Cal Newport’s book “Digital Minimalism – Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” makes a compelling case that our relationship with technology – smartphones/tablets, apps, social media platforms, games, email, and text messaging – is making us unhappy, stressed, anxious and un-productive.
Newport proposes everyone should be re-evaluating their relationship with technology. He suggests a multi-stage approach that allows each individual to create an intentional relationship with their tech use that reflects that individual’s personal values and goals. Technology is a powerful tool, and wielded wisely, will enhance all aspects of the individuals life without the negative impacts that unplanned use leads to.
Step 1 – Digital Detox.
This is the hardest part. Taking a two – four week + break from all optional technology. The goal of this break is multiple. To clear the mind of the mildly addictive qualities of tech use. To re-discover and explore new and fulfilling activities with which to fill spare time. To re-engage in the art of conversation and become comfortable with solitude (the ability to be alone with your own thoughts and free of other peoples thoughts). Luckily for all of us at MTC, we do this most difficult part of the process every summer and love it! We just call it a session at camp, but it’s also a digital detox at the same time.
Step 2 – Fill the space (that has been papered over by digital distractions)
So, you don’t have digital distractions - social media, games, or websites to fill every spare moment anymore. What will you replace those with? Hopefully during your summer at camp, you’ve been exploring a range of fun new activities, and renewing your love of things you’ve always enjoyed. Sports, arts, music, conversation, writing. The list is endless. Make your own list. Prioritize the things you enjoy most, that leave you feeling fulfilled and happy.
Step 3 – Declutter
Camp is over, you are about to re-enter the real world. With that re-entry comes your phone, again. What do you want your relationship with your phone to be? Do you want to use it intentionally, as a tool to allow you to complete essential tasks efficiently, leaving more time to engage in the things that have meaning, and are more likely to result in happiness? If so, delete every app on your phone. Now download only the ones you feel you really need in your life. Before you download an app, ask yourself
- Does this app serve a role that is in line with my values, the things I find meaning in?
- Is this app the best way to do fill that role?
- Is my use of this app constrained by rules on when and how I use it? How do I make sure I maintain that intention?
- Start with the understanding that your time, and your attention, are finite, and valuable. You only get so much of each. How you choose to spend your time, how you pay attention should be as mindful as how you spend your money, how much you pay for something. Value your time and attention dearly. App developers do.
- Buy and use a watch. Checking the time on your phone opens you up to all sorts of attention grabbing notifications and distractions that you did not intend to pay attention to when checking the time.
- Buy an alarm clock. An alarm clock will give you one notification only. It won’t tempt you to pick it up and stare at it, and it won’t randomly ping during the night. Using your phone as an alarm is shown to be detrimental to good sleep patterns.
- Set a digital curfew. For you, or your house (if your parents agree). No phone or tablet use between 9pm and 7am, for instance. Set your own hours, and rules, then be accountable to yourself.
- Learn to validate your own experiences. Rather than letting your FitBit tell you if you were active today, or your IG likes tell you if your day-out/dessert/outfit is amazing, or Spotify tell you what your favorite song is; ask and trust yourself. Those digital scoring mechanisms capture but a fraction of the rich human experience. Maybe you took less steps today because you ran into an old friend and stopped to catch up for an hour. Maybe your dessert looked blah but tasted remarkable. Maybe the song that means the most to you is one you save for when you really need a pick-me-up. Understanding and validating your experiences on your scale is what matters, not the numbers piled up by an algorithm.
- Plan regular rich leisure
- Hikes/bike rides/paddles/swims/climbing/gym etc
- Plan regular social visits to friends and family.
- Set aside night/s of the week for family movie or game night. No phones allowed
- Develop a hobby/s. Get really good at it.
- Plan and facilitate regular conversations. Rather than text your friend 20 times a day, call them for 30 mins every few days. You’ll waste less time, have a much richer conversation, and feel like you made a genuine connection. Use texts to set up Facetime or phone calls, don’t let texts replace Facetime or phone calls
- Move social media off your phone, and onto your computer. Check it at regularly scheduled periods only.
- Guard your attention jealously. Plan regular times when you set aside all sources of distraction. Reclaim your solitude – the opportunity to be alone with only your own thoughts. No books, podcasts, music, screens. This is likely to be, and remain, an uncomfortable process for some time, until you learn how to enjoy solitude and the deeper thinking and creativity it brings.
- Schedule your Netflix time. (Substitute Netflix for YouTube, websurfing, the social media infinite scroll, video games etc, whatever floats your boat). Before you start, think about how much time you want and can afford to devote to these activities. Set a timer. Be disciplined. Reflect after the fact, and ask yourself if you got good value for the time you just spent.