Should you practice digital minimalism?

Have you ever considered that you were surrounded by more gadgets than people?

You might be sitting at home in front of Netflix, scrolling Twitter in between the credits of Stranger Things. Your laptop is on, syncing your latest photos from your camera. A familiar situation for many of us.

Technology might be your number one companion, but more and more of us are beginning to wonder whether we should set strong boundaries with these attention-sucking devices.

When you consider the fact that most of us spend 3 hours and 15 minutes per day picking up our phones, and using them 58 times a day on average, restricting our use of tech may not be a bad thing.

What is digital minimalism?

In the groundbreaking book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport coined the term ‘digital minimalist’. Essentially, you recognise that even though your digital companions fill up your time, they might not be that beneficial to your wellbeing.

Cal defines Digital Minimalism as:

“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.‍”

Digital Minimalists are essentially attention ninjas. They know what’s important to them. They focus on that to the exclusion of everything else.

That means they limit their social media use, put their devices out of sight and out of reach, and ruthlessly block certain sites that have a detrimental effect on their happiness or productivity.

But why go to such dramatic lengths?

It seems that our attention span is waning. Studies have shown that with multiple distractions, focusing on one thing at a time is becoming increasingly difficult.

In Linkedin’s Big Ideas for 2020, a key predicted trend is that your ability to focus will be your most important skill.

Just sending a quick message to your mate on Facebook Messenger? It’ll take your brain around 20 minutes to get back to focused, productive work.

Our brains are literally the equivalent of having one too many browser tabs open - and this is hampering our efficiency:

“Each time employees reach for their phone or tend to a distraction, they are pulled away from their work, relentlessly,” warns Brian Solis, author of ‘Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life.’ “This is having an incredible, understudied impact on employee productivity, creativity and happiness.”

If the insatiable pull of the internet is too much, does this mean we have an addiction to pleasure? Some think so.

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Photo by Hutomo Abrianto / Unsplash

Is dopamine fasting the answer?

‘Dopamine fasting’ got people a teeny bit excited when it first did the rounds via a Vice magazine piece.

Essentially, it’s about limiting our pleasure centre in the brain, and training ourselves to ‘fast’ from those things that we naturally get dopamine from - whether that’s eating, gaming, sex, scrolling Insta or otherwise.

“ Until you are not a slave to pleasure, you are not free” - Carlos Del Valle

The idea is that by fasting, your pleasure centre will be ‘de-stimulated’, so you’ll get a reset from your addiction, allowing you to use tech more consciously.

But what about taking a good old fashioned break from everything?

Psychologists say that ‘dopamine fasting’ is really just a very fancy name for taking a holiday.

The key to rejuvenation appears to be unplugging altogether, as “devices and technology appear to be one of the primary contributors of many people’s fatigue with the modern world.”

Becoming mindful of our consumption

Just like a McDonald’s addict can wean themselves off junk food by choosing better food, perhaps it’s about replacing our bad tech habits with altogether healthier ones.

After all, if you starve yourself of too much of a good thing, you’re likely to have an all-out binge sesh in a moment of weakness.

Perhaps we need to go on an attention diet, like Mark Manson suggests, only using tech in a way that brings us value and increases our knowledge and growth. Ironically, he was ridiculously distracted when writing the article:

“In what should have been 20 minutes of work, I compulsively interrupted myself at least nine times. What’s more, the cost of these interruptions goes way beyond the added amount of time to finish this damn thing.”

Is social media the new smoking? When life takes over, it’s easy to let that 5 minute Twitter scroll turn into a 30 times-a-day habit. Becoming mindful about our tech is about reviewing our productivity, happiness and health at regular intervals.

So perhaps the answer is to give up tech altogether for a while, and have a little breather from your faithful digital companions.

If you feel that digital ‘noise’ is impacting on your health and happiness , maybe you just need to just turn off, logout, and unplug.


Feature photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash.

Thanks to writer Kerry Needs for her help with this article.