The Move Towards Information and Content Minimalism

david stokman
The Startup
Published in
6 min readMay 12, 2020

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Photo by Imani Clovis on Unsplash

Everyone’s familiar with the minimalist movements. From what I garner, minimalism in recent years has been spurred by an effort to be more conscientious in our consumption habits, eliminating the inessentials in order to be less distracted, more free. Simply put, it’s quality > quantity, driven in large part by people feeling inundated with the unlimited possibilities of things to buy (driven largely by the internet and globalism, I would guess).

Minimalism, however, is not simply confined to the consumption of physical goods, but is instead more of a lifestyle, encompassing not only what we buy, but also how and with whom we choose to spend our time, for example.

Similar to the oversaturation of consumption choices, I think we are experiencing a similar moment with the oversaturation of information and content. I think this reality will in turn draw more people to information and content minimalism. Namely, people will choose to cut out most of the junk that fills their phone, tablet, laptop and TV feeds, and replace it with quality, likely more expensive information and content.

The “Golden Corral” Information Age

Given our rather nascent relationship with the internet and smartphones, we are still figuring out how to live well with the overabundance of content and information that is available at the snap of a finger. A tall order, no doubt, considering information is certainly one of the most powerful things we can possess, and to think about willingly limiting our flow of information might seem on first take like a dumb idea.

The internet and social media revolution has brought about a situation similar to that which happened after the Gutenberg printing press was invented. The ease and minuscule cost of producing and publishing content in the 21st c. has made it so that everyone can do it. This has led to an exponential increase in the supply of information and content, thereby lowering its price even further and probably its perceived value as well. As those living in the 16th century probably felt that the quality of literature and art declined as a result of the printing press, so we might feel that the quality of media outlets, as well as the content and conversations on platforms like Facebook and Twitter has declined precipitously.

It has led to what I might call the “Golden Corral” information and content age. We are bombarded by quasi unlimited ways with which to inform and entertain ourselves — podcasts, Netflix, Spotify and on and on. However, just because we can have it all, doesn’t mean we should or should even want to. Everyone enjoys an unlimited buffet every now and then (I remember the first time I frequented Golden Corral I loved it), but on a regular basis we desire smaller, higher quality portions. Our time and attention are scarce resources (no matter how much Netflix tries to convince us otherwise), making us want to spend them on valuable things.

Let me invoke another analogy. Consuming content and information today is a bit like garage sale-ing. Every so often you find a gem of an item for a gem of a price. Most of the time, however, you spend hours combing through racks of clothes and cheap trinkets that you know aren’t worth your dollar, but which you can’t help looking at and debate purchasing.

This transition from quantity to quality, whether in the realm of food or information and content, stems from a more mature understanding of what is good for us as humans beings. In thinking about how we should consume information and content, it’s worth asking the basic question: “what is the purpose of all this information and content in our lives?” Is it to educate us? To bring us more peace of mind? Help us stay informed with current events and guide our political decisions? Make decisions within our work, life, and relationship easier? Give us a mode for leisure, laughter and relaxation?

Estate Sale Anyone?

If the current information age is like a garage sale, the goal is to make it an estate sale, where everything (at least as much as possible) that is put up for sale is higher quality.

Incentives are powerful and are constantly shaping our behavior. In the case of the internet, nobody has an incentive to limit what they publish or post because there’s no cost attached to each post (other than maybe the fear of putting something in the public eye). It’s like your neighbor that literally takes everything from his basement and shed, slaps a price tag on the items and places them for sale in his driveway.

However, imagine if your neighbor had to pay for every item which did not get sold at the garage sale. Or, to make the example more relevant to our discussion, imagine if your friend had to pay for every comment he put on Facebook. Their incentives would change immediately, and while you would expect the quantity of content to decrease, the quality would likely increase.

An example of someone trying to change these incentives is comedian and podcaster, Dave Rubin, of the Rubin Report. Rubin recently launched Locals.com, essentially a subscription based social platform where users each have their own “digital home” which they can connect with other users. Inside the digital home there is a feed (similar to Facebook) where one can post statuses or ask questions; there is also a personal dashboard where a user can publish creator content, whether that be photos, podcasts, music, articles, or food recipes. By attaching a real person to each account, by being connected to fewer people (as opposed to the hundreds/thousands of “friends” you have on FB), and by paying a small fee to access certain content, the hope is that the quality of discourse and information is elevated (meanwhile not being subject to the oversight of big tech companies).

While many initiatives of this type will come from new platforms and alternatives to social media titans, I think there are also plenty of ways we can decide personally how to filter, limit, and clean our stream of content and information. For example, I am currently trying to keep my phone on airplane mode for at least 30 minutes before going to bed until at least an hour after I wake up. I have found thus far that it gives me the chance to start the day in a less hurried, clearer state of mind.

Also, when I return to the states I plan on purchasing a Nokia brick phone to use on the weekends. The idea would be that Friday evening after work I would switch the SIM from my iPhone to the Nokia, essentially limiting my information to phone calls or texts from family and friends. Of course I might still use my laptop or TV on the weekend, but using those mediums frequently means I’m with other people, which tends to in my opinion, elevate the quality of content and information (at least the experience of consuming it).

Information minimalism will be for those who want to simplify what they take in, much like the person that sagaciously chooses the salad bar at lunch instead of the buffet, even though that fried Asian orange chicken is tempting and hard to forego.

  • Please leave a comment if you have thoughts or want to share how you are being a minimalist in the ambit of content and information.

ciao, David

To follow and support more of my work, check out The News Memo. TNM is a weekly news synthesis that is designed to be a simple, factual way to help you follow the news. Subscribe for free at thenewsmemo.com

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