21 Days of Digital Minimalism

Ain’t the internet grand?

Ever since the first website went live back in 1991 forms of this technology have progressed in leaps and bounds.  From AOL to Gmail, BASIC to C+, MS Paint to Adobe Illustrator, the changes to our workflow and very lives has been profound.

The first computer I ever used was a Commodore.  Soon after was the Apple II.  Now I have a miniature solid state powerhouse in my pocket that dwarfs the capabilities of those two systems combined.  With it I have access to a wealth of information previously unheard of; all at my finger tips.

The Apple App Store opened its doors back in 2008 with the catchy phrase “There’s an APP for that”.  And these days there is.  These Apps have spawned new programming languages and have made the word “billions” part of our everyday language.  They allow us to shop with lightning speed, order cars, book flights, and peer into the lives of the rich and famous.  Or just the internet famous.

The Dark Side of Connectivity

All of this bounty of progress is not without cost.  Everything moves faster these days which keeps people on edge.  News in particular.  America is now statistically safer than any point in history, yet we are scared to let our kids roam due to our easy access to distressing news.

Social media gives us unprecedented platforms from which to speak, yet with everyone clamoring to be heard it just turns into noise.  But we consume that noise for an average of 118 minutes every day.  This not only helps our attention spans to get shorter, but also our bellies to get bigger.  Entire industries have been made around those two problems.  Unfortunately the solutions typically call for more consumption, so the whole problem feeds on itself like a snake eating its tail.

There’s Got To Be A Better Way

There is a growing movement found in some of the quieter corners of the internet that is looking at this from another angle.  These people want to use these powerful tools that we have available to create something valuable, without sacrificing their time to the engineered trivialities designed to capture and manipulate our attention.  They call themselves Digital Minimalists.

One of the key voices of this movement, author Cal Newport, defines this as follows:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

Its not about abstaining totally from using digital tools.  Its about only using those that positively impact your life while discarding those that don’t offer any benefit.  Or worse, steal your most valuable resource; your time.

The 21 Day Digital Detox

Despite thinking a lot on this topic I still find myself scrolling down and down and down my news feed.  Every quiet moment filled with noise.  So today I’m going cold turkey.

The Experiment: For the next 21 days I am going to extremely limit my use of the internet to specific times, and on things that will provide specific value.  This should open up more time for projects that I’ve wanted to do, yet never could find the time for.

What am I Giving Up?

All of the main offenders have to go:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • FailBlog
  • TheChive
  • Mustang6G

This cant be done using willpower alone.  I’m too far gone.  So I’ve used a three part process to lock it all away:

  1. Added the StayFocsd extension to my Chrome browser and blocked them all.
  2. Deleted all social apps from my phone and tablet and moved the chrome browser to a background folder.
  3. Unpinned the internet icons from my task bar and homepage on my computer.

Remember, its only 21 days.  I haven’t deleted any accounts (yet, although this may change by the end) and life still goes on even if it isn’t #hashtagged.

What Will I Keep?

Lots of stuff!  Its about choosing the essentials, not becoming a digital hermit.  Plus my work contract stipulates that I be digitally available at all times, so I can’t go too far off the rails.

Email stays of course, although notifications are turned off.  I’ve been doing this a while now and it has really helped me to get more done.  Now I handle all of my emails at once a couple of times each day, rather than reacting immediately to each as it comes in.

Text stays too, but with notifications on.  That’s so my wife doesn’t think I’m ignoring her!  WhatsApp, FB Messenger, and Skype all get to stay as well.  Never know who is going to call from where.

Other than that, I’ll continue to use specific apps that make my life great:

  • Uber
  • Google Maps, Translate, Photos…
  • United, AVIS, IHG, etc.
  • Kindle
  • Quizlet
  • Stitcher
  • Onedrive, Dropbox, Drive

A special nod to my new go-to app; Google Keep.  I outlined this entire article with it, which was a much better use of my time than looking at pictures of peoples food.

What Will I Do Instead?

They say you can’t change a habit, only replace it with a better one.  Before embarking on a experiment like this its important to have some activities chosen ahead of time.  Otherwise you’ll take the path of least resistance straight back to the Donald’s Twitter feed.  Here is what I am planning:

Read more real books – I’m three months into my 12 Months of Modernism reading campaign and I’ve noticed something.  Having chosen to read real books rather than on the kindle, I’ve been finding that I’m having trouble concentrating on them.  It’s starting to come around now but I can see that I need to do more of my reading in real life rather than in ebook  format.  To that effect I’ve just picked up a reading light so I don’t have to use a flashlight under my covers like a kid from the 80’s.

Practice Spanish – I’ve been studying Spanish for a while and have built a big list of questions using Quizlet; a spaced repetition program.  Perfect for when I have some time and want to stare at my phone for a while.

Write and work on my website – I really enjoy this so I’m going to do it more.  This should help improve my writing.  And my website is due for an update so I can pick away at that.

Work with my hands – I’ve always enjoyed working on projects; woodworking, home renovations, car customizing.  Time to carve out some time to work on my backlog of ideas.

Sit in silence – Sometimes I’m just going to sit and be bored.  Watch the world go by.  Let a moment pass quietly, rather than rushing to fill it with noise.

Join the Movement

Make no mistake; there is a movement underway.  The aim is to take back your time and attention, so that you can do something meaningful.

Look honestly at your relationship with your electronic devices.  Is the value they provide a fair exchange for the time you spend with them?  If you have unfulfilled goals yet feel you have no time for them, then the equation is skewed.

You don’t have to close your accounts or make any grand statements.  Just switch it off for a while and fill your time with something that you’ve actively chosen to do.  I’ll bet nobody even notices.

Let me know in the comments what you think.  Am I going overboard?  Or is this just what you need?

I’ll report my results back at the end of the month!



2 thoughts on “21 Days of Digital Minimalism

  1. This sounds like a great challenge. I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes for you. I’m trying to ban myself from checking certain social media sites at certain times of the day but even that can be difficult.

    “They say you can’t change a habit, only replace it with a better one.”

    Love this line. So insightful and so true!

  2. Thanks Nicole. I’ve found that the StayFocsd browser plugin really helps. I’ve added all of those “certain sites” to the blocked list, then set a 10 minute maximum a day. That was I can pop over quickly to check messages but cant spend any significant amount of time.

    Most days I won’t use up my 10 minutes, or even check at all.

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