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Digital Minimalism

2022.02.25

I've listed my personal philosophy on technology already, but I decided I'd like to write a post specifically on digital minimalism.

In 2020 I read the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. That book defined a lot of my current views on technology, which is almost the complete opposite of my previous relationship with technology. I should note that while I hold these specific views, sticking to them is not easy. I get easily distracted and addicted to technology, as a lot of us do, and that is what I'm trying to stay away from.

The biggest takeaway from that book is that I want to be intentional with my use of technology. I tend to get sucked in to a whirlwind of digital activities, and I am working to put boundaries in place, both mental and digital, to prevent those kinds of behaviors.

Digital limitations

One thing I have done is uninstalled specific applications and even blocked certain sites on my phone. I don't want to use my phone to escape, or really even for entertainment. I view my phone as a tool. It's for playing music, viewing my calendar, setting alarms, getting directions, ordering coffee, etc. I want my phone to be a purely utilitarian device.

I have decided to leave certain social apps on my phone, as they are challenging to use on other devices, but I don't allow myself to open them when I'm bored. I need to have a purpose going into them (like posting something).

I have also blocked my Mastodon instances in firefox on mobile using LeechBlock NG. Those are not sites I want to just visit when I'm bored. I want to go into them intending to spend some time browsing them and/or posting something. These are activities I can do intentionally on my laptop.

Mental limitations

Digital limitations can only do so much. There also needs to be mental limitations in place. This can be challenging to keep up, but having rules in place for yourself is helpful in keeping focused.

One time suck that I struggle with is the explore tab on Instagram. It's really good at showing curated posts that align with your interests, and I need to stay away from that, as I tend to just sit there and scroll for a very long time. My mental rule for this is simple: I'm never allowed to open the explore tab. Ever. For any reason. This habit can be difficult to break, but it prevents me from doing something mentally destructive that gives me nothing in return.

Another thing I have been doing is not allowing myself to do distracting things on my work computer. I struggle with focusing on work, and can easily get caught up in something for hours and realize I've done nothing productive that day. Distracting activities either need to never be done, or done intentionally on my personal computer after work hours.

Accepting technology

Another mindset I got from the book is to not accept technology as it is. You need to assess a piece of technology and determine if it aligns with your personal goals. If it is useful, but it has all these other distracting features, can you turn those off? Can you make a rule for yourself to never use them? Can you find an alternative that is more dialed in to what you're trying to achieve? Can you build an alternative yourself?

It's fortunate that I'm a software engineer, so I can write my own programs if needed. I've made many different things for myself that fit specific needs, as opposed to just using something off the shelf that is close enough.

Final thoughts

Overall the intent here is to do the following: