I've written a note about minimalism before, but I wanted to dedicate some time to reflect on digital minimalism and how I've been able to minimize the impact of digital devices in my life.
These changes crept up on us and happened fast, before we had a chance to step back and ask what we really wanted out of the rapid advances of the past decade. We added new technologies to the periphery of our experience for minor reasons, then woke one morning to discover that they had colonized the core of our daily life. We didn't, in other words, sign up for the digital world in which we're currently entrenched; we seem to have stumbled backward into it.
(Digital Minimalism, 2019)
The Principles of Digital Minimalism
As noted in Cal Newport's book, Digital Minimalism, there are three main principles to digital minimalism that I tend to agree with:
- Clutter is costly.
- Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation.
- Optimization is important.
- Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it's necessary to think carefully about how they'll use the technology.
- Intentionality is satisfying.
- Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.
In order to put the logic into practice, I've created a few new habits and continued performing old habits that are working well:
Using Devices With Intention
- I already rarely use "social media", mostly limited to forums such as Hacker News and Tildes, so I've just tweaked my behavior to stop looking for content in those places when I'm bored.
- Use devices with intention. Each time I pick up a digital device, there should be an intention to use the device to improve my current situation. No more endless scrolling or searching for something to interest me.
- Disable (most) notifications on all devices. I spent 15-30 minutes going through the notifications on my phone, watch, and computer to ensure that only a select few apps have the ability to interrupt me: Calendar, Messages, Phone, Reminders, & Signal.
- Disable badges for any apps except the ones mentioned in the bullet above.
- Set-up focus profiles across devices so that I can enable different modes, such as Personal when I only want to see notifications from people I care about or Do Not Disturb, where absolutely nothing can interrupt me.
- Clean up my home screens. This one was quite easy as I already maintain a minimalist set-up, but I went extreme by limiting my phone to just eight apps on the home screen and four in the dock. If I need another app, I'll have to search or use the app library.
- Remove the work profile from my phone. This was a tough decision as having my work profile on my device definitely makes my life easier at times, but it also has quite a negative effect when I'm "always online" and can see the notifications and team activity 24/7. I believe creating a distinct barrier between my work and personal devices will be beneficial in the end.
Creating Alternative Activities
This is the most difficult piece, as most of my hobbies and interests lie in the digital world. However, I'm making a concerted effort to put devices down unless necessary and force myself to perform other activities in the physical world instead.
I've started with a few basics that are always readily available to me:
- Do a chore, such as organizing or cleaning.
- Read a book, study a piece of art, etc.
- Exercise or get outdoors.
- Participate in a hobby, such as photography, birding, disc golf, etc.
- Let yourself be bored and wander into creativity.
I'll be taking notes as I continue down this journey and hope to see positive trends. I've always been a minimalist in the physical world and it feels refreshing to filter out the clutter that has come to dominate my digital life over the years.
I'm excited to see where this journey leads.