Avoiding Excess…For Science

When you become fully immersed in a lifestyle or movement, you begin to look at people you meet, hobbies you start, and work you do through the eyes of that new perspective. This is exactly what happened to me. First, I grew to appreciate the wide variety of folks brought onto the Art of Manliness podcast. Then, I grew to find minimalism a very helpful, and important, part of my life.

Inevitably, I started looking for cross-sections between the two. One that I learned about the placement of traditional values and skills in a modern world, the other about emphasizing the things I find truly important and washing away the rest.

One of the folks that I began appreciating the most from the Art of Manliness podcasts is Cal Newport. This guy seemed to have his mind in a very minimalist place while making the most of a very realistic, modern world.

He writes frequently on productivity in a hectic world, and when I saw his TEDx talk about leaving social media to focus on what really matters in his life (do you see the connection yet?), I just knew. I felt it.

Without a doubt, even if this guy doesn’t go by the title, he is a freaking minimalist.

And I knew I was going to argue for one of these blog posts that this guy is a minimalist, even if he doesn’t say it. Well, he does. Sort of. As a computer science professor, and author of several books on business-productivity, he takes logic and credibility very seriously.

In an article I read recently, even though it was written at the end of 2016, he talks on the merits of digital minimalism.

“Great,” I thought. “He may not wear the title on his name tag, but this is definitely a way a step forward.” Well, he takes it a few more steps and states that some of his influences are friends and authors that he reads from, such as Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists, Josh Becker of Becoming Minimalist, and a few others.

Now, looking at this alignment, it certainly helps his case in arguing that digital minimalism is a crucial notion for anyone in our modern age to adopt. And by laying out his points and elaborating on them thoroughly, he lays out his logos like a red carpet for readers to follow.

I also particularly enjoy that he stays as objective as he can towards his chosen work field: computer science. He writes at the beginning of his post,

On the one hand, I’m a computer scientist who studies and improves these tools. As you might therefore expect, I’m incredibly optimistic about the role of computing and networks in our future.

On the other hand, as a writer I’m often pointing out my dissatisfaction with certain developments of the Internet Era. I’m critical, for example, of our culture’s increasingly Orwellian allegiance to social media and am indifferent to my smartphone.

So, he’s not saying that he works with technologies to make money while he spites everything that the internet is about. He focuses his criticism on the overgrowth of menial technologies that claim positivity while bringing mostly idle vapidity.

Above all else, however, he notes at the bottom that the arguments pertain to personal life, not business potential. There is great potential for modern technologies to benefit our global communities, digital and physical alike. It’s just that they can’t be let off the leash quite yet.

The bottom line of this general thinking is that a simple, carefully curated, minimalist digital life is not a rejection of technology or a reactionary act of skepticism; it is, by contrast, an embrace of the immense value these new tools can offer…if we’re willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to best leverage them on behalf of the things we truly care about.

By displaying an ability to relentlessly, yet constructively, criticize the technologies that don’t work, he sets the stage for folks to contribute to fixing the problem. As a scientist, he sees that there is vast potential. As a minimalist, he looks to separate and emphasize it.

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