Russ Allbery of the Debian project writes reviews of books he has read on his blog. It was through Russ's review that I learned of "Deep Work" by Cal Newport, and duly requested it from my local library.
I've a long-held skepticism of self-help books, but several aspects of this one strike the right notes for me. The author is a Computer Scientist, so there's a sense of kinship there, but the writing also follows the standard academic patterns of citing sources and a certain rigour to the new ideas that are presented. Despite this, there are a few sections of the book which I felt lacked much supporting evidence, or where some obvious questions of the relevant concept were not being asked. One of the case studies in the book is of a part-time PhD student with a full-time job and a young child, which I can relate to. The author obviously follows his own advice: he runs a productivity blog at calnewport.com and has no other social media presences. One of the key productivity tips he espouses in the book (and elsewhere) is simply "quit social media".
Through Newport's blog I learned that the title of his next book is Digital Minimalism. This intrigued me, because since I started thinking about minimalism myself, I've wondered about the difference of approach needed between minimalism in the "real world" and the digital domains. It turns out the topic of Newport's next book is about something different: from what I can tell, focussing on controlling how one spends one's time online for maximum productivity.
That's an interesting topic which I have more to write about at some point. However, my line of thought for the title "digital minimalism" spawned from reading Marie Kondo, Fumio Sakai and others. Many of the tips they offer to their readers revolve around moving meaning away from physical clutter and into the digital domain: scan your important papers, photograph your keepsakes, and throw away the physical copies. It struck me that whilst this was useful advice for addressing the immediate problem of clutter in the physical world, it exacerbates the problem of digital clutter, especially if we don't have good systems for effectively managing digital archives. Broadly speaking, I don't think we do: at least, not ones that are readily accessible to the majority of people. I have a hunch that most have no form of data backup in place at all, switch between digital hosting services on a relatively ad-hoc manner (flickr, snapchat, instagram…) and treat losing data (such as when an old laptop breaks, or a tablet or phone is stolen) as a fact of life, rather than something that could be avoided if our tools (or habits, or both) were better.