Digital Minimalism

The day was coming to an end and I wanted to check if it was my turn on a game of Scrabble with my mother (who lives in Seattle). I looked in the usual spots for my phone but couldn’t find it. I searched high and low. I recruited my family, “do you have any idea where my phone is!?”. It suddenly occurred to me where it might be. I looked into my purse and there it was! 

This is significant. 

I realised, I had not taken my phone out of my purse since arriving home four hours ago. In four hours it did not occur to me once to check something on my phone or escape a moment of boredom through mindless scrolling.

Victory. 

Reducing the distraction and noise is often called “digital minimalism”. I like this term, coined by Cal Newport in his excellent book, Digital Minimalism. How can we reduce the amount of engagement with our phones, the interwebs, streaming services, podcasts, and social media to the absolute minimum.

All these things create, what I call, “digital noise”. A constant stream of interruptions and distractions that play as a soundtrack to our lives.

What would it look like to reduce the digital noise down to a minimum?

Honestly, there are no tips are tricks that will magically transform this area of your life (although I’m about to give some to you.)

There is internal work that needs to be done. We need to be brutally honest about this area of our lives. The internet is designed to build compulsive behavior in us. We will not stumble in to digital minimalism. Ruthlessness is required.

Social media apps, after all, are designed after slot machines. They are specifically designed to build compulsive behavior in us. Refreshing our feed one more time or checking the comments compulsively is not an accident. 

The first step to digital minimalism is ruthless honesty about your personal state of affairs and the cold hard truth as to how difficult this might be. 

Once you’ve done an assessment. Pick one or two and slowly start on the path towards untethering. The goal is for their to be one Master in your relationship with the digital world… and it is you. When someone asks you how this area of your life is doing, the goal is to say, “Really well, I engage with it only as much as I’ve set.”

Here are some ideas of how to get started. 

  1. Take social and media apps off your phone. This includes Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, YouTube… you name it. This is my #1 suggestion. I took all of these apps off and more. Best decision ever. After time, I have only added back Instagram. The majority of my social and media consumption is only on my laptop. This one move has reduced my mindless browsing by 95%. I cannot imagine having them back on my phone. The mental calmness and clarity I gained surprised me.
  2. Put a babysitter on your computer browser. You can actually install a add-on to your browser that will lock you out of Social Media or any other specific website (like YouTube) after a certain amount of time. It is lovely having a screen go blank after 15 minutes of scanning Facebook. Ask a computer nerd to help you if you don’t know how.
  3. Get an old fashioned alarm clock. Charge your phone either across your bedroom or in another room. The science is powerful… your brain does so much better when you don’t wake up and stare at your screen first thing in the morning. 
  4. Put your phone in detention at certain times of the day. When my family is all together at the end of the day, I often will put my phone upstairs on my dresser. I am not allowed to remove it from that spot. If I want to check on my messages, I can do that. I just have to walk upstairs, stand there at my dresser and awkwardly read the messages. It cuts down on my mindless scanning. My kids and husband also don’t see me staring at my phone while we are together for the first time all day.
  5. Make a personal rule that when you are in social gatherings, the phone goes away. Put your phone on silent (including no vibrating). Enjoy a dinner with eye contact, long conversations. Untether eating and digital noise on altogether.
  6. Set a day each weekend where you commit to not look at your phone for the first 2-3 hours of the day. 
  7. Set tasks in your life that have a “no noise” policy. I take my dog for 1-2 walks each day. I have a strict no phone rule on these walks. There is restorative power in a walk, listening to the birds, just looking around without a podcast in my ears. Other ideas for times to banish all digital noise: While cooking meals, when you are with family or friends at the end of each day or set a certain time period each day (such as 6-8 pm every day.) Commit to building your capacity to doing these tasks in digital silence!Choose one or two of these and begin! What other ideas do you have that help you pursue digital minimalism?

Lindsey