Digital Minimalist

October 23, 2020

I'd like to think of myself as a minimalist. I do my best to only buy what I need, get by with used parts and throw out the items that I don't have a use for anymore. I am not much of a minimalist when it comes to using technology. Countless hours of mine are spent in front of screens.

I'm not trying to say that excessive screen time is bad. There is a difference between good screen time and bad. Most of my screen time is definitely in the bad category. I have a terrible habit of mindlessly surfing the web. When I feel the slightest twinge of boredom, I reach for my phone and open up Reddit or some news site and start scrolling. After a lunch break at work, I open up Firefox on my desktop and reflexively type in "you" and slap the enter key to bring up YouTube. Throughout the day, I find myself spending a little time here and a little time there. The worst part is, I usually find this stuff boring. It's not fun. Yet I can't stop scrolling.

Earlier this month, I started reading through Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. Parts of it really resonated with me. The feeling that I am not in control all the time when it comes to my habits with tech. A lot of of the tools and websites that we interact with are designed to keep us using them. Silicon Valley has some of the brightest engineers in the world working to grab your attention. Literally billions of dollars are spent trying to find new ways to steal my focus and keep hold of it. Their ad revenue depends on it.

I decided to take the advice of Newport and take part in an optional tech fast. I restrained from using technologies that were not necessary in my life. Things like Reddit, Twitter, YouTube and video games. I tried to not keep my phone on my 24/7, uninstalled distracting apps on my phone and did my best to not be around a computer outside of work hours. I came up with some activities that I wanted to try out to fill up the enormous amount of time I would have on my hands. I spent many hours reading books, writing and talking walks.

So far, it has been a great experience. It's been a little challenging this week. I recently went on a little mini vacation this weekend that has pulled me out of my routine. Aside from that hiccup, the fast has gone smoothly. The urge to be constantly stimulated was difficult to deal with at first. I'm not a complete stranger to sitting in the silence, but to do it for weeks is an entirely different beast. The trick is to learn that it is okay to feel a little bored at times.

I'm at the point now where I need to start coming up for some guidelines on how I want to use the tech that I want to slowly introduce back into my life. The big part of this tech reset is to not just go back to the way things were. It is to enact actual lifestyle changes that stick. It's to make mindful decisions about how I want to interact with technology to enrich my life. The idea is that with the separation I have made between myself and my tech habits, I can have clarity on what I really value. I can figure out what I really want to get out of the websites I visit.

If anyone else feels as if they have no agency in their lives due to how addicted they are to their screens, I highly recommend this exercise. It has been a great month for me and I am hopeful about making these habits stick.