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Digital Minimalism

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Madonna was a Material Girl living in a material world. All these years later, we’re living in a digital world but we’re still human beings. We are moving towards an Internet of Things so all of our devices are synched. We have developed such an intense reliance on the Internet, jumping from device to device and spending so much time staring at screens, even our fridge has internet access. Alexa, have we gone too far? 

Alexa, is this healthy? 

We work online, socialize on our phones, then use apps in our free time to relax and watch TV, read a book, or play video games. Constant flashing lights, notification sounds, and distractions test the limits of our multitasking abilities. Not to mention the build-up of digital noise that pulls focus from our day-to-day lives. 

The negative impacts of our digital lives

Spending extensive time online is taking its toll on our physical and mental health. Digital eye strain, also known as Computer Vision Syndrome, is becoming a growing issue. Staring at screens for a prolonged period of time is causing eye strain and other vision issues. 

In addition to the toll on our eyes, there’s also a connection between ADHD and excessive screen time, and Internet addiction. People with undiagnosed ADHD can be more likely to develop an internet addiction. This can be a huge concern because it can complicate or exacerbate existing ADHD symptoms. Plus, who wouldn’t develop a touch of ADHD with constant distractions begging for our attention?

The solution is not an unplugged life. As great as it would be to buy a tiny house or tour America in a souped-up Winnebago, you still have to use the Internet at some point. Whether for work, to connect with people, or even just paying your bills, you’ll need to use your screens.

Cutting back on digital clutter

One way to cut your screen time and save your sanity is to deal with the build-up of digital “clutter” that can build up in our lives.  We scroll past countless photos in our camera roll, unread emails, excess files, or unused apps that can add to our screentime. Plus, it can increase the number of distractions on our devices. 

The solution just might be: digital minimalism. Coined by author Cal Newport, in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Newport has created a holistic approach that takes the “less is more” mentality of the minimalist art and design aesthetic and applies it to our digital lives. 

To maximize your digital life or screen time it might involve using less: fewer notifications, less apps on your phone, and keeping fewer files. Rather than doing more on the Internet and falling down the rabbit hole, you more efficiently manage your digital space, optimize your time on the Internet, and focus on being intentional rather than reactive. These skills would serve you not just in digital minimalism but in life.

Digital minimalism is a mindset of questioning which digital communication tools are necessary for your happiness. Whether it emails, social media, or general internet consumption, the purpose of this philosophy is to question whether or not they add value to your life. 

Here are a few tips to begin your digital minimalism journey.  

1. Turn off notifications 

Does checking that social media notification turn into you getting sucked into 10 minutes of mindlessly scrolling? Does this serve you? Apps are designed to be used and while they want your eyes glued to the screen, your time is more important. Shutting off the barrage of notifications from your social media, ridesharing, and even your coffee ordering app just might benefit you. It will also help you better see which apps are essential and even belong on your phone. 

2. Schedule screen time

Scarcity adds value. Rather than let notifications pull focus, why not set times to check certain apps? Social media notifications can feel emergent, mostly because they’re designed that way. It’s like Pavlov’s dog and we’re salivating to get more likes. But the same likes will be there if you check your device after work or social media every morning. Setting the time can actually help you enjoy it more, get more done, and use it intentionally. 

3. Stop digital hoarding 

By simplifying your digital space, you can make the most of your actual time online. You spend less time scrolling through what you don’t want to see. Over time, this visual efficiency can actually help you carve out more quality screen time rather than passively sorting through disorganized files or scrolling past files you’ll never use. 

One key to organization and clarity can be to delete all nonessential emails, apps, and photographs. Marie Kondo your device. Does it spark joy? Is it necessary? You can always back up these extra files to your cloud, computer, or drive, but keep them in a place where you can organize them in a system that serves you. This will keep you from having to waste time scrolling. 

4. Less is more (app edition)

Do you know what apps are doing in the background of your phone? While regulations are changing regularly in the wake of data security and privacy, apps do still collect your data. No app is “free”; they’ve just monetized your data that they collect from it just sitting in the background. Not only will fewer apps reduce the visual clutter on your phone, it will also cut scrolling time, and add more space on your drive. Trimming the app fat can increase the speed on your device because there aren’t as many apps working in the background.

5. Unplug…but really do it

Part of the problem with our go, go, go culture is that we never actually unplug. We forget how restorative it can be to not be staring at a screen. Binging a show until you fall asleep from exhaustion is not the same as turning off all your devices and journaling, having a conversation with a family member or something in the real world and off of the Net that can replenish us. 

Rather than scouring the Net for something to help us relax, maybe explore the power of not being on your phone. Ironically, one app you may want to download is one of the apps that can help you limit your screen time. Apps like Digital Wellbeing, Screentime, and Moment can support you by tracking your screen time and giving you a real picture of how much time you’re spending on your phone. 

Our lives are getting more complex. But if most of that time is spent staring at a screen is that for the better? Digital minimalism can help you set more intentional boundaries with your devices, optimize your online usage, and simplify your life. You increase efficiency because you aren’t absentmindedly scrolling through tons of photos, emails, and apps. Instead, you’re working through a clear picture of what you want to see with a clear idea of how long you want to be staring at a screen.

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