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A confession: As a web designer I am sickened at the current state of the internet.

From the constant data mining and addictive design to algorithms that create societal division, these are all things that people in Silicon Valley decided were good ideas.

Frankly, I’m exhausted by it all.

I’ve spent the last few years trying to be more mindful of how I interact online and to inspire others to do the same, finding some success with digital detoxes and using a basic banana phone in the evenings and weekends.

We didn’t fall into these habits, we were pushed

Despite this effort it’s still a battle to not get sucked into bouts of mindless scrolling, tapping and swiping.

You don’t need me to remind you how addictive these services are purposefully designed to be to keep your attention.

I’m sure you’d rather not use your phone to look at photos of people looking at their phones, here’s a picture of my dog instead.

After all, online giants such as Facebook and Google invest massively in designing these tools to pull us in whenever we are bored, lonely or angry.

Enough is enough. A big, big change is needed and this time a simple detox won’t cut it.

Digital Minimalism

I’d come across Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport a little while ago. Despite widespread praise, I decided not to buy it as I already had a pile of books I hadn’t read yet (probably due to me spending my evenings faffing about on Instagram).

The time has come to give it a whirl.

Cal’s concept of Digital Minimalism is about creating an entire lifestyle based on using digital tools only in an intentional way that adds value to your life.

The idea is to replace the convenient low-quality digital interactions (e.g. liking a friend’s Facebook post) with more rewarding conversation (e.g. speaking to them on the phone).

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

The first part of this process is taking a month-long ‘digital declutter’, involving an abstinence or reduction of using any optional digital technologies.

However, more than simply taking a break from social media for a bit, the idea is to spend the time away actively building a lifestyle around alternative minimalist methods.

At the end of the month, you then decide what you’ve missed, what you can do better and what you can give the chop.

Digital Declutter

After reviewing all the digital tools I use for work and home, here are the rules I settled on:

Work emailSwitch to 3 checks per day: morning, after lunch, late afternoon
Personal emailLaptop only
News websitesBan – swap for radio or weekly paper
Own website analyticsBan
Netflix/iPlayerMax 2 episodes of a single show per week
Signal MessengerMuted – check 3 times per day. Use banana phone evening and weekends
Video gamesBan
ShazamDelete from phone
SpotifyNo auto-generated playlists – listen to radio instead.
Board game geekBan
Rules for my month-long digital declutter

While I’m “banning” social media, my profiles are still being monitored by my marketing sidekick Karen (albeit with reduced posts). I don’t need to check my emails constantly, and as I check my personal website analytics way more than I need to, that’s getting cut right back too.

I’ve banned things such as video games and apps that suck me in when I’m bored, such as IMDB and Board Game Geek.

And I can do all this while still being contactable in case of emergencies: people can still call or text me on my banana phone in the evenings.

All that’s left of my phone’s home screen after the declutter

Whilst this list might read a little extreme in places, the point here is not to cut yourself off from civilisation and live in a tree.

The idea of digital minimalism is to use the tools to serve the purpose you want, without getting sucked into wasting your time and energy being distracted doing stuff that offers little value. To quote the book:

The key [to digital minimalism] is using technology to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you.

Cal Newport

For example, the book argues that you can get the same amount of information from checking your Twitter feed once a week for 15 minutes rather than checking up constantly every day.

Why now?!

Granted, at the time of writing in January 2021, the UK is still in ongoing Covid lockdown and we’re all relying on digital tools to keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues and clients.

My hope is that by cutting back on low-quality digital connections, I’ll be forced to make more effort to get in touch with people and have more mindful, focussed conversations in other ways, even if we can’t do that in person.

I’ll report back at the end of the 30 days!

Find out how I did in Digital Minimalism Part 2: After the Experiment.