Have you ever considered how our attention is being hijacked and exploited by new technologies? The philosophy of digital minimalism can optimise the way we use our personal technology. It does this by embracing new innovations in a way that can support what we love and value in our life.
Our current relationship with technology is broken. The Internet has significantly improved our lives in many ways, but there is a down side to this use. In isolation, no website or app can be considered as ‘bad’. However, the Internet is draining our attention, as we use it constantly and often at the expense of other activities we find more valuable. It also manipulates our mood, and can lead to addiction and exhaustion.
Tech companies encourage behavioural addiction in two ways:
- Intermittent positive reinforcement
- The drive for social approval
Intermittent Positive Reinforcement
Every time you post something on social media, you’re gambling. “Will I get likes (or hearts or retweets or comments), or will I get no feedback?”
The outcome is hard to predict and that makes the whole activity of posting and checking extremely appealing. Similarly, going to a news website to check the weather may drain away your time. It can lead you to mindlessly skip from one headline to another, and there goes another 30 minutes.
The Drive For Social Approval
Comments and hearts and likes feel like the “tribe” is showing us approval. Conversely a lack of positive feedback creates a sense of distress.
That explains the streak of daily posts on social media and the universal urge to immediately answer an incoming text. These give us a satisfying confirmation that the relationship with a person or an audience is strong.
However, we miss an important detail. Social-validation feedback loops have been crafted in boardrooms to serve the interests of technology investors. This feedback however exploits vulnerabilities in our human psychology.
The answer to these problems?
“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a
small number of carefully selected and optimised activities. These activities strongly
support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
The aim is to transform technological innovations from a source of distraction or addiction into tools that support a life well-lived. Digital minimalists must work backward from their deep values to their technology choices – not the other way around. How much of your time and attention must be sacrificed to earn the small profit of occasional connections and new ideas through an active presence on Twitter?
Cluttering time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services compounds to an overall negative cost. This cost overwrites the small benefits that each item provides in isolation.
“The cost of a thing is the amount of life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” Thoreau
Optimisation is important
When considering digital minimalism, decide if a particular technology supports something you value. Then think carefully about how you’ll use this technology – not in the ‘default way’. For example: if your goal is to stay informed about current events, you can:
- Keep an eye on the links that pop up in your social media feeds
- Identify and follow a set of trustworthy news sites
- Collect these articles on an app like Instapaper and read them all
on a Saturday morning over coffee, distraction-free
Intentionality is satisfying
Intentional engagement with new technologies is one of the biggest reasons why minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to it’s practitioners. Approaching decisions intentionally, with the end goal in mind (not the tool) is more important than the impact of the actual decisions themselves.
Becoming a Digital Minimalist
Define which technologies are optional before embarking on your 30 day break period. Some may define all technology as optional, unless its temporary removal would harm or significantly disrupt their daily professional or personal life. In other words, if removing certain technology just makes things ‘inconvenient’, then it’s definitely optional.
- During a thirty-day period, take a break from all optional technologies in your life.
- In this break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviours that you find satisfying and meaningful.
- At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies into your life, asking yourself what value they serve and how you could use them so as to maximise their value.
The goal of the 30-day break is not just to detox you from technology. You must also rediscover what’s important to you and what you enjoy outside the digital world. Figuring this out before you reintroduce technology is crucial. Cultivate high-quality and enriching alternatives to the easy distraction that the optional technologies provide. Go out and get your hands dirty and experiment! At the end, you’ll have discovered activities that generate real satisfaction, leading to a better life. Technology will then only serve a supporting role.
After your Detox
After your 30-day break, reintroduce optional technologies back into your life. Only allow technology that passes the following strict standards:
- Does this technology directly support something that I deeply value? This is the only condition on which you should let one of these tools into you life – be happy missing out on everything else!
- Is this technology the best way to support this value? If not, replace it with something better. If yes, then you move on to the final question.
- How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximise its
value and minimise its harms? In other words, how do you optimise the use of this technology? Use only features that serve you, nothing else.
How to practise Digital Minimalism
- Spend time alone
- Leave your phone at home
- Go for long walks
- Communicate – face-to-face or on the phone
- Reclaim leisure
Digital minimalists see new technologies as tools to support things they deeply value – not as sources of value themselves.
Don’t let the technology in your life distract you from making room for heartfelt listening.
Digital minimalists don’t reject the innovations of the Internet age. They reject the mindless way most people currently engage with them.
While considering your use of technology, don’t forget to monitor carefully the way your children are using devices. Children often model their patterns of behaviour on their closest role models – their parents!