I Tried Digital Minimalism for 2 Weeks
Digital declutter wasn’t so hard until it felt like a withdrawal symptom.
Living in a world that’s more connected than ever isn’t easy to deafen our ears from the noise and detach ourselves from it. Accompanied by the most convenient piece of gadget that doesn’t take a lot of space in our pockets, the screens that we stare at every day. In this day and age where most data has been digitized, it surely has become convenient as we’re able to access pretty much everything in no time. Information that we’re able to get in a matter of seconds can be useful, but it can also be overwhelming. Where you are, what your colleagues are up to, your friend’s preferences in music and places to eat, what that far acquaintance of yours is wearing that day, the design trend that you haven’t been able to try for yourself, and so on. The initial purpose was certainly appealing, and it is quite noble — the purpose to further connect people, to some. We are social beings after all.
This information overload can be nauseating, and you might not realize it until one day you’ve become so sick of acknowledging these pieces of information that you feel like disconnecting. That was, undoubtedly, what I felt.
It didn’t happen in one morning, awoken from a nightmare that I needed to detach. It was after many, many dreadful anxieties.
The anxieties felt as if they were piling up. The thought of absorbing so much information in the morning is internally draining. Although it fulfills this craving of constant content consumption (which will be talked about later on), feeling and being overly distracted would be the perfect ramification of this exposure. Most days it would feel like I needed to be updated on what was going on and what everyone was doing, the FOMO (fear of missing out) surely grew stronger. What turned it into a more complicated case was the bottled up, mental nausea that was constantly telling me to stop, as “you’ll have too much of it and it’s not going to be good for you”. At the time, I was abyss-deep into Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, which, in my biased opinion, pretty much changed how I see social media and smart device usage in a non-radical, positive way. So, the mental nausea definitely had a point.
Statistics and method
Before getting into the rules I had to strictly follow, acknowledging what matters to me when it comes to content consumption is crucial, therefore making it clear what needed to be wary of. It was also certain to me that I had to tip-toe around trying a new habit in order for said-habit and its objectives to work well. I am also aware that a new habit only works itself in into a routine and becomes automatic after 66 days. Regardless, I was curious still in finding out what tidying up digitally would feel like.
The most used apps on my phone, in a numbered order with battery usage percentage, were:
- Instagram (34%)
- Twitter (15%)
- YouTube (13%)
- Spotify (background activity; 12%)
- Facebook (11%)
- Whatsapp (10%)
Prior to doing this challenge, I limited myself access-wise to apps that can be accessed on web. I deleted Twitter and Facebook on my phone, having only one access to Twitter and Facebook via web only if I wanted to access them, switching my main source of content to Instagram and YouTube. However, keeping Instagram on my phone was a priority within work mostly to update work-in-progress goods I was working on its Stories feature. Notifications were also turned off, except for WhatsApp.
Inspired by Matt D’avella’s routine I created a personalized set of rules to follow for 2 weeks. The simple rules are as follow:
- Limit screen time to an hour a day (apps used for commuting excluded)
- No screens in bed
- Limit streaming to 24 hours total in a week
Observation: The first few days
It was a routine of mine to check on social media platforms I use right after waking up. Face still planted on my pillow, my hand tried to reach for my phone on the bedside table. I was sunk into disappointment to remember that I was being my own lab rat, but a challenge is a challenge nevertheless. Life gets in the way and some things need to change. This might sound oblivious but removing this urge when getting up the first few days was definitely not easy.
Commuting takes me about 45 minutes and I’d usually open Spotify before starting my commute. The first day I tried not to, and strange enough I noticed what I hadn’t about myself. These points I jotted down on my notebook for each thing I had observed.
- My earphones are always on. I listen to music when I’m not having a conversation. If I don’t have my earphones on, I become impatient and my attention span plummets to one of a goldfish.
- With limited access to social media and almost no online content exposure in the morning (with commuting time added), it takes caffeine to genuinely wake me up when I get to my desk at work.
Essentially, I shut myself out from my surroundings, but this digital clutter experiment pried me open. Lunchtime became my prime time to get updated on whatever was happening, though I knew I didn’t want to become dependent on consuming virtually and literally at the same time. So I put my phone down for a second and looked outside, at the skyscrapers. I’ve always dreamed of them, the concrete titans, the figuration of glass windows morphing into an enormous reflection of the streets, the beings that walk, breathe and live on them. Then it felt like my mind started to separate into two consciousness.
- That’s it. I was daydreaming. Then it dawned on me that it was something that hadn’t occurred for a good while.
I saved all my screen time minutes for me to “enjoy” at the end of each day. It wasn’t an easy task, for every time I was on my phone to solely reply to a text, the urge to check my Instagram felt almost seductive.
- I was craving for it.
I knew without a doubt that it wouldn’t end well and having had enough of this content exposure at that point while having been used to consuming so much, everything began like a withdrawal symptom. This over-consumption withdrawal happened during some days that were the worst for the length of this experimentation. So why did this lustful urge keep resurfacing?
- Feeling disconnected and being on your own can appear as a threat, resulting in visceral fear of boredom and loneliness.
The end of the experimentation period was approaching. It was acknowledged that the cravings that occurred throughout were a major hitting point that needed to be resolved. Tracing this problem to its roots wasn’t the most pleasant walk in the woods and instead of giving in, I decided to take a walk in the morning. Then more of it. Then lots of it, leaving my phone and earphones at home. After a number of epiphanies, I decided to extend this experimentation for as long as I could go. Leaving my phone at home or in an untouchable spot in my bag for a walk has been a good decision made so far, because:
- I forgot how much I enjoy going for a walk and do hands-on activities. Particularly cooking and tinkering.
That in itself sounds like an awfully-simple matter. However, this experimentation has asked me questions which answers aren’t complex to begin with, it’s the essentials that tend to be forgotten over time, such as high-quality leisure time. It personally feels quite similar to losing that sense of innocence in the span of our adolescence. Life gets increasingly noisy as you grow older and so does the digital form of it. Another discovery I found, as a result of this experimentation, is that
- I wasn’t as disconnected as I feared to be. The contrary — connecting with my surroundings and having a better focus, took effect instead.
Companies and media are out to get your attention with all means of false advertising and apps designed to draw you in. Content production and consumption so rapid it gets you hooked when it feels like you haven’t been fed enough. It’s all a jumbled mess. This anxiety-driven system is meant to create distractions, and it was born to distract its users. But does that mean that “phone bad book good” is as true as this illustration depicts below?
Technology, like almost everything else in life, comes with its conveniences and disadvantages. It’s neither good nor bad. It comes back to its users, whether their value is to utilize what technology offers or to take it for granted. This digital clutter experimentation has led me to redefine values of purpose, focusing on things that are more essential to divide matters into boxes, which one to keep is the one that provides meaning and genuine satisfaction. It also provided steps for self-rediscovery, regaining control and reclaiming leisures and conversations that were lost in the pages of my book. The joy of conversing that was once a myth suddenly became a living legend, and its legacy, no matter the awkwardness we try to avoid, is an experience of living. Strange to say I was actually happy to miss out on things — things which I, later on, grasped didn’t truly matter to me.
It’s not so lonely to be off the grid after all.