Digital Minimalism: Be a Person, Not a Product

Sloww
Sloww
May 20, 2017 · 9 min read
Digital Minimalism iPhone Nature
Digital Minimalism iPhone Nature

Digital Minimalism Goes Mainstream

You know the need for digital minimalism is real when things like the NoPhone, a plastic rectangle resembling a smartphone, now exist. So real, in fact, that they raised $18,000 on Kickstarter, have sold over 12,000 units, and even appeared on Shark Tank. They’ve even branched into new product lines like the NoPhone Air — plastic packaging with nothing but air inside. It has 5 stars on Amazon. “The product is perfect for people looking to downgrade to nothing,” claim the founders. “Now everyone can put down their real phones, pick up the NoPhone Air and enjoy real life.”

In the same spirit, for April Fool’s Day, The Minimalists launched the Nothing app — a plain white screen. The site says, “From the creators of something, comes nothing. Disrupt Humanity.”

Not even world-renowned industrial designer, Dieter Rams, is safe. His original ten principles for good design have been satirically updated for 2017:

On the surface, it’s all a comedic social statement. But, the underlying message is very real. So, what’s going on?

Digital Usage by the Numbers

I’ll keep this part as brief as possible. According to the latest research from comScore’s 2017 U.S. Cross-Platform Future in Focus study:

  • Total digital media usage is up 40% since 2013

If those stats aren’t shocking enough:

  • Last year, Apple apparently acknowledged that its device users unlock their phones 80 times every day.

This high usage is leading to real health issues:

  • “New research links the number of social media platforms a person uses with risk of depression and anxiety…The analysis, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, shows that people who report using seven to 11 social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression and anxiety than their peers who use zero to two platforms, even after adjusting for the total time spent on social media overall.” (Futurity)

How is this addiction happening? In November 2016, The Atlantic did a nice job of summing it up in a post called The Binge Breaker:

  • “McDonald’s hooks us by appealing to our bodies’ craving for certain flavors; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter hook us by delivering what psychologists call “variable rewards.” Messages, photos, and “likes” appear on no set schedule, so we check for them compulsively, never sure when we’ll receive that dopamine-activating prize. (Delivering rewards at random has been proved to quickly and strongly reinforce behavior.)”

Enter digital minimalism…

What is Digital Minimalism (or Digital Declutter, Digital Downsizing, Digital Detox, KonMari for your Digital Life, etc)?

Digital minimalism doesn’t start to pop up in Google Trends until late 2010, so it’s a fairly new phenomenon.

A simple Google search for “digital minimalism” brings back top results including:

  • Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, defines digital minimalism as 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. To be a digital minimalist, in other words, means you accept the idea that new communication technologies have the potential to massively improve your life, but also recognize that realizing this potential is hard work.” “The core idea of digital minimalism is to be more intentional about technology in your life. Digital minimalists carefully curate these technologies to best support things they value.” “The traditional minimalists correctly noted that living among lots of physical clutter is stressful. The same is true of your online life.”

Simple Ways to Reduce Digital Clutter

These days, there’s quite a bit online about tips for digital minimalism. Many lists repeat the same tips — which are beneficial — but they often include things like:

  • Turn off notifications, badges and sounds — I’ve done this for virtually everything except my phone and text apps. This one alone makes a world of difference to minimize interruptions. Apparently there’s research that shows it takes an average of 23–25 minutes to return to a task once you’ve been interrupted.

Pro Tips for Digital Minimalism

This is where it gets tough. I truly believe digital clutter is more dangerous than physical clutter — at least in terms of what it can do to your time. Like most things in life, digital minimalism simply requires balance. If only it were simple. You must reject the FOMO (fear of missing out) and focus on intentional consumption. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Track your C:P ratio (Consumption:Production) — I first heard of the C:P ratio on Quora. Even reading educational material has a point of diminishing returns. This one is extremely tough for me personally. Maybe ironically, I use a habit-tracking app to track whether or not I accomplished this and “intentional consumption” daily. Speaking of habit-tracking…

And, last but most importantly, the #1 digital minimalism pro tip is to constantly remind yourself you are a person, not a product. (Click to Tweet)

You are a Person, Not a Product

You are the product when you are using the Internet. You are data that is then sold to advertisers — that they then use to sell you even more stuff you don’t really need. Next time (and every time) you open Facebook from here on out, just remember you are doing exactly what they want. And, the longer you stay the better. More user sessions, more minutes per day, more data, more ad revenue. You are the product.

This “game” has already even been covered by satire site, The Onion: “Exciting New App Allows Users To Be Pawns In 26-Year-Old CEO’s Little Game.”

Luckily for all of us, there are some good souls already fighting back:

  • Sep Kamvar (MIT Media Lab) has similar thoughts on what he calls self limiting technology. Instead of technology being useful initially, but then embedding itself and changing the way we live, technology could just solve the problem it sets out to solve and then just recede away. He gave online dating as an example.

Human inability to make sense of technology isn’t a new phenomenon:

  • In a 1931 speech at the California Institute of Technology, Albert Einstein said, “Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it.”

Just remember, everything in life is about balance. You don’t have to live for 27 years alone in the woods without sending a single email (or having a single conversation with another human being).

Most people need to live through the overwhelm of digital overload before they see the light of digital minimalism. If you’re reading this and are able to catch it early, you’re ahead of many (including myself). If you have any tips and tricks you personally use, please share them in the comments. Good luck, and see you in the real world!

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Sloww

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Sloww

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Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Sloww

Written by

Sloww

AWAKEN THE ART OF LIVING 🌎 Synthesizing Timeless Wisdom for Today’s World: Sloww.co 🧠 Newsletter: Sloww.co/newsletter 😃 Free eBook: Sloww.co/happiness-ebook

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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