Without a doubt, it is easy to get lost in this saturation of technology. But, technology is a double-edged sword. It has its benefits- accessible entertainment, quick sources of distraction from stress, limitless interconnection of information, a lifeline to friends and family. At the same time, the digital excess often disperses our attention and focus, potentially leaving us feeling exhausted and unsatisfied at the same time.
Living with less of this digital noise is difficult, but not unattainable. To live with less is to live with more, but such a lifestyle of minimalism entails commitment and thoughtfulness. Change must come from within, first. In the words of ARTICLE22 collaborator and world-renowned model and environmentalist Angela Lindvall, “peace begins in me.”
PHILOSOPHY OF INTENTIONALITY AND FOCUS
The first step is committing to a philosophy that highlights intentionality and purpose. Digital minimalism, a term coined by author and computer scientist Cal Newport, emphasizes that our relationships with our apps, tools, and phones are nuanced and deserve more intention.
It is easy to immediately go to the common-sense fixes: turn off your notifications, delete your apps, or even give up your smart phone entirely. But digital minimalism also requires a thoughtful method to declutter your digital life and decide how you would shape it around the values that matter to you.
It involves a thoughtful process of auditing your existence in the digital world-- identifying how much time you spend on Facebook or Twitter, how much of your online presence is habitual and how much is not, which communication technologies you depend on professionally, and so on-- and distilling it to only the things that support your values in life.
3 CORE ELEMENTS OF DIGITAL MINIMALISM
You are not completely giving up technology. You use it with consciousness and purpose rather than with compulsion.
After decluttering, you are restoring back to your life tools, apps, digital practices that WORK for you. You weed out the good from the bad of technology.
You happily miss out on things that are ultimately expendable, and commit to using technology with intention, focus, and purpose.
As the pandemic forces all of us to examine how we engage in our relationships with family and friends, our jobs, and our lifestyles, it also presents an opportunity to reevaluate how we connect online. In his book Digital Minimalism, Newport recommends a 30-day cleanse, where you would remove all optional technologies– apps, tools, and websites that are not essential to your professional or personal life. This requires a high level of commitment, but there are different steps you can try out first to get a feel of what digital minimalism is like.
EXPERIMENT IN DIGIAL MINIMALISM
1. QUICK FIXES
- Turn off notifications, and set a time to check your emails and notifications once a day or week.
- Go a day without using your phone
- Use a website blocking software for 1 week
- Instead of scrolling through social media, be actively social- call old friends, initiate conversations with the people you follow
- Delete your 5 most addictive apps for 1 week
- Don’t bring your phone when you go to a dinner or a get together
- Don’t use your earphones when you are running, walking, biking, or commuting
- The next time you feel bored when you’re in line for the supermarket or when you are getting food, don’t check your phone. Talk to the people around you.
- Instead of playing video games, commit yourself to playing board games with family or friends.
2. DETERMINE YOUR OPTIONAL TECHNOLOGY
Once you already got a feel of the digital minimalism lifestyle and are ready to commit to the declutter, it’s time to define your technology rules. Decide which apps and tools are optional, and remove them. Optional technology includes all technology except those that are vital to the daily operation of your professional or personal life.
Newport also suggests you come up with operating procedures to specify the hows and whens of using a particular technology and enables critical uses.
Now it’s time to take a break from your optional technology for 30 days. This break is crucial in honing your focus and clarity, which are both going to help you carefully make decisions at the end when you reintroduce some of these optional technologies to your life.
Consider: Keeping a journal and tracking your ‘technology triggers.’ Spending more alone time. Reclaiming leisure time. Being alone with your thoughts and being proactively accessible in the real world.
This stage is more crucial than you might think. Your ultimate goal is to start from a blank slate and only let back into your life technology that passes your strict minimalist standards.
Your 30-day break is like placing the different aspects of your digital existence in a recycling bin. After taking your time to detox, now is the time to figure out which of these things really add value to your life, and restore them with a stringent set of rules you commit to.
Newport poses questions that you need to answer:
- Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value?
- Is this technology the best way to support this value?
- How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?
Once you reintroduce technology in your life, it’s time to commit. Newport highlights the importance of operating procedures. You set which apps and tools you still want to use, how much you want to use it, and when do you want to use it. Maintaining these operating procedures is crucial in maintaining a thoughtful, purposeful, and empowering use of technology.
HAPPILY MISS OUT
In the end, the goal of digital minimalism is understanding that your relationship with technology is nuanced and complex. Technology will always have its negatives and positives. The end goal is finding a delicate balance between them, where you take charge of your digital existence-- with intentionality and the conscious goal of shaping it around the values that matter to you.
Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (book)