Over the past few years, I’ve been refining my belongings, editing down what I need, and trying to consume less and create more. I’m by no means a minimalist, but I try to apply minimalist principles to my overall consumption. Over time I realized that one area of my life also needed to be refined and simplified: my digital life. The majority of us spend too much time on our laptops and phones these days and are over-saturated with information. It’s vital to take time to revaluate your digital usage, and one way to do that is to take a break altogether from the things that are sucking your valuable time.
In December 2020 I decided I needed a social media break. In 2020, partly due to the pandemic, I spent more time than usual on social media and mindlessly scrolling. I found the constant noise and chitter chatter of social media was like being at a loud party where I was constantly seeking the closest exit. Not a good place for my mind to be, especially for hours every day. I deleted the Instagram App off my phone (my main social media addiction) and logged out of Facebook and Twitter. December was a breath of fresh air. After a few days of being slightly twitchy and wanting to scroll through my Instagram feed, I slowly relaxed into a life of not sharing and I felt free to breathe.
What Is Digital Minimalism?
The term Digital Minimalism was coined by Cal Newport; the main argument in his book Digital Minimalism is to create a focused approach to your online world. In order to do this, he suggests that you take one month to remove all the non-essential apps and devices from your phone and to log out of them on your computer. During this month it’s time to assess why you use these apps in the first place. If it is to be more connected to certain family members, then Newport suggests personally messaging that person more or calling them and adding value to the relationship rather than just mindlessly ‘liking’ their Facebook post.
Newport argues that we need to find pleasure in our offline world and replace our online time with meaningful activities. Many people feel overwhelmed after spending too much time absorbing the news and the constant window into others’ lives. It’s not surprising we feel overwhelmed as it’s such a recent phenomenon to have daily insight into other people’s lives.
Digital Minimalism is about decluttering and re-organizing your online life, just as you would your offline life. It’s a bit like Marie Kondo-ing your laptop and phone, so that it serves you rather than you serving it. This isn’t an argument against technology but suggestions on how to use technology more intelligently. The result is a simplified and lighter digital world that you can dip in and out of rather than be enslaved to.
How To Begin As A Digital Minimalist
Newport suggests that during this month, you limit your digital usage to just the essentials such as work emails and you schedule times to check the news. Maybe that means 10–20 minutes during your lunch break, instead of reaching for your phone first thing and wiring your brain to begin the day in a very loud digital world. He also suggests writing down a list of your values and why you use each app and website and assess if it is really serving you. During this digital detox, rediscover activities in your life that you find meaningful and fully engage with them.
Often, we feel like a slave to our digital world and that it controls us, rather than us controlling our own usage. In fact, due to the addictive nature of websites like Facebook and Instagram, this feeling is very close to the reality. The more we use these sites the more our brain becomes addicted to the dopamine hits that every like and message gives us. Taking a month offline helps to re-set our brain so when we do go back to using these sites we can do so in a more mindful way.
How Digital Minimalism Can Improve Your Life
In my case, I assessed which social media sites I needed for work and which ones were non-essential to me. I ended up deleting my Twitter account as I never really used it much anyway (but would still waste time scrolling the feed) and deactivating my Facebook account. I am still undecided as to whether I will delete it entirely…
In the time I went offline I noticed my concentration and creativity improved dramatically. I read more books than ever before. I spent more time planning projects, writing, talking to friends, meditating, drawing, trying new recipes, going on long hikes, and watching good movies. And for the most part, I was actually present in all these activities, rather than distracted by my phone.
Now, I take chunks of time off social media when I need to go inward and create. Or when I have a lot going on and need to focus on myself. I view taking time off social media and the digital world as self-care time. It’s a time to re-set myself and focus on the things that are really important to me, in my real life, rather than my virtual one.
I highly recommend reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and creating a better relationship with your digital life. There are many positives to being so connected and in touch with different people from all over the world. But it’s vital to remember what your values are and approach your digital life from a more mindful and thoughtful place.
As a starting point, log out of all social media apps for a weekend and remove them from your phone. See how you feel for 48 hours, and who knows, you might want to extend this quiet period. I know I did.
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Photo: STIL via Unsplash