Digital Minimalism

Saturday, January 18, 2020
This post is going to be a little different than my usual, I think, because it's kind of a mix of a few things. I'm going to be talking about a book - Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport - and also talking about my experiences and thoughts around the idea of digital minimalism. Here we go.

First of all, let's talk about the book. I actually can't remember how I found out about this book - it might have been a YouTuber, or perhaps a blogger, or maybe it was even mentioned in another book I was reading, but I was intrigued by the premise and very happy to find that my library had it, so put a reservation on a copy and eagerly awaited its arrival. This book is one that basically does what it says in the tagline - On Living Better with Less Technology - but it also goes much deeper than that. Not only does it talk about why we might benefit from a 'digital detox', but it also nudges you into finding things to fill the space that you are freeing up by not checking social media twenty times a day (or more). 

The book is neatly split into two chunks - part one ('Foundations') talks about the research behind how technology can negatively impact us, talks about how detoxes can help, and basically gives you an idea of what Digital Minimalism is all about. Part Two ('Practices') takes you through different ways of reclaiming your time and attention, and also provides small anecdotes from people who have employed these practices to great results. And that is particularly why I like this book - it provides stories from actual people. Having that human element, instead of just a book full of data, makes this such an excellent read, and more inspiring (at least I think so) for the reader. 

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am not always a huge fan of social media. I have deleted my Facebook twice (I only got it back the first time for a job that I later realised I intensely disliked), and haven't used Facebook for about five years now. I think I have a Twitter... I may have deleted that, too. I certainly never really understood the appeal and found the frenetic activity to just be overwhelming and not for me. I will say that, as a teenager, I was a dedicated MySpace user (if you don't remember MySpace, that's okay), but even that eventually lost its appeal. The only social media that I use these days is Instagram (and perhaps Goodreads, if you count that, which I don't particularly because I'm not on there for the social aspect, really, just the book-tracking aspect). I have a fear of notifications - too many and I get anxious - and have switched off the majority of them. I don't even really like phone calls, if I'm honest, which is not unique to me, but certainly made me anxiety bad back when my job was literally to answer the phone

So, yes, Digital Minimalism is my kind of book. Absolutely.

But, here's the thing, it still managed to show me something new. Much like my love of Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki, my love of Digital Minimalism is mostly because it didn't just talk about the reasons behind why we get addicted to things, and why we might consider doing without those things, it also helped me gain the tools to actually try. A few other books and articles that I have read about taking breaks from social media and such simply suggested.. well, that. Take a break. Or turn off notifications. But I was already doing that, and I would just end up going back, or feeling like the expectation was that I would go back because, heck, I had nothing else better to do. 

But with Digital Minimalism, Newport reminds you how important it is to find out what you want to do when you're disconnected, so you won't reinforce the message in your own mind that you absolutely cannot do without checking your phone right this second. He particularly recommends digging out old hobbies that may not require the use of a computer or phone - particularly anything where you make something new - a piece of art, a chair, a dress! But, somewhat paradoxically, he also reminds us that we can use technology to help us - just try to use less of it. For example, he says to try using YouTube to watch a video on how to make said chair, or how to fix that fan in your bathroom, or how to... carve a spoon! Doing this means that you're using technology in a more non-addictive manner (as long as you don't then go on to watch all the music videos from Glee or something), and it's also contributing towards your creation of something new, rather than having spent the time scrolling for the past two hours.

I have actually been off Instagram for a couple of weeks now. I've done this before, but previously I think I always had an end date in mind. This time I don't. I've realised that I split my focus so often that I often think I don't have time or energy to dedicate to things like... writing blog posts. Or writing in general. And there's still some truth to my not having enough energy - more often than not, I just don't. But I am pretty rich in time (small aside: this time is not always use-able. I am often too sick or have too much brain fog to think straight, so I am showing myself compassion by not forcing myself to write during those times. And we're back in...) and I realised I was dedicating a lot of my time to scrolling, or watching things that I actually was only maybe 30% interested in. Another book I recently finished - Essentialism by Greg McKeown - suggests that if something is not at least 90% yes, it's a no. I am fascinated by this idea, and have started tentatively introducing it into my mind. I often say yes to things, or avoid saying anything so that other people end up deciding for me. I will say, this doesn't apply to everything (I personally don't fell that I am saying yes to being chronically ill), but it's an interesting mindset to have when thinking about what to direct your focus towards. And, right now, Instagram is only a 20% yes, and that 20% was mostly cozy photos that relax me, and getting to know what a select few friends were up to (the latter forced me to reach out to said friends so we could chat more, separately from Instagram; the former... well, I can just google cozy photos if I want).

I have removed all games from my phone, have reduced my notifications down even more, and actually know how to re-program my Do Not Disturb function for the first time in my entire life (I didn't even know you could set preferences with that!). As a strange side-effect, I am also watching way less YouTube than I usually do. I'm still watching it and, when I am feeling too sick to even read, it's still my go-to, but more often than not, I'm finding myself thinking 'I could be reading/painting/writing right now...' and so off I go to do that instead.

I honestly don't know if I will continue down this road. I don't know what tomorrow will bring - a return to Insta and the creation of a new Facebook account? (The latter is extremely doubtful...) Or me retreating to a cabin a la Walden? (That actually sounds really good...) Either way, I'm really enjoying experimenting with my focus and attention, and I am so happy to be writing so much on this blog lately. So, more of that would be nice.

Love to all who read. 

(And yes, I do notice the irony of writing about Digital Minimalism on a blog that can only be accessed via technology. But I didn't check social media once whilst writing this, so I call that a win.)

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