Digital Minimalism

I’ve been reading the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I had been concerned about the affects of so much distraction and connection. But, you know, for other people. Certainly not me.

I worried about losing deep thought as we are fed things that may or may not be true by the media and social media designed to get a reaction to get views and shares. It seems people fall into their camps on whatever issue without looking at the other side, without noticing the manipulation of feelings. What do you think of a liberal? What do you think of a conservative? What if it wasn’t true? Have you even checked? Have you had live conversations where you didn’t want to push your view, but you wanted to understand?

With no quiet for thinking, everyone is spurting out talking points fed to them from whatever media they consume. Which comes in rapid fire with one “outrage” after another.

And of course all the gatherings where people are sitting around looking at their phones or in restaurants or at the playground. You talk to someone and you can feel them pulling away when they want to “quick check” their phone.

Plus, I often see (in myself as well) using multiple technologies at once. Watching TV while playing on the tablet while texting. Half watching a video while emailing. Reading an ebook only to jump to an app that pinged.

We used to spend way less time interacting with our phones and playing on our tablets. The technology was created to be addictive and it is. If we aren’t aware, we can easily get sucked in.

Newport says digital minimalism is focusing “online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value and then happily miss out on everything else.” He suggests asking is this the technology to support this value best?

The stats were not comforting. He says kids born after 1995 are more anxious than past generations. Part of this is the lack of solitude and constant online comparisons.

The average Facebook user uses some form of Facebook 50 min a day. There is an app called Moment that tracks cell phone use. The average user spends about 3 hours a day looking at their smartphone screen and picks up their phone 39 times a day. And these are people trying to slow down their use.

A digital fast from optimal technologies is what Newport suggests, replacing it with meaningful activities like solitude, journaling, music, learning new skills, meditating, and actual conversations.

It turns out, this is more difficult than anticipated. I am starting over today after somehow going down the Facebook/news rabbit hole yesterday after being off them a week except for business.

“I am waiting for a video to download so I might as well peek at the news.” “That news article is taking awhile to load, let me look at Facebook.” Then I am getting angry with nice people being completely close-minded and separating from each other. Back to the news which is trying to get me angry and succeeding.

Only then did I remember the digital fast. Oh yes, I am supposed to be allowing space as I wait instead of filling it immediately. I am seeing what life would be without reading everything, playing every game, or allowing every input that comes my way.

I’m sure everyone thinks it’s other people who have the problem with technology. We usually have a blind spot to our own. Not sure? Try the 30 day digital fast on unnecessary technologies and see.

Besides the fast he suggests some other ideas:

  • Carefully select, based on what is important to you, newsletters, blogs, social media, news services (preferably a curated one like allsides.com)
  • Cull people you follow on social media to a reasonable amount (the suggestion was 150 people)
  • Have a curfew for your phone
  • Spend time daily without technology
  • Batch text messages
  • Reclaim your leisure with something other than technology like outdoor projects, exercise, reading, writing, playing an instrument, swimming, crafting, classes, board games, fixing, building, learning, joining.
  • Delete social media from your phone and only use it on the computer
  • Be mindful with news and realize news 24 hours after the fact is more complete. Read from the opposite of what you naturally support.
  • Choose when you use technology. Put limits on.

In general, be mindful and conscious with your technology. Don’t follow every ping (in fact turn notifications off.) Limit the blogs you read, people you follow, and game apps you have. Take your life off line sometimes. Don’t allow everyone else to tell you what to think. Contemplate. Let’s see if we can do things like laundry, eating and going to the bathroom without a digital distraction.

If you try the digital fast, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. And if you have any tips on reducing technology use you can put those there as well.

Remember we are in charge of our technology. Let’s act like it.

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