Unclutter your life - Digital Minimalism

Digital Minimalism

Allow me to gloat a little before I get into the meat of the matter. You know that feeling you get when a scientific study comes out that says that some activity, that you have been already been doing for some time, is proven to be good for you. That is exactly how I am feeling right now. Validated. About the choices that I have made. It is a pretty good feeling.

I recently finished Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (highly recommended) and it is this book that has given me affirmation about the choices I have made about using social media. I was sure that like me there must be many people who wanted to break out of the social media trap and reclaim their lives but never imagined that this was something of a moment. There is a whole bunch of “Digital Minimalists” who are actively working to reclaim their lives from the clutches of technology. The book provides a well researched and scientific proof of the thoughts and hunches I had that made me a “digital minimalist”. (I did not even know there was a term for what I had become).

If I had to summarize the whole book in one sentence than it would be -

Digital Minimalism is a philosophy of technology use in such a way that you make it work for you buy supporting the things you value and not the other way round.

If you ask yourself and everyone around you, they will all agree that they are aware that they use social media way more than they know is good for them. To put it bluntly - we are addicted. And here’s the kicker it is not because we are lazy or lack the intelligence to kick these habits but because billions of dollars are invested to make these services immensely addictive. There is a whole “attention economy” in place which makes sure that you spend as much time on their apps as possible. Your time = their money. This is a seriously lopsided fight where you are alone against billion-dollar businesses and their teams of researchers.

Here I would try to summarise the steps that Cal has mentioned in the book as best and succinctly as possible but I strongly recommend that you still read this book. The research behind these steps is extensive and detailed enough to convince you that you need digital minimalism in your life. Even if you use social media and attention-grabbing technology very little you will still learn many valuable things from this book.

  1. Identify all non-essential “optional” technology (apps, sites, news portals, video games) that you currently indulge in. The definition might vary from person to person but it is safe to assume that Instagram is optional while email probably is not.
  2. Put a hard stop to all these “optional” technologies for 30 days. A hard stop means a hard stop. No small measures like trying to restrict daily usage or a weekly “technology fast” - these things never work. You are literally banning the use of these technologies for 30 days. In case banning entirely is not possible, you define operating procedures for these technologies. Something like I will only check Facebook every Friday in the evening. Make them as restrictive as possible.
  3. Before you actually start the 30-day lockdown, it is imperative that you have figured out things that you will replace these technologies to fill the time that has been freed up by removing these technologies from our lives. On average a user spends about 50 mins daily on Facebook (including all Facebook properties). That along with all the other technologies will mean you are going to have a lot more free time on your hand. And if you don’t find appropriate higher-quality activities to fill this time you will soon gravitate back towards these technologies.
  4. The first few days, even weeks will be hard but you will soon realize that you don’t miss these technologies as much as you thought you would. The thought that we will miss out on a lot if we stay away from FB, Insta, Twitter, etc will eventually turn out to have been an unfounded myth all along. If you have chosen good high-quality activities to replace the optional tech then within a month you will yourself see how you are living a much better, uncluttered life.
  5. At the end of the 30 days, you will reintroduce those technologies back into your life. But this time it’s not going to be like it was earlier. You will evaluate each technology and figure out if this technology serves something that you deeply value and if that’s the case, is it the best technology to serve that value. If you think that you need to use FB to stay in touch with your friends and family then you need to evaluate if FB truly is the best way to do so. If you eventually decide that you will be using this tech then define operating procedures for the tech.
  6. Learn to spend time with our thoughts. The book has a beautiful section about how our current lives have deprived us of any solitude and how it is bad for us. I don’t think I will do it justice by trying to summarize it. Just get the book.

I had been doing most of these things already and I am extremely happy with the outcome. I will not be an ass and claim that this is the only right way of living and anyone who does not live like this is living an inferior life. But. I will surely say that I have lived the tech addict life and I can tell you that my life is much calmer and controlled than it ever was. Here is how I follow digital minimalism.

  1. I do not have any social media apps on my phone. None. I deleted Facebook in Dec 2017, Instagram early 2018, Twitter early 2019, and even LinkedIn faced a deletion last month. I still do access these things (Not FB though. That shit is banned.) but only from my secondary home computer. Lack of easy access makes abstinence much easier to control.
  2. The only social media/news portal that I remained addicted to until last week was Reddit. I will not lie - I was wasting way too much time there stuck in the infinite scroll. Thankfully last week I kicked that habit as well. I defined a string operating procedure to stay away from Reddit and still be able to use it well. I wrote a quick script that is deployed on my Raspberry Pi which runs at scheduled times and emails me the top links from selected subreddits as a digest. This way I am not still able to gain value from Reddit without getting stuck in the rabbit hole.
  3. I do not participate in any Whatsapp group conversations except the work-related one. If it was not for my work, I would have gotten rid of WhatsApp as well.
  4. Manage the notifications on your phone. Not every notification is necessary and not every app needs to send you notifications. Be very restrictive about your notifications. Each time your phone buzzes because of some notification you run the risk of being pulled by one of the addictive technologies. And I include Google News in one of those. Make your phone chirp less. I don’t allow any apps other than email, financial, and eCommerce/vehicle tracking to send me notifications.
  5. Get a watch. Most of us have stopped wearing watches because we can now check the time on our iPhones. Every time you open your phone to check the time you make yourself vulnerable to getting sucked into other things that you could do on your phone.
  6. I went a step further and got a smartwatch. Now I don’t even have to keep the phone on my person all the time. The amount of anxiety this single action has taken away from my life is immeasurable. I can always be certain that I will not miss out on anything urgent as my watch will vibrate and let me know. It totally got rid of the phantom notifications that we all encounter when we feel that the phone vibrated in our pocket but when we check, there’s nothing there. A dedicated post about this soon. Subscribe to my newsletter to get it in your inbox.
  7. I do not binge-watch anything. Netflix etc are restricted to 2 weeknights and 1 weekend.
  8. I am working on incorporating solitude in my life. Let me figure it out and come back with a new blog post once I have a strategy in place.

I know all this is easier said than done. But I also know that this is very doable. I have done it. You just need to realize that you have fallen victim to a trap laid by giant corporations who want you to give them all of your time so that they can sell that to advertisers. Don’t be the product. Reclaim your life.

Buy Digital Minimalism from Amazon.

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