Digital minimalism: a mindful way to live in this modern age

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport illustrates why the concept could be a way to lift us from overdosing to the abundance of connectivity, reclaiming our leisure life and devoting ourselves to meaningful activities including social bondings.

Though it’s been three years since its first publish, the caveats and tips written in this book still enlightened me in many ways today. This is a brief summary of highlights I’ve noted from the book.

We don’t need to be connected as much as we are today

As of the Year 2022, most of us may have taken it for granted that we can connect to the trend across the world, exchanging instant messages to people we connected with. We believe that’s handy and critical to our lives, but wait and think again, is it really critical?

We may not be a breaking news report to receive and process the latest news for work. To be connected as we are now, is NOT the only option to go. Like any medicine may bring side effect, the cost of indulging in the connectivity will, instead, take away the real life from us.

One thing to take note when we fight against addiction is that it’s not as easy as we imagine. This is because the technology company behind has engineer gigantic tactics and resources to keep us stay. This is driven by a boardroom of technology investors, who deem our time as their money. Hence tactics and mindfulness are required.

Pick your essential technologies

Digital minimalism often sounds anti-technology, which it actually isn’t. Digital minimalism encourages people to utilize technologies that could support us to be who we (really) want to be and do things that we (really) want to do.

To a digital minimalists, the best digital life is formed by carefully curating their tools to deliver massive and unambiguous benefits. Scrutinize the tools we engage on a daily basis and ask ourselves which is essential to us, and which is not. Here are two examples:

  • If I am a breaking news reporter, I need technology to bring me the latest news and commentaries to keep up with our work, an up-to-date, abundant news source platform is essential to me;
  • If I am to pick up guitar in 3 months’ time, and I chanced upon some channels on YouTube offering useful tutorials or tips, then I may either follow or bookmark them and get back checking whenever I intend to.

There is an untold precondition for the latter case — I am also to unsubscribe other channels that are not aligned to my values/goals so that I don’t end up wasting my time browsing aimlessly on YouTube.

Enjoy solitude

We enjoy being connected with the community. That’s coded in our gene. However, when technologies have gracefully enabled us to be connected 24/7, our brains are not functioning the best.

Thoreau, in his book The Walden, pointed out that there’s nothing wrong with connectivity, but if we don’t balance it with regular doses of solitude, its benefits will diminish.

More great minds practice solitude and it’s believed it contributed to many great decisions in history. On his daily commute from residence to White House, Present Lincoln quietly thought about decisions he made and would make to lead the country to prosperity. Steve Jobs did the same to his legendary company as well.

The tips to us is to try reclaiming some time alone (and disconnected), do things like walking, cycling, or doing chores to free up our mind and attention. Journaling (writing your own stories to yourself) could be a high-quality solitude practice as well.

Avoid “easy” connectivity

When tapping a “Like” has become so easy on the social media, the affection actually depreciates. Just like a ripple on the river, the pleasant is light and fleeting. This is because such “Likes” are often less composed and targeted, while according to studies, brings the least positive emotion to the audiences who receive them.

Despite one may argue there is no harm spending time online exchanging these “Likes”, one should not forget that the more they use social media to interact with their network, the less time they could devote to offline communication. Hence, it will still detrimental to their social well-being.

Following a relative’s Instagram account to exchange sparing “Likes” will never outdo a dedicated call or visit to their house. Despite that it may not be applicable for all relationships, we could deliberately practice a more mindful way of sharing our complement or opinions online; try to connect to the person as much as we can.

How about ourselves when we feel alone and want to be connected with? One tips is to segregate our time to “closed hours” and “open hours”. Focus on our own endeavours in our “closed hours”, dumb down the connectivity to avoid distractions; but allocate time and energy in our “open hours”, spread the words and let people know that we are there for them, encourage them to reach out, and enjoy quality time with the attention and enagement.

Reclaiming leisure

There are many ways we can enjoy quality leisure than passively munching on information from the internet. A quality leisure recommended by Cal is to learn and apply new skills, maybe one per week, over a period of six weeks.

What touched me most is from the story of Benjamin Franklin. The time he arrived in Philadelphia he was an unknown. Franklin looked for gatherings that brings engagement of learning and sharing when there wasn’t any, then he created one from scratch. As one of the great socializers in American history, Franklin’s commitment to structured interactions with other people could have built the foundation for his successes in business and politics. To Franklin and many, it’s a quality leisure that pays back.

Try allocating time for our own leisure, no matter it’s to pick up a skill or establish a community, and from there we really relax ourselves.

My final note

Cal Newport coined the concept digital minimalism as such:

A philosophy of technology use 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.

The connectivity is just too ubiquitous so we forgot that we have the rights to say no it and curate our own life. So I am more than thankful to the hours I detached from the web surfing and spent with this book. It rinsed my mind by reminding me that the habits I am currently practicing may not take me to a person that I wish to become.

It’s never too late to choose how we live.

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