This year, I’ve been slowly doing a slow declutter of our home and contents [no books, artworks, music or yarn has been thrown out so you can all breathe a sigh of relief] but also of all the digital detritus that was making me go slightly crazy.
You see, I noticed my attention waning and I had to do something to get it back. This included more reading time, more knitting time and more ‘slow hours’ where I delayed the need to pick up my phone and do some mindless scrolling.
A couple of weeks ago, I met my good friend Megan Strant (@meganstrant) for our walk and she lent me Cal Newport’s new book: Digital Minimalism, Living Life with Less Technology.
I spent the last week dipping in and out of it because at the same time, I’m reading a huge tome of a book by Christopher Hitchens (my crush) which is his 107 essays published before he passed away called Arguably.
Of course, the irony is not lost on me that I’m reading a book about digital minimalism; increasing the time I have off my devices and getting stuck into a book that is 789 pages in length with the need to focus and concentrate just to understand one poompteenth of Hitchen’s arguments and pure genius with the written word.
Ah, Christopher, we miss you. I think we would have missed some superb writing if you were around to observe the shit show of the last few years.
Where was I?
Right. Digital Minimalism.
Digital minimalism is a philosophy that aims to maximize the benefits of technology and avoid the pitfalls by identifying your values and determining how to use technology to support them.Cal Newport
The book outlines a strategy for how we can get our focus and attention back by not being slave to our devices. To be fair, many of the things he mentions to do in the book are not new. There wasn’t anything transformational or startling simply because, in my opinion, it really comes down to the individual. To some, the smartphone is a critical piece of kit to do their work and function in everyday life; to others, well, they can take it or leave it.
When I first heard about Cal Newport, one of the things that struck me was that he has never been on or used social media.
Automatically there’s alarm bells in my mind for me and I’m dubious of people who have not at least, tried, played and experimented with it BEFORE they start lecturing to us because, well, it comes across as they know best. No, they don’t know best. They’re merely suggesting, recommending, and advising based on their own reading, research, and observation. Or getting second-hand advice from research assistants, family and friends who are on social media.
What would have made this book a little bit more credible for me is if he had a personal story. Even something like registering with a fake name, creating fake profiles and at least attempting to try the tech out for the purposes of his own research. If he battled with his own behaviours and actions, if he experienced personally what the majority of people are going through, if he used the same tactics he’s talking about in his book for his own use then come out of it in the end, better for it, I believe it would have made it slightly more credible.
Otherwise it just comes across as ‘holier than thou’.
That aside, one of his arguments in the book which I do agree with, is not to be against technology but to redefine our relationship with it and be more intentional with its use.
He lays out some ways in which we can do this through the following:
- 30-day social media detox
- Don’t respond, like, comment on social media posts
- Reclaim your leisure time to be more high quality [towards creating things with your hands – ie crafts, or learning] and less on low quality such as mindless scrolling
- Practice office hours where people can call you
- Practice more conversation over connection
- Incorporate more solitude and reflection in your life with no phone [eg leave your phone at home]
- Remove social media from your phone
- Use blockers to block you accessing social media on your phone and desktop
Ultimately, though it does come down to the individual to make their own plan. I don’t believe that removing all social and digital tech is a solution for many people. Our devices are now a way of life but we certainly can be more intentional with them.
Being intentional with them will mean having a hard look at how we are using them and why we are using them. To me, going ‘cold turkey’ is simply not an option but I have put into place some restrictions to increase the solitude so that I can be alone with my thoughts but also allocate time when I can go online and chat with others around the world. I think I’ve reached a far better balance too by reducing my social media to Twitter and LinkedIn now [the latter will be deleted once I retire].
Here’s my video review of the book if you’re interested to see what else I said about it.
What about you? Are you experiencing digital minimalism too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.