digital minimalism

Everything you Need to Know About Digital Minimalism

digital minimalism
“Monk with Cell Phone” by Timothy Sens

As time goes by, it’s getting harder to keep away from technologies. In fact, the tendency is the contrary. Be it at the office, at the supermarket or even at some local stores, the way we interact with services, or the way services interact with us, is gradually becoming more dependent on technology. The growing presence of technology in our lives is justified by the simplicity and quickness it represents.

Besides being a tool meant to facilitate interaction within services, technology keeps evolving in another type of interaction: social interaction. Social media has become a worldwide phenomenon, and currently it isn’t very easy to determine whether it brings more positive aspects or negative ones. When social media becomes a big part of someone’s life, it becomes a burden. It isn’t healthy for one’s mind, but the person can’t let go because it creates dependency.

What can we do about the overwhelming amount of technology around us? How do we fight the constant growing stimuli of technology through social media harming our mental well-being?

One possible answer to fight the negative impact of technology is through minimalism: digital minimalism. As expected, it’s a practice focused on being intentional with your choices and always considering what brings value to your life and what doesn’t. But does minimalism really work? How does one become a digital minimalist – and how does one keep a digital minimalist lifestyle?

Before providing the answers to these frequently asked questions, let’s first go through its definition.

What is digital minimalism?

Digital minimalism is almost entirely associated with Cal Newport and his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (to know more about the book, check out our intake on the book in the article Top 10 Best Books on Minimalism).

Newport’s definition of digital minimalism is very complete and simple and is the best possible answer we can give you:

“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.”

Digital minimalists will, then, focus their online time on a reduced number of wisely selected and enhanced activities that support what you value while being away from what doesn’t add anything new or useful or valuable to your life.

How digital minimalism can help you?

digital minimalism
“Caged” by Janine Vella

Digital minimalism can help you regain control of an addiction.

As mentioned in the first part of the article, technology brings addiction. Not necessarily the tools we use at work or at the supermarket, but the ones of which we can’t take out eyes off while commuting and at home – social media. A big part of the population is addicted to likes without even realizing; children cry for phones at younger and younger ages – we just can’t seem to put down the phone (or similar) and set free from the chains of social media.

The role of validation is of big importance in this matter. It’s a primitive feeling since our brain has been, since the beginning of times for humans, tried to attract the attention of the tribe. In the modern world, we’ve found a type of validation through how people see and react to our efforts on social media. Like addicts, we crave for more attention and more likes, driving into insane efforts to keep the audience entertained, however, those efforts come at a high price, one of which is a loss of control.

Moreover, new technologies help create a culture that undermines something really important, which is time alone with your thoughts. Solitude is very important, even if in the middle of a crowd, because it’s time for yourself and your thoughts; it’s time you have to reflect on whatever is important to you; it’s time to relax with yourself. Alone time can bring you benefits such as new ideas, an understanding of yourself, and closeness to others (yes!). As you can see, therefore, alone time is a quite relevant part of everyone’s life, even if we don’t see it.

Digital minimalism, like minimalism, will make you reflect on these issues. Your task, as a digital minimalist, is to analyze your digital tools, assess which are useful and which aren’t; which are valuable and which are merely keeping you tied to meaningless feelings and undesired mental issues.

Because digital minimalists spend so much less time connected than their peers, it’s easy to think of their lifestyle as extreme, but the minimalists would argue that this perception is backward: what’s extreme is how much time everyone else spends staring at their screens.

Why digital minimalist works

To see why and how digital minimalism works, it’s enough to quote the expert Cal Newport’s book “Principles of Digital Minimalism”:

Principle 1: Clutter is costly

Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation.

Thoreau’s new economics establishes that “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”, or, in other – and less – words, “The price of anything is the amount of life you pay for it.”

When people consider specific tools or behaviors in their digital lives, they tend to focus only on the value each produces. Standard economic thinking says that such profits are good, and the more you receive the better. It, therefore, makes sense to clutter your digital life with as many of these small sources of value as you can find. Thoreau’s new economics, however, demands that you balance this profit against the costs measured in terms of “your life.”

Principle 2: Optimization is important

Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology.

The law of diminishing returns (simply put, the law of diminishing returns states that there is a decrease in production when the production amount of one thing is increased while the amounts of all other things stay constant) can apply to the various ways in which we use new technologies to produce value in our personal lives. With this in mind, and after comprehending how the law of diminishing returns works, it becomes clear how optimizing how we use technology is crucial.

If you increase the amount of energy you invest in this optimization, you’ll increase the amount of value the process returns. You can invest some time in a technological process, such as the news (to use Newport’s example), to add value to your life, but as you keep adding new tools to make that process more valuable, you’ll eventually reach the return curve, which represents the end of increasing value and beginning of diminishing returns.

Optimization is important, therefore, so we don’t get carried on and end up as maximalists trapped in the law of diminishing returns.

Principle 3: Intentionality is satisfying

Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.

According to Newport, the Amish are a good illustration of this principle because they prioritize the benefits generated by acting intentionally about technology over the benefits lost from the technologies they decide not to use. For the Amish, intention must trump convenience. The act of being selective about your tools will bring you satisfaction, usually a lot more than what is lost from the tools you choose to avoid.

The validity of digital minimalism is, thus, self-evident once you accept these three principles.

How do you start and keep your digital life minimal?

digital minimalism
“Urban Sunset” by ‎Ricky Pan‎ 

Cal Newport advises in his book to make a rapid shift to digital minimalism, as changing habits gradually is a probable failure due to the attention economy and friction of convenience.

At one point, Newport provides the reader with three steps of his digital declutter process that are set on a 30-day break.

Step 1: Define which technologies are optional to you.

Here, you set your rules by defining which technologies are optional to you. During the thirty days of your digital declutter, you’re supposed to take a break from these optional technologies – apps, websites, text messaging, digital tools in different modes, video games, etc. – in your life. This first step is meant to define which technologies are disposable. 

It’s very important to look at this period as a preparation for a permanent change, not a temporary thing meant to only be a break from useless technologies.

Step 2: Stop using optional technology for 30 days.

The following step is to keep living by the rules you’ve set for 30 days. Living without these “optional technologies” might be complicated at first because your mind is used to certain distractions and entertainment. Nonetheless, the “detox” experience is important because it’ll help you make smarter decisions at the end of the declutter process. A long period without access to these technologies will clear up your head and rid you of the bias of an addict. Another reason to spend a long period of time without access to such much technology is that rediscovering that you like, away from your apps, will guide you in the process of reintroduction of technology.

Step 3: Reintroduce technology.

The final step is to reintroduce “optional technologies” back into your life. The process of reintroducing these technologies requires some thought. You must ask yourself is that technology supports something you value truly. If it offers some value, it’s irrelevant – digital minimalist is ground on accessing tools that are entirely useful and valuable.

Then you must ask if that technology is the best way to support that value. If the answer’s yes, then you move on to the last question: how you are going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harms? To answer this question, you’ll have to reflect on how and when you use the technology.

Having gone through the steps towards becoming a digital minimalist, maintaining the lifestyle will be easy. After your digital decluttering, you’ll realize how much better off you are without your digital addictions tying you down. Can Newport’s book presents several testimonies of people who share how digital minimalism changed their life – and it’s always for the best.

You have to keep what you did throughout the process of becoming a digital minimalist – keep your life free from “optional technologies.” To help you, you can follow standard operating systems that’ll help you reflect on how useful and valuable a technology is.

Digital minimalism in the workplace

Digital minimalism has proved to have an influence on one’s performance at work. Being disconnected from new technologies on your phone or similar, your attention span improves largely and your time and attention are channeled to your work-related tasks. Your mind is less frenetic, allowing you to focus more easily.

Additionally, it has an impact on your personal life. Because your mind is calmer at work, it will undoubtedly make you more disconnected from work issues at home.

Final notes

If you want to stop being a maximist technology-wise and become a digital minimalist, go ahead and give the steps above a try.

The information about digital minimalism and especially the steps on how to become a digital minimalist were taken from Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. For those who aspire to become digital minimalists, we really encourage you to get Newport’s book. It’s very informative and extremely helpful.

If you have any questions, go ahead and leave a comment!

Inês Morais

Inês Morais is a content writer, proofreader, and a literary criticist. She studied linguistics, literature, and majored in North-American Studies. Inês is a lover of words and of the minimalist lifestyle.

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