I just finished reading Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism, and I honestly feel like it should be required reading for all humans – especially those feeling negative effects from their relationship with technology.
In the past few years I’ve noticed a persistent nagging pull towards my phone and computer, despite my best efforts to spend my time otherwise. Even though I’ve taken steps to silence notifications and reduce apps, my usage has still increased, resulting in more distraction and less time being present and focused on things I actually value.
I’ve tried digital detox weekends, and I move my phone and computer into my office each night when I go to bed, but I still feel somewhat…addicted. Apparently, I’m not alone. While there’s no doubt that technology can be a huge asset, without the right boundaries and intentionality it can leave people feeling distracted, stressed, anxious, and lonely.
Newport makes a compelling case for questioning and redesigning our relationships with our screens based on the principles of minimalism. Much like my favorite definition of minimalism, the idea is not to focus on scarcity, lack, or depravation, but rather to identify the perfect amount of something – the right formula to support and enhance your values and your life.
In the book, digital minimalism is defined as the following:
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.
Feel like you’re losing control to your screen? Want to try a digital declutter?
Here’s how it’s done:
Step One: Define Your Technology Rules
Identify which optional classes of technology you will take a break from for 30-days. Newport classifies all technology optional unless it would harm or significantly disrupt the daily operation of your professional or personal life. In my case, I use my blog and Instagram weekly to promote my work and business, but my personal Facebook account, and other social media, are purely optional. Feel free to include television, video games, or any other source of technology that has a net negative on your life.
Step Two: Take a 30-Day Break
Once you’ve clearly defined your rules and boundaries, you’ll practice your “digital detox” for 30-days. The goal during this period is to invest time to rediscover what’s important to you without the addictive pull of technology to distract or bias your decisions. Just like in an elimination diet, you start by removing almost everything, and then add back the foods that fuel you and contribute to your overall wellness. In this case, you’ll remove all of the distractions, clarify the things that value, and then consider what you want to reintroduce.
Step Three: Reintroduce Technology
Once you’ve taken a break, the goal is to slowly, and intentionally, add back only technology that supports your deepest values in a significant and meaningful way. This is your opportunity to reset your digital life and start fresh. When you create concrete rules about what you’ll give your attention to and why, you’ll be able to eliminate mindless distractions and live a more purposeful and meaningful life.
In the end, Newport isn’t rejecting the innovations of technology, but questioning how we engage with it. When we put in the effort to take control over our digital lives with our eyes wide open we can benefit from it without detracting from the quality of our lives.
If this topic interests you, I highly recommend reading the entire book or checking out Newport’s website RIGHT HERE.
I’d love to know what limits and constraints you’ve tried implementing with technology and how it has worked for you and your family. Also, how are you handling technology, especially devices that can access the internet, with regard to your kids?
P.S. If you struggle with smartphone addiction – and who doesn’t? – check out Catherine Price’s book, How to Break Up with Your Phone.