deleting social media doesn't make you a digital minimalist
I first read Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism a few years ago, and it touched a chord, like it did especially with those in my generation. I grew up on the internet. In middle school, I chatted with my friends on Google chat (those little chat windows from Gmail) instead of hanging out in person. In high school we migrated to Facebook Messenger, but nothing really changed. It might be hard to fathom for some, but being online is as comfortable to me as water is to a fish.
In Digital Minimalism, Newport argues that our technology is using us, instead of the other way around as it should be. You don't have to look hard to find evidence to support his case; people are glued to their phones while riding trains, hanging out with friends, and even during sex.
To combat this dependence, Newport proposes a month-long break from technology, using the time to redefine rules and develop rewarding hobbies to fill the void. Only after this declutter should we bring back some technology, but with intention, taking care to bring back only the things that add value to our lives.
Since I was already growing disillusioned with social media, Newport's call to action was all I needed to hear. In one fell swoop, I not only got rid of social media apps on my phone, but also deleted my accounts entirely. Goodbye Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
It was tough at first. A lot of my friends questioned my choices. Without social media, I fell out of touch with some people entirely. But my change undoubtedly improved my quality of life, and I never looked back. I suddenly had a bunch of newfound time, and I used it to pursue new hobbies and spend time with friends.
Fast forward a few years, and while I haven't redownloaded any social media apps, I spend more time on my phone than ever. Where I used to spend hours scrolling through my Facebook or Instagram feed, I now get lost on Youtube or Reddit. Even when I block those two sites, I find myself checking my phone for no reason, mindlessly trawling Wikipedia or googling random things just to distract myself.
Removing my access to certain apps or websites isn't a sustainable solution. My fragmented attention span and desire for distraction will always find something else to distract me. I have to work to rewire my brain, constantly fighting these impulses by replacing them with productive, healthier habits.
The two habits that have helped me the most are mindfulness and reading. Mindfulness, including meditating and journaling, helps me be more aware of my thoughts and actions. The clarity I get from meditating (and meditative walks, meals, etc) makes me do things intentionally instead of out of habit. Journaling lets me reflect on my actions and make changes if needed. Rewiring your brain is an uncomfortable undertaking that never quite ends, but I promise the rewards are worth the effort.
It's taken me years to realize that not having social media doesn't automatically make you a digital minimalist, in the same way that having them doesn't preclude you from using your technology well. Digital minimalism is about so much more than getting rid of a few apps; it's about having a healthy relationship with your technology, and just how that relationship looks will differ for everyone.
Some tools that help me in my fight to reclaim my attention:
- On my computer
- News Feed Eradicator
- Distraction Free for Youtube
- On my iPhone
- Airplane mode
- Focus modes, especially Do Not Disturb
- Screen time settings (like limits on certain apps)
- Healthy habits
- Meditation makes you conscious of your impulses
- Reading helps lengthen your attention span and replace your mindless scrolling with learning
- Musical instruments and sports to fill newfound time with rewarding activities.
- A physical alarm clock helps me keep my phone in a different room, preventing me from getting sucked into it before bed or after waking.
- I replaced my Fitbit with a 'dumb' watch. It helps reduce my dependence on my phone. (Smartwatches just made me anxious anyway.)
- A notebook and pen help me capture my thoughts when they come to me. You can use it to write, plan, and even replace your digital calendar.
- A Kindle or physical books keeps me entertained and off my phone.
- I now write my friends letters with envelopes and stamps. People love getting snail mail, and you can say a lot more than you can over text or on social media.
- I've started leaving my phone behind (or at least in a bag) when I go out. The more you do it, the more you realize how little you need it.