Digital Minimalism: why it’s time to evaluate your use of technology
If you’re on Goodreads you’ll be familiar with the book goal. This year I want to read 20 books and am 60% way through. Last year I read a lot of non-fiction, but this year, I’ve gravitated towards fiction. Most of my non-fiction info and ideas have come from podcasts. I’m an avid podcast listener, and one of my favourites, The Rich Roll Podcast, interviewed Cal Newport. Newport’s latest book: Digital Minimalism is the focus of this post, thanks to that podcast. Here’s some information around the book to add to your reading list.
Social media uses the same tactics casinos do to keep us coming back for more
Cal Newport has written numerous books and doesn’t have any social media. The one thing that REALLY stuck with me from his interview is that social media is designed around the same principles that casinos use for slot machines. I hate casinos, and especially slot machines because I just don’t get the point as I’m not using my brain. I’m just pushing buttons – kind of exactly like refreshing a social media feed. I had been tricked by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! My work involves social media but I also know that I spend way too much time online. I knew I just had to read Digital Minimalism.
We have adapted to crave social approval. A lack of positive feedback creates distress and never quite meets the bar. Social media is great at exploiting this e.g. immediately responding to notifications, that feeling you get when someone likes your post – these all cause real feelings and in some cases anxiety. If someone unfollows you, it’s the same feeling as if you were snubbed in public.
So WTF is Digital Minimalism?
Newport had written a book on what impact an always-on environment has in the workplace. People wanted to take this a step further, and wondered how this impacted their personal lives. Digital Minimalism takes an in-depth look at the effects of a connected culture and what we can do about it. The book starts with the premise, that I think most of us feel, is that we spend too much time online. There is a niggling feeling that something is just a little off. Perhaps you constantly compare yourself to others on the Gram or feel anxious. We feel like we are losing control or autonomy.
Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital Minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It’s the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world.
This doesn’t mean you become a Luddite and throw away all technology, but rather that you evaluate your use thereof. Ask yourself, “Is this the best use of this technology?”
Work out the cost in life: the amount of life that is required for something now or later. It’s not measured in money but rather time. What are the demands on your time and attention?
Keep calculating what you gain or lose as a result of going online: what’s the cost of being there on your phone rather than experiencing the moment?
I sometimes do this. As part of my job, I run a food Instagram account. Whenever I go out for dinner I think this would be good for social media. One day I was at a fine dining restaurant with my SO and I decided to just enjoy the moment instead of trying to get photos. But sometimes I do take photos and interrupt the moment.
How to start the optimisation process
This is not a detox as its something you want to continue to do. It is important to take a break from new technology before setting up rules you’d like to follow because you’ll still be under the influence of technology. A break allows you to see things differently.
Only remove or limit new technology if it doesn’t create harm to people or your work life. This will allow you to set parameters you can follow.
Does this tech offer value or support an important value?
Is this tech the best way to support this value?
A good place to start is to check your phone usage. Most phones show you how much time you spend on certain apps and activities. I checked mine and was surprised to see that Instagram takes up a lot of my time. While I do need it for work, a lot of my time is spent looking at animals (my current obsession is possums) and going through my feed.
There are some people I follow that if I saw them in public, I wouldn’t go up and hug them and catch up, yet I know so much about their lives via Instagram. What is the point of this? Be very selective of who you follow.
We recently had no electricity for just over 30 hours. Once I got home I realised there was no wifi and because I wasn’t able to charge my phone, I couldn’t listen to a podcast. I needed all the battery I could get because I use my cellphone as my alarm. It was a weird feeling coming home and being quiet. My mind started to race and I realised that being alone with my thoughts started to cause some anxiety. I wasn’t used to this. I’m only used to this when I meditate in the mornings. I have a phone that constantly distracts me.
The importance of spending time alone
An always-on world is taking away the time we usually had to be alone with your thoughts. Tech provides a constant distraction and is a knee jerk response to boredom.
When was the last time you just did nothing and sat there all alone with your thoughts? This constant connectivity actually undermines time with the self. Newport calls this constant distraction Solitude Deprivation. For the first time in history, we are having fewer glimpses of solitude and this is “pushing us toward a newly alienated phase in our relationship with our own minds”.
We are losing the ability to think and feel our emotions. It causes anxiety because our brains never shut down. Our brains aren’t meant to always be on.
Paradoxically solitude actually helps with real-life face-to-face relationships as you build an appreciation for connections. Other benefits include:
clarify hard problems
build moral courage
Value conversation over connection
This clip from Vacation gets the point across perfectly. The friend saw her friend’s pictures of Paris but didn’t like them. It’s like being unfriended or blocked by someone – even though it doesn’t really matter it really does.
How to put this into practice
Leave your phone at home. Usually, the need for a phone is exaggerated.
Take long walks.
Write letters to yourself or keep a journal.
Don’t click like. You are feeding the beast and creating a cycle that will never quite make you feel complete.
Only check your phone at certain times during the day.
Switch off notifications to non-vital apps.
Opt for a face-to-face interaction if possible – this helps develop neural networks that social media stuns.
Only watch Netflix with people or limit yourself to two episodes in a single sitting.
The idea is to create your own parameters. And you WILL feel uncomfortable because you have become dependent on your phone, but after taking a step back, you can evaluate your life and work out what matters most to you. You may even realise that Instagram is the best thing since sliced bread – it’s all about your values.
December is a good time to reclaim leisure
Sure your snaps won’t be on Stories and people won’t get envious, but your mental health is way more important. 2019 has been a tough year for a lot of people and we all need a break. I plan on switching off and reading. I will need to check social media because of my job but that will be limited to posting and responding to comments for a few minutes a day.
Set up parameters for your December holiday and see how you feel. Do things just because they are fun. Switch off and relax. I’m going to do this and will report back in 2020.
Technology is not bad or evil. I love Twitter because it is a great resource for me to learn about SEO. I used Facebook groups to learn more about my pets and get through their passing. And as mentioned, I use Instagram for looking at possums. These are all good things.
Digital Minimalism is about looking at your technology consumption and seeing what you can get rid of to make your life better. And that is a good thing.
Disclosure: I used my own cash money to buy this book.
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