Reading Cal Newport’s ‘Digital Minimalism’ reminded me of training my dog when she was a puppy. She was a hedonistic ball of fluffy energy and razor-sharp teeth. She would piddle on the floor, playfully bite the bejeezus out of my hands, and stay up til the early hours doing pointless activities.
I was only a few pages deep into the book when it struck me: when it comes to my use of tech, I’ve become an out-of-control puppy. I’ve been a digital hedonist, never bothering to even try to justify my incessant taping. I’ve allowed social media to bite the bejeezus out of my mental health. I’ve stayed up late at night watching stupid meaningless videos. I’m not completely terrible though… Like the training pads we strategically placed around the house to minimise piddle-puddles, I have done some things to keep my digital life in order and set limits on screen time. I have timers on my most time-sucking apps to ensure they lock me out after long enough. I never use my phone when I’m watching tv or a movie. I’ve tried various ‘focus’ apps over the years. I deactivated and deleted facebook many years ago.
And yet, the first thing I do every morning is reach for my phone and have a quick browse of instagram. I don’t even know why, it’s just a mindless reflex at this point.
Newport’s ‘Digital Minimalism’ is exactly what I needed to read. His book is not a shaming tome, urging a return to Luddite life. He’s just crystallised where and how to set up boundaries. Like training a puppy, it’s not about punishment. It’s about setting yourself up for success.
Part of Newport’s approach involves a 30-day ‘digital detox’, where you are encouraged to set the rules that will work for you. It is next to impossible to completely divorce my life from technology for 30 days. If forced to do so, I would likely lose my job and my mind. So having his guidance and permission to set my own workable rules was greatly appreciated. I immediately deleted my news app, instagram, and reddit – along with about 50% of my other apps. I turned off almost all my notifications, and set strict rules about my use of streaming services.
But the road to ‘digital minimalism’ doesn’t stop there. Digital Minimalism is not just about switching digital distractions off, but also about switching dormant and fulfilling activities back on. I’m now on a quest to rediscover silence, solitude, real conversation, board games! I’m in the midst of adjusting various aspects of my life to embrace a minimalist approach to tech but a maximalist approach to meaning. I know how wanky that sounds, but honestly the switches have been so subtle and simple, yet so beneficial. Just committing to doing one of my runs each week in silence (rather than listening to blaring 80s hits) has been transformative.
We as a society have passed the point of no return with smartphones and social media. We’ve given these devices and companies the keys to our hearts, minds, time, and wallets. It is time to set some boundaries.
Do yourself a favour and read this book. It is worth your time.
5 games of Uno out of 5.