Do you find yourself scrolling through Instagram the moment you turn off your alarm? Are your relationships competing for your attention with Twitter feuds? Are your eyes perpetually bloodshot from all the time you spend on screens?
As the twenty-first century marches on, the consequences of digital addiction have become increasingly apparent. Despite the increased integration of technology into our work lives, tech’s overwhelming presence in our personal lives refuses to go down. With Americans spending more than 5 hours a day on technology (compared to 2.7 in 2008), it is vital to be intentional with our tech. Digital minimalism provides a roadmap for people who want to cut back on digital media and remove tech’s chokehold on their time and attention.
Before diving into the principles of digital minimalism, it’s necessary to understand the philosophy it’s based on—minimalism. Minimalism is a set of principles focused on helping people live with intention. By choosing to live a life with less, you free up your time and attention to focus on the things you value and focus on fulfillment instead of consumption.
What does it mean, then, to be a digital minimalist? Well according Cal Newport, the author who coined the term, digital minimalism is “a philosophy in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” By discarding excessive and mindless use of technology, you can free up your time and attention to focus on the things you value that will lead to a happier, healthier life. Here are a few steps you can take to turn a new (digitally minimalist) leaf.
When dealing with tech addiction (and yes, it is an addiction), it’s important to set yourself some clear ground rules before diving into a detox. Define which technologies are necessary and which are optional. For example, you might need your computer to do your work throughout the detox, but you probably don’t need Instagram or Twitter everyday. A good rule of thumb is if you can get through your day without using it, it’s probably optional.
Once you’ve decided on your optional technologies, remove them from your life for a thirty-day period. While shorter detoxes can help significantly with your mental health, going tech-free for thirty days can help you determine how much value certain technologies actually add to your life. Make sure to spend this time to examine your values and fill your time with things that are important to you instead of just pining for your phone in the corner. Digital minimalism is a lifestyle choice and not a temporary shift, so it’s important to take the time to reflect on what a happy and fulfilled life is for you. After the thirty days are up, you can reflect on which technologies actually add value to your life and slowly reintroduce them one by one.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you reintroduce digital technology into your life:
- Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value?
- Is this technology the best way to support this value?
- How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms?
Following your detox, it can be difficult to integrate digital minimalism in your day to day in a way that’s sustainable. However, simply being conscious of your digital tech use monitoring your screen time can bring a marked difference in your relationship with technology.
While technology might seem essential for the busy lives we now live, taking just a little bit of time to consume with intention can help you lead a happier, more fulfilled life. For those who are interested in learning more about digital minimalism check out Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in A Noisy World.