In January 2007, Steve Jobs revealed the very first iPhone at the Macworld conference. Since then, the way we interact and consume information has changed immeasurably. To mark the evolution of the smartphone, Ofcom focused their 2018 Communications Market Report on the ‘decade of digital dependency’.
Today, we spend an average of 2 hours 28 minutes online each day. For 16 to 24 year olds, this figure reaches 3 hours 14 mins a day. In Ofcom’s report, 78% of respondents said they couldn’t live without their phones, despite 43% admitting that they think they spend too much time online and over half the respondents saying that connected devices disrupt in-person conversations with loved ones.
Digital Minimalism to Beat the Attention Deficit
Dubbed the Marie Kondo of our digital lives, professor and author Cal Newport believes that, while no one app is to blame, the addictive nature of our devices is damaging our quality of life and sense of autonomy. His solution? To strip back the digital clutter. By applying ‘digital minimalism’ and reducing digital interactions to only those that support ‘things you deeply value’, we ensure technology is serving us, rather than enslaving us through distractions.
Much like Kondo, Newport’s ethos isn’t the sterile, restricted idea of minimalism that many hold as a preconception. It’s about focusing on what brings you joy and offers the most value and determining how tech can enhance what’s important to you. Newport isn’t inherently slamming the use of technology, rather through digital minimalism he’s offering a fundamental framework for managing tech that has been so sorely lacking. In his latest book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Newport explains, “Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools”.
Digital Decluttering and Re-finding Pleasure in Analogue Pursuits
Digital minimalism is well aligned to the slow living mindset; slowing down and switching off auto-pilot to make more conscious decisions for our well-being. To Newport, slow tech tips, like turning off notifications and occasional digital detoxes (which are usually compromised by family or work needs), don’t go far enough. Due to the addictive nature of our devices (some have likened them to miniature slot machines in our pockets which we ‘pull down to refresh’), Newport believes tackling habits one by one won’t work; the attention economy will draw us back in.
How do we begin stripping back the layers of our digital dependency that has become so entrenched in daily life? And how do we do so in a sustainable way? Many are turning to Newport’s 30-day digital declutter to start replacing mindless scrolling with meaningful analogue pursuits:
1.Take a 30-day break from non-necessary technologies
The first step towards digital minimalism is to remove ‘optional’ technology from your lifestyle – such as social media. Technology you need for work, of course, is fine (during work hours).
2. Embrace analogue activities
Rediscover or try out new offline activities to fill the tech-free void. Perhaps that’s taking up exercising, doing something creative, or even getting started on the book that’s been on your bedside table for months.
The idea is to pursue activities that have meaning and value for you and discover how you really want to be filling your time.
3. Reintroduce optional technologies that support what you value
At the end of the 30 day period, selectively reintroduce technology that helps serve your aspirations and what you deem important. Newport explains, “the goal of this final step is to start from a blank slate and only let back into your life technology that passes your strict minimalist standards.”
The popularity of both Newport and Kondo’s decluttering techniques highlight how many of us feel our lives have reached saturation point, whether that’s through constant communication and connection, or through constant consumption. There’s never been a better time to explore a simpler lifestyle that prioritises living better, rather than faster.