Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Learn to live in the moment, break your addiction to technology, and declutter your brain in the process.
What is Digital Minimalism?
A term coined by Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism encourages you to question the value that the digital tools you use add to your life, and to then only use tools that contribute real, meaningful value.
To determine whether Digital Minimalism is for you, ask yourself:
Do you struggle to focus at work or school?
Do you often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information you have at your fingertips?
In your free time, do you often scroll on Instagram or TikTok while watching Netflix, not really paying attention to either?
Do you often have an excessive amount of tabs open on your computer?
Do you scroll mindlessly on social media, barely even processing what’s on your feed?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you stand to benefit from Digital Minimalism. By interacting purposely with technology, you will better be able to focus and tune out excessive digital noise, to find true joy from the media that you choose to engage with.
Why do we need it?
Technology is both a blessing and a curse. It has undoubtedly furthered our society and contributed to great developmental progress, but it has also caused great harm.
When it comes to technology, you can have too much of a good thing. People around the globe are exposed to excessive amounts of technology every single day, with the average person spending over 7.5 hours per day with digital media- if you’re sleeping 8 hours a night, that means you spend almost 50% of your waking hours online. During this time online, the average person views between 6,000 to 10,000 ads on a daily basis. Not only is the number of ads increasing, but so is the number of places they appear. While classic advertising strategies like product placement are still alive and well, they now have to contend with scarily accurate ads on Google, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube, in-game ads for video games and apps, and more. It is virtually impossible to escape these ads, and yet you probably weren’t aware of just how many you’re exposed to. Hence, the inundation and loss of focus.
Beyond advertisements, commonly-used social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have immense power to affect our lives. Since social media allows us to connect with others faster than ever, you’d think it would have beneficial impacts on mental health and feelings of social isolation- yet, somehow, the opposite is true. In 2017, one study found that young adults who use social media more often may be up to 3 times as likely to feel isolated from their peers.
Beyond social isolation, social media can be a double-edged sword when it comes to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Another study from 2016 found that social media has the potential to improve or diminish users’ mental health. If users have positive interactions on these platforms, it may be beneficial to their health. Conversely, those who have negative experiences on social media platforms are more prone to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. To quote Marvel, “with great power comes great responsibility.” While social media platforms are undoubtedly powerful, they do not always accept this responsibility as they should.
Now, let’s jump back into the real world. And how is your back? Is it a little sore? Are your eyes strained? Are you exercising less than you should be because you just need to find out what happens next in WandaVision?
Spending too much time online can negatively impact your physical health and activity levels, which may in turn affect your mental health even further.
Without interference, the overconsumption of digital media is only getting worse, with many people even becoming addicted to technology. What’s worse is that in many cases, this addiction is encouraged. Checking your work email even when you’re off the clock is considered hard-working, not harmful. Checking your social media every 10 minutes, even when you’re on the clock at work is habitual, not worrisome. While these actions can be innocuous, the intent behind them is key- do you compulsively spend time online? Do you have trouble stopping, even when it’s to your own detriment?
If technology is taking up too much (if not all) of your time and cluttering your brain with massive amounts of information, here’s how to fix it.
Benefits of Digital Minimalism
Since the main goal of Digital Minimalism is to be purposeful with your consumption, it should be no surprise that improved mental health is one of the main benefits. When you consciously use technology, you can actively seek out good experiences and interactions, and stop as soon as they turn negative. Protect your well-being by only allowing the best of the internet into your life.
Likewise, when you are able to actively tune out the digital media that doesn’t serve you, a good chunk of space in your brain will be freed up. Then, you’ll be able to really focus on the media that brings value to your life, such as Facetiming your long-distance partner or watching your favourite TV show after work. You’ll also have more time for other activities, such as going on a run to boost your endorphins.
Finally, by selectively engaging with technology, you’ll gain an improved sense of control of technology. Remind yourself that you own it, not the other way around. That iPhone did not spend almost $1,000 on you! Despite what online advertisements and cleverly-built social media algorithms may want you to think, you are not subject to the internet’s whims. You can interact with it on your own terms.
How to implement Digital Minimalism
To take control of your life and declutter your brain, start by analyzing where your digital boundaries lie. You may, unfortunately, need to use some media for basic functions. If you’re an HR Recruiter, for example, deleting LinkedIn may be out of the question. However, you can still set boundaries for yourself- only check it and respond to messages during work hours.
When it comes to technology that’s purely for personal use, it’s time to bring in the minimalist icon, Marie Kondo. Ask yourself what brings you joy and adds to your life, then delete everything else. I mean it- delete that unnecessary app from your phone, remove that bookmark from your computer. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” really comes into play here.
Personally, I fell victim to TikTok when I was stuck in lockdown last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, once I went back to work, I found myself mindlessly scrolling through the app, even when I knew I should be doing something else. So, to embrace Digital Minimalism myself, I deleted it and never looked back.
Well… that is not entirely accurate, I might have looked back once or twice. If you can’t kick your technology addiction on your first try, don’t beat yourself up. It’s considered an addiction for a reason. These algorithms are made to draw you in and keep you engaged, even against your better judgment. If you can’t go cold-turkey, try reducing the (unwanted) time you spend online by 10-50% every day, depending on what you can handle. I also recommend that you bring an external party into the loop to help you kick your habit. Have a roommate knock on the door when your time is up, or grab dinner with a friend to reward yourself when you stay within your time limit.
However, if the abundance of technology in your life is so overwhelming that you need a short-term solution right now, it exists. I’ll warn you though, it’s a little ironic.
If you can’t bring yourself to log off on your own… there’s an app for that. Platforms like Flora and Google’s Digital Wellbeing, among others, will lock apps on your phone and/or computer for selected amounts of time. This will, at minimum, allow you to prevent your technology addiction from interfering with your productivity at work. Many of these apps and plugins will also help track your technology usage over time, so you can watch yourself improve!
Overall, three key tips for embracing Digital Minimalism are to set your boundaries, communicate them effectively to others (like your boss who keeps sending you emails at 10 PM), and stick to them.