Minimalism. The term, in general, is finding its way in today’s collective consciousness. Modern society is only getting more hurried and complicated, and so many people are looking for ways to simplify. This has translated into concepts such as materialistic minimalism (owning less stuff) and downsizing to tiny homes. But another challenge we face is too much screen time. This is where digital minimalism comes into play.
You may have heard the term ‘digital creep.’ It is the persistent march of tech and gadgets into our lives in the form of television, computers, tablets, and smartphones. All of these are easily accessible, to the point where we spend the majority of our free time (and maybe even work time) online. And while spending hour upon hour playing online games, reading that great article, or watching YouTube can be fun, it minimizes our productivity and robs us of the good ol’ fashioned interacting face-to-face with people.
As a result, many of us are feeling quite uneasy with the notion, and are looking for ways to downsize our screen time.
What is Digital Minimalism?
Just as material possessions, in general, can be a distraction to what is important in our lives, so can digital things as well. Technology has become an increasing mainstay in our lives and will continue to be. While they were primarily made to aid in our everyday lives by making daily tasks easier, they can also take on an encroaching aspect.
Case in point: You’ve seen a group of kids together. They are not interacting with each other – they all have their faces down on their smartphones. And there is a good chance they are texting each other, even though they are physically next to each other! Instead of striking up a conversation with a stranger on the bus and potentially making a new friend, we are on our phones, headphones on to block out the world, reading the headlines or playing the latest game.
This behavior has the very real potential to distract us from what really matters.
Digital Minimalism (DM) is a direct response to this phenomenon. We as a modern species are sounding the horn to all those affected that there is a better way. The call to action here is to consider very carefully about our relationship with technology – to be cognizant of how much time and attention we are spending on our devices. It is recognizing how and why we are using our devices, and what the trade-offs are to our relationships and to our work.
This does not mean that DM is all things to all people. Everyone has their own habits and reasons why they’re thinking about DM or even wondering if they should at all. It helps to break it down a bit, so consider these three things:
1. The use of technology should be intentional – not habitual.
Let’s face it. Looking at our smartphones can be habit-forming. Whether it is for social media, that click-bait article, or that coveted text from our ex. If we’re continuously checking our phones, we have a problem, Houston.
2. Technology is for making things better, not for making us FEEL better.
It’s easy to misuse technology because it’s readily accessible and cheap. But it can also aid in our shortcomings and be a powerful means of short-term emotional relief. If we’re feeling bored, sad, anxious, or depressed, what do we do? Many of us reach for our cell phones so we can immerse ourselves in distraction. By avoiding our emotions with tech, we’re ultimately cultivating a long-term problem. Tech should be used to make things that are meaningful and to better the world as a whole.
3. Technology should NEVER come before people.
Social media – the very name suggests that we have a lot of friends (be honest with yourself, they’re just followers.) But just because we have a world of people we can connect with online, it is nothing compared to face-to-face interactive relationships. The harsh reality is that too much screen time isolates us from a personal connection.
What are the Benefits of DM?
Minimalism, by definition, allows us to remove the clutter in our lives. As a result, when we practice Digital Minimalism, we have more time, energy, and most of all attention, to concentrate on the things that matter most to us, whatever that may be. It gives us the freedom to pursue that hobby we’ve been wanting to do, to read that novel that’s been collecting dust on our shelf, or to finally make lunch plans with an old friend.
And those benefits just scratch the surface. When our phones are put away and we are forced to interact with the world, we focus better and give more attention to what is going on around us. As we move about in the world and talk with people, we may even have conversations that enlighten and inspire us to try a new thing. We may even make a new friend in the process. And that is much better than Tinder.
Having less digital clutter means less clutter in our brains. Our imagination starts to soar.
How Do I Get Started?
Don’t get me wrong. Technology makes modern life better than anything our elders experienced. But how do we get the best out of it while protecting ourselves from the bad habits? The best way is to first recognize how technology is adversely affecting your life. No doubt you have related to at least one of the examples above. Ask yourself these questions:
Do you like being physically active but find that your screen time encroaches on your exercise routine?
Do you want to stay in touch with friends, but more often find yourself on social media or listening to the latest podcast instead of meeting them or give them a call?
During social situations or meetings at work, are you intermittently on your phone rather than being fully engaged?
Is your productivity suffering, or that project you’ve wanted to start at home been put on hold?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, you’d do well to benefit from DM. People love lists, so here’s one on how to get started.
- Set aside one full day, perhaps on a weekend, where you don’t use technology at all.
- When you go out shopping or for a meal, leave your phone at home.
- Pick one evening per week where you don’t watch television or stream videos. Instead, play a board game with a loved one or (gasp) pick up the phone and CALL a friend.
- Spend an hour (or more, if you want) taking a long walk, run or bike ride without headphones.
- Delete all of your social media apps from your phone for one week. And then see if you really need them back after that.
- For one week, only get your news from the radio in your car or a newspaper. Not online.
- When you do read an interesting or funny thing online, actually engage with the person who posted it by sending a message, don’t just move on to the next thing.
- On your next trip to a new place, try to get there by using a paper map, not your navigation app.
You may just find that by employing several (or ALL) of these, that you don’t actually need to be online as much as you are.
It’s obvious that technology isn’t going away, it has too many good things going for it in other areas that actually HELP us. But we CAN greatly minimize the negative impact it has on our lives. We just need to be disciplined and have to WANT it. With a little practice, we can start to go back to the important things in our lives – our real-world connections with people.