Digital minimalism


I reached a point in my life where it’s necessary to rethink my digital habits. It happened before, of course, but in some way or another I’ve never done something useful to actively tackle my tech-addictions.

In my defence, a smartphone entered my life only by way of a birthday present in 2016. I had resisted until then for two reasons: I spend most of the day in front of a screen already, and sociability is not my strongest skill. Three years later, I am still far from being a smartphone enthusiast. Besides occasional phone calls, I seldom check it during the day. I keep messaging at a bare minimum, and there are only a couple of applications nudging me with notifications.

Therefore, the smartphone is not to blame for my compulsively click-driven life. The big giants like Facebook and Twitter don’t matter either, because I stopped using them a long while ago. The problem is everything else. Aggregating RSS feeds seemed like the right move at the beginning, but checking them everyday has turned out to be a time-consuming experience much like browsing news websites to keep up to date. Reddit lures me in constantly, even though the small percentage of valuable content just reminds me of Twitter. GitHub usually offers more click-worthy updates, but the repositories I deem interesting are far less than the uninteresting ones. Letterboxd, a staple of my cinema obsession, may be the worse in this regard; its Activity tab is the drug I can’t resist, and yet I usually find no more than a couple of beautiful reviews a week.

All these considerations are the outcome of reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Newport’s writing style is at times too pedantic and close to spoon-feeding, but his book highlights potentially effective solutions to escape the miring web of my networking routines. The decluttering process Newport suggests is a difficult task. Depending on the depth of your online addiction, it requires several levels of confidence and willpower, because you know that fighting your own vices is a painful endeavour.

I experienced something similar when I left Twitter behind. I had always valued Twitter more for the network of like-minded people than the chance to share how I feel in a precise moment, and so Twitter had become my go-to reference for film and technology updates. After I deleted my account, I remember asking myself over and over again: am I missing something important? Will I be able to keep up with everyday trends? These questions were always in the back of my head, poking me every time I heard Twitter mentioned somewhere. It took a couple of weeks, maybe three, to realise how much time and peace of mind I gained from a life without Twitter. And I did find the answer to those questions eventually: who cares?

With this precious experience in mind, I treasured Newport’s tips and followed these key steps:

  • cut down my RSS feeds to twenty entries and check them only twice a week
  • remove Reddit from my computer and from my phone
  • remove GitHub from my phone and use it only for work and open source projects
  • access Letterboxd for my writings and check the rest of the community once a week

The trick, as Newport points out, is not just understanding what you value most and whether technology helps you get it or not, but occupying the spare time with something else, possibly unrelated to technology. And so, in my case, it means more time with my wife, longer walks with our dog, more writing, more cooking, and more books. Rewarding leisure, and it’s just the beginning.

Note that I am simplifying Newport’s pages for the sake of brevity, because there is more to his idea of decluttering. Bluntly put, if you are reading this on your phone start looking for Digital Minimalism now.

As daunting as it may look, minimizing our digital consumption is the best way to really and deeply connect with the world around us.