digital minimalism

a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support the thing you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.

carl newport

the rise of technologies have impacted our health, specifically our mental space. we all know that we would benefit with less screen time but putting this into practice can be incredibly difficult. these technologies are designed to provoke highly-addicted behaviour, to positively reinforce frantic and aimless scrolling.

is our scrolling even constructive? according to techno-philosopher jaron lanier “in an open marketplace for attention, darker emotions attract more eyeballs than positive and constructive thoughts”. perhaps this explains the discourse around the 2016 american election in which there was a shift to political extremes and emotionally charged discourse.

i was excited when i came across cal newport and his proposal of abiding by a new technological philosophy: digital minimalism. this means using technologies to satisfy the search rather than getting sidetracked and distracted by the other things. digital minimalism helps you to ween yourself from your addiction, declutter and redefine your understanding of what matters the most in your life. it’s not a complete shutdown and refusal to interact with technologies, nor is it suggesting to simply block out certain outlets of media, its about empowering the individual to choose what matters in his/her life and working backwards from this goal. in other words, it prioritises long term meaning over short term satisfaction.

how to practise digital minimalism?

recognise that less is more

its easy to be seduced by minor gains of an app but consider how much time you could potentially lose scrolling. in a sense, digital minimalism is like the marie kondo of technology, only keep what sparks joy and meaning in your life.

be selective and figure out how technology can be used to only support the things you REALLY value (offering some benefit is not enough)

this can be achieved by putting aside a 30 day period in which you take a break from technology. during this period, you’ll be able to rediscover other activities which give meaning to your life. then after your 30 days, you’ll be able to determine the significance and the value of each app/technology and whether it adds meaning to your life. you simply compare the period before your 30 day break and the time during the 30 day break. you could even consider keeping a journal to track your mood and feelings. remember, that you’re in control here, so it’s really up to you to define your life.

rebuild your usage from scratch and commit to intentional usage. only retain technologies that either serve the values you have pre-identified or replace it with something better.

to quote cal newport “the digital minimalist deploys technology to serve the things they find most important in their life, and is happy missing out on everything else”. for example, you might decide that the popular page on instagram does not really add to your life, in fact, you end up comparing yourself to the models that seem to inundate your feed. you may need instagram to showcase your artwork and so it might not be worth getting rid of it but by instead unfollowing users that aren’t relevant to your goal, you’re able to regain control.

aristotle was right, man is by nature a social animal

this explains why a death or breakup causes palpable pain as we mourn the loss of social connection. but we must acknowledge that online time does not equate to valuable, real-world socialising time. in fact, spending more time online and socially connected to other users has been linked to increased feelings of isolation.

“perhaps predictably, this clash of neural systems with modern innovations has caused problems. much in the same way that the “innovation” of highly processed foods in the mid-twentieth century led to a global health crisis, the unintended side effects of digital communication tools – a sort of social fast food – are providing similarly worrisome”

and as humans, we are naturally inclined to engage in activities that require less energy, hence we buy a takeaway instead of cooking or in this case, like a picture of a relative rather than stopping to see them. technology should be used to enable our social life rather than stymie it.

now, using your newly-discovered and fresh expertise of digital minimalism, how would you resolve this issue?

answer: increase conversation-centered communication. this means you may use technologies to organise social events but do not partake in open-ended, text-based communication in lieu of real-life experience. remember, as social animals, we fundamentally require tangible, human contact.

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