The darker side of minimalism

What we need to consider when presenting our approaches to others is to remember that one size does not fit all.

In his new book Digital Minimalism Cal Newport’s thesis is that to thirve in the modern world we need to spend much less time using technology. I can get on board with that, but there’s something about how the argument is presented that’s not quite sitting right with me.

I feel like his whole thesis is built around what works for him and doesn’t consider that other people’s lives may require a different approach. For example he’s never had a social media account and doesn’t feel he needs one to promote his work, however he’s in the privileged position of being a professor at a US university and therefore already has a platform.

The closest description of how I feel as I’m reading the book is that I’m being patronised. But that doesn’t quite describe the whole feeling. When I read Enough already last week, I think Paul Jarvis gets closer to describing the complexity of it – I feel I’m being judged:

“the problem some folks rightfully have with the entitled talk about minimalism is that when you don’t have enough, it’s hard to hear people talk about optimizing for enough or how they now live with less. It can feel like passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) shaming. It’s hard to be in pre-enough and hear about post-enough—from people urging us to live with and do with less when there’s not even enough to begin with.

It’s equally difficult to have empathy for those in the pre-enough stage if we’re in post-enough, because we’re currently optimizing and making decisions based on reaching something that not everyone has yet. There’s also a massive amount of judgement going around about comparing someone’s enough to someone else’s.”

There’s an important lesson here, I think. It’s to remember that our needs as individuals are different. That a one-size fits all approach rarely works. That we need to make our own decisions about what is enough, or what success look like. And to bring it back to the topic of the book, to choose what technologies we use and why.

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