutionary adaptations.

To live like Grok in our modern world, in other words, probably requires a minimalist’s skepticism toward new technology.

28 thoughts on “Digital Minimalism and Ancestral Health (Or, Would Grok Tweet?)”

  1. One powerful source of high quality leisure for men is traditionally masculine activities: weightlifting, hunting, boxing, clay shooting, etc.

    One issue that I’ve had with incorporating high quality leisure is that some forms just aren’t that fun (learning a language, etc.), so they don’t stick.

    But these things scratch a primal manly itch, are fun, and make you feel badass. Especially anything involving guns.

    They’re also easy to get a group of guys together for, so you get some in-person brotherhood while you’re at it.

    • I’ve noticed a recent rise of interest in bow hunting, and I wonder if this is due, in part, to the more primal instincts involved in predicting the flight of an arrow, which is a lot more kinesthetic than firing a rifle…

  2. Cal – I think it is important that you include ‘LinkedIn’ when you reference ‘services’ e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. I’ve never seen it references. I actually think LinkedIn is one of the worst since it has the standard ‘likes’ and ‘comment’ levers, but it also has one other, that the others don’t, which is ‘who has viewed your profile’. This is pervasive. Talk about a slot machine. Constantly checking to see who has ‘viewed your profile’ and then a new person pops up – ka-ching… Now that would be debilitating.

    • LinkedIn does seem to fly under the radar. Last time I seriously engaged with it the main benefit it offered was the 2-degree of separation business connections, which seemed really useful (Reid Hoffman blurbed SO GOOD). I should take a look at what they’re up to today…

    • For regular knowledge workers that haven’t achieved celebrity status (think Linus Torvalds), LinkedIn is definitely a valuable job search tool, only if you don’t use the platform it like you would FaceBook.

      I’ve found that keeping my work profile current – not obsessively, just once every six months – keeps recruiters interested in reaching out to me with software job opportunities. Without my LinkedIn profile, they won’t know I exist.

      As for the ‘who has viewed your profile’, you can turn it off in the settings. And definitely get rid of the LinkedIn app on the phone.

      • I agree, LinkedIn can be very valuable for career management – most recruiters use it at some point to source for candidates. Even if you’re not actively job searching at the moment, having an up-to-date profile can make it easier for opportunities to find you.

        While face-to-face networking is always ideal (I think professional associations are the best!), LinkedIn offers a good alternative for when that isn’t an option. If you’re looking to relocate or your job requires heavy travel, it can be a way to meet professionals in your industry and maintain contact until you have the opportunity to connect more directly.

    • LinkedIn is the only platform like social media that I use, and it was a trade off from Tumblr. You might compare it with, in that although there are ads they don’t do data mining, at leas anywhere near FB or Google. And like WP there is a paid version .. as the saying goes though, most people who pay for LinkedIn don’t know how to use the free features.

      There are tons of LinkedIn gurus now, so the one I have found to be the most down to earth, and makes understanding the platform digestible is Wayne BreitBarth, here at the link he explains why it’s important to know who viewed your LinkedIn profile .. hope you find it helpful.

  3. Cal, I understand your points of opposing social media especially facebook, twitter, instagram etc. but what would you say when it comes to matrimony sites. Is it the right way to find your match on these sites or Does it falls into the category of attention hijacking products among many.( Any suggestions regarding this topic will be highly appreciated)

    • You mean dating sites? Generally speaking, one of the better uses of the internet is help to enable *more* quality real world activity — liking going on dates — so it seems like a good thing.

      That being said, if you’re instead replacing real relationships with compulsive tinder swiping, this is probably not great for long term well-being…

      • Cal, what you just said in this matter makes a lot of sense in fact it is really a effective solution for the situation I discussed. Thanks for the suggestion. I appreciate it.

    • Anamta – do not use them. They jack up with our mating processes and rituals. Worse, they jack up with your rejection coping mechanism as an online rejection is not the same of a real-life rejection.
      I think Victor Pride on discusses about them and how bad they actually are.

      • EA – Thanks for the reference. If you follow Victor Pride, Bold and determined vision then I want you to know that I am a toxic less feminine girl. I Thank God that I have born in such a nice family where I have been taught the difference between right and wrong. I am so lucky. All praise belongs to God.

  4. Hey Cal,

    This is probably preaching to the choir, but since you (broadly speaking) compare social media to sugar, I thought this might resonate:

    “In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.”

    • That link was a good article, thanks! I already quit checking the news over a year ago and have not missed it one bit. It’s always bad news; it made me feel bad! Now, if something is important or relevant enough in the news, I find it through word of mouth. 99% of news I do not need to know. The sensationalism also is detrimental I think.

    • Subscribe to a printed, real newspaper. Problem solved, and you’ll get much better info without the drama and clickbait. Do NOT watch news.

      • Printed newspapers are a great technology. I read the Washington Post every morning. It’s efficient. Exposes you to a variety of articles (as oppose to clickbait). Keeps you informed on the big things you should know about without unnecessary sensationalism.

  5. I fully agree Cal. I believe humans have essentially created zoos for themselves and I don’t mean that facetiously.

    Just as when we take wild animals out of their natural habitat and plop them into small concrete environments, give them food on regular schedules (rather than allowing them to hunt or gather), give them play toys, etc… you get lethargic, depressive animals

    I would argue that when you take wild, roaming humans off out of the wild and plop them down in these isolated boxes called houses in the suburbs, where they travel to work in isolated steel boxes, where they quietly sit at desks typing on plastic keyboards, are ‘fed’ regular paychecks and 3-5 meals a day in exchange for the perceived safety and regularity of it all…you tend to get lethargic, depressive humans.

    I wrote a bit about the human zoo concept here a few years ago:


  6. Dear Cal,

    I love your posts, but sometimes my attempt at “deep reading” is hijacked by the hyperlinks. When I see the hyperlinks I inadvertently want to click and see the content (does not that resemble getting lost in feeds with lots of novel stimuli?).

    Maybe it’s just me, but “digitally minimized blog posts” mght be a thing in the future!

    Thanks again for your thoughtful pieces.

  7. I can’t even express in words how much better my life is without a smartphone, instagram etc. I’m thirty years old and the thought of getting a landline phone like I had when I was a kid excites me more than it should. Haha.

    Your books have changed my life tremendously.

    Thanks for all that you do, Cal.

  8. For example, when I am on a bus, I play chess through the app or read books, articles. Is it considered to be normal? I just sometimes can’t know the boundary when the screen time is useful or unhealthy. Maybe I am really tired from constantly looking into screen and it’s time to replace ebooks with paper books.

  9. Cool post Cal, but I have to comment to say that that website (daily apple) is a hive of woo and quackery, man! This “paleo” path is a slippery one, rife with pseudoscience. This concerns me because your deep work hypothesis swayed me on its basis in evidence and solid theory, but lately I’ve been troubled by what seems to me a gradual slip into something else resembling less a theoretical framework for a specific set of circumstances and more a lifestyle dogma. A hypothesis that gradually expands to include more and more phenomena is due for a hard re-examination and razoring Occam-style. Just some thoughts.

  10. Sisson is an unqualified oaf spouting little more than whatever anti-scientific gibberish will sell next. Since you’re in the DC area, talk to someone like Heather Caplan (an RD with a working knowledge of actual health research) and pay attention to things like Intuitive Eating.


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