Although digital tech makes our lives easier in countless way, it also has an impact on our wellbeing.
There’s been a swell of awareness around using our digital tools with more intention, so that they don’t eat up our attention. This is best described as Digital Minimalism, defined as follows:
I’m fond of experiments. Recently, to test out digital minimalism, I deleted most of my social media apps from my phone, to be more intentional about when I accessed them. (I.e. only on my laptop).
Then I promptly knocked the contents of my super-sturdy water glass ALL over my laptop. And you can guess what happened next…
It ends well … after a few days swaddled in paper towel and rice, my essential means of making a living was back in the land of the living. And with my big “phew” came some valuable realisations.
My laptop is an important tool in my life. It’s a portal for work, connection, learning, relaxation, entertainment and running my life in general. Sound familiar?
Although this event brought about some anxiety, I was never totally offline. A lot of the functional apps I use daily, are also on my smartphone. Sound familiar?
I also know it’s important to enjoy time and space in the real world. And I do make time away from my digital tools to reconnect with myself and others. I’m sure you do too.
So, despite having my phone as a backup workstation, I chose to invest more time participating with the world differently to how I would do it online. It was a worthwhile experience as part of my test.
It seems I’d become conditioned.
What hit home was that I’m too reliant on my digital tools. And using them too much impacts on my ability to focus and be mindful. While they’re essential parts of how my life functions, there are ways to improve how and when I use them, without it affecting my ability to work effectively.
I decided to delve deeper.
You probably already know that excessive digital usage can have harmful health impacts.
Too much screen time and lengthy periods sitting in front of those screens have a host of physical and mental ramifications. (I deleted a long paragraph with links to scary outcomes, for fear of harping on.)
In short, our “always on” lifestyle can cause anxiety, loneliness and stress. Our poor digital habits can also affect our ability to express empathy or create true connection. Some argue that social media is also destroying the basic art of conversation.
Are we paying any attention to this?
As Jerod Morris pointed out, the War on Attention is as real as the War on Truth.
Jerod echoes Cal Newport’s sentiments, highlighting that our greatest assets are under threat. To succeed as creators, makers and doers in our digital world, we are reliant on being able to pay attention and to focus.
We have a finite amount of attention. A lot of it is spent online. We regularly get pulled down attention-sucking rabbit holes that weren’t created to aid our learning, success or advancement.
Yet, we keep scrolling and clicking and being distracted by “them”. Why? Because many of “them” have been specifically designed to encourage addictive behaviour.
We need to question the value we’re getting from our digital actions and interactions. We need to take charge.
Here’s a few thoughts on how to maximise being minimal with your online attention…
Give some thought to just how much of your undivided attention is spent in front of a screen, instead of in front of a loved one? I bet it’s MORE than you think.
Tiny changes in behaviour can do you good, so start by practicing better digital hygiene habits. Put your phone away when you’re in company or working. Make time away from your screens, so that you’re more productive when you’re in front of them.
Get your butt outdoors MORE — here’s why. If not for yourself, then do it for your kids. Unilever research revealed that many kids are getting less than an hour of play time outdoors daily — less than people behind bars!
Our behaviours set the bar for others, so avoid being the perpetrator.
As with mental baggage and physical clutter, our magpie habits clog up the storage space on both our tech and mental hard drives.
Inbox contents. Crazy calendars. Photo out-takes. Music playlists. Old movies and games. Forgotten desktop files. Browser bookmarks. Web-clipped notes. Apps for one thing, some things, or everything. And then some.
“Perhaps it’s time for a spring clean?” she says, blushing with realisation.
Reduce, reuse, or swipe left and put ’em in the trash.
The creative process includes the need for space to just let ideas percolate. When we’re surrounded by digital noise, distraction, interruption and irrelevant content, it affects our ability to do that.
In this video, Cal Newport likens the onslaught of pings, dings, popups and notifications to a slot machine continually gambling for our attention. There’s a mismatch between our brain wiring, and the conditioning created from continuous exposure to intermittent, reward-offering stimuli.
Reduce the overload. Manage what you allow into your space, when and how. Which platforms, forums, chat groups, podcasts and newsletters are most relevant to the work you do? Where can you learn and contribute most effectively? When are good times to do so?
Choose quality over quantity. Minimize to maximize.
Our tech, digital and social tools are deeply ingrained in our lives. To enhance our experiences with them, we need to consider how we use them, and how we can improve that usage.
It doesn’t matter how aware we are of the situation, if we don’t take action to alter habits that are harming us. It doesn’t mean shunning technology, or our Twitter feed, for a cosy cave in the woods. It simply means being more responsible for ourselves when we use them.
Digital minimalism is a way of taking charge of our experiences, instead of letting them control us.
There’s always room for creating better alignment between our online and real-world selves. I’m keen to experiment more. How about you?
Thank you for your time and attention. Do share your thoughts, tips or experiences below, so that we can all learn.