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Episode 77
Featuring Cal Newport
Demetri Kofinas speaks with professor of computer science Cal Newport, about Digital Minimalism and the act of “choosing life” in a surveillance economy that is governed by algorithms scientifically engineered for addiction, supervision, and control.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Cal Newport about his latest book, Digital Minimalism and the act of “choosing life” in a hyperconnected world.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” writes, transcendentalist author and essayist Henry David Thoreau, in the first chapter of Walden titled, “Economy.” “But men labor under a mistake...the improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of man's existence.” In an effort to uncover those “essential laws” Thoreau went to the woods: “I wished to live deliberately,” he says, “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear;”

What is often missed in Thoreau’s reflections from his 2-year excursion into the woodlands of Concord, Massachusetts, is the rigor with which he calculated, measured, and weighed those “essential facts of life.” Philosopher Frédéric Gros calls Thoreau’s “New Economics,” a theory that builds on the following axiom, which Thoreau establishes early in Walden: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” “The striking thing with Thoreau,” Gros argues, “is not the actual content of the argument. After all, sages in earliest Antiquity had already proclaimed their contempt for possessions…what impresses is the form of the argument. For Thoreau’s obsession with calculation runs deep…he says: keep calculating, keep weighing. What exactly do I gain, or lose?”

In the century and a half since its publication, Thoreau’s economics – his methodology for apprehending the cost of a thing by weighing and measuring it against the dearness of life’s value – has been supplanted by allegiance to growth at all costs. But unlike the “mass of men” about which Thoreau writes in the mid-19th century, today’s society is burdened by more than just the labor of miscalculation. In today’s hyperconnected, surveillance economy, the mass of humanity has lost autonomy over that calculation, ceding authority to the commands of a new technocracy that governs the behavioral forces of our primitive biology through platforms scientifically engineered for addiction, supervision, and control.

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Cal Newport is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University. He started blogging at calnewport.com in 2007 while a graduate student at MIT and has authored six books, including Deep Work and So Good They Can't Ignore You. In recent years, he’s been primarily writing about the intersection of technology and society. He is particularly interested in the impact of new technologies on our ability to perform productive work, as well as on our ability to lead interesting and satisfying lives.

You won't find him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, but you can often find him at home with his family in Washington, DC, or writing essays for his popular website calnewport.com.

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