Digital Minimalism: Live Better with Less Technology

In a world where people are getting ever-increasingly anxious, it’s quite evident that this worrying trend has coincided with the rise of new technology such as smartphones, social media, and streaming websites. In the last decade, it’s more common to text than call, you’re more likely to look for dates online than in person, and for a time it was more fashionable to poke someone on Facebook than speak with them in-person. Snapchat streaks provide a faux-closeness to your friends, while posting and watching Instagram stories has replaced checking-in with loved ones.

Noticing this, professor and author Cal Newport wrote the book Digital Minimalism, where he proposes that people can live better lives with less technology. In an environment where the most valuable commodity is our attention, it is us that are becoming the product for social media companies, while businesses looking for ad-space are now the customers. By becoming a digital minimalist, Newport claims we can rediscover the pleasures of the offline world and lead a better quality life overall.

Digital minimalism isn’t all about getting rid of technology completely, it’s more about making sure that you are using the technology instead of the other way round. It’s easy to become addicted to likes, notifications, and scrolling through feeds. In Digital Minimalism, smartphones are described as handheld slot machines. Our wonderful modern phones allow us to access countless sources of information and functions, but we must make sure they’re there for a specific purpose instead of a low-quality way to relieve boredom. How many times have you checked your phone for the weather, only to find yourself replying to messages or reading notifications, only to remember ten minutes later that you still don’t know whether it’ll rain later or not? The average person checks their smartphone around 100 times per day. You can probably only count on one hand the amount of times you do it intentionally as opposed to habitually.

The use of our smartphones are a prime example of the law of diminishing returns. Our phones serves us well only when we use them with relative infrequency. The more we use our phones, the more that the benefits of connectivity and access to information begin to wane. They start to become disadvantages as we begin to shy away from real-world interaction.

So it’s time to break the pattern and reclaim our leisure time for meaningful, offline pursuits. So how do we do it? Newport suggests that we take a 30-day digital declutter. That is, a month-long period where we cull optional technologies. This includes social media, streaming, junk-news websites, videogames – basically any technology that doesn’t adversely affect your personal or professional life. For some people, going cold-turkey on certain technologies may clash with important values, so in that case rules and restrictions can be made to cater for them. Once the 30-day period finishes, we can then reintroduce and redesign the way that we use technology as a supporting actor to our lives, instead of being front and center.

After reading Digital Minimalism, I have already made a few changes. I have started wearing a watch and have bought an alarm clock for my bedroom. This means I no longer need my phone to check the time, and I can now put my phone downstairs when I’m sleeping. This prevents me from waking up and immediately checking my notifications and replying to messages. If this method starts to fail, I might even go as far as putting my phone in my car overnight. I have banned myself from using my phone in bed – this has instantly meant that I go to bed earlier and fall asleep faster. I’m only allowing myself to charge my phone once a day, and with the battery being three years old, I will need to ration my phone use. I’ve uninstalled social media apps, news apps, and streaming apps. I’ll now have to use my phone browser or my laptop if I feel the need to use any aforementioned services. I’m only allowed to stream films or TV if I’m doing it with someone (however I will allow myself to watch live sport). And instead of texting someone I will now try to call them first before replying by text.

The amount of free time generated from putting our smartphones down will allow us to reconnect with a more old-fashioned, wholesome type of leisure: Playing board games, sports, reading books, taking walks, having real conversations. Instead of working out to a YouTube video, maybe it’s time to join a social fitness class like yoga or CrossFit. You might decide to call to check in with friends in the evenings instead of mindlessly scrolling social media to feel connected. Maybe you’ll even arrange to meet up in-person. Newport even suggests learning a craft, putting skills to use to create valuable things in the physical world – playing an instrument, learning how to weld, or putting together flat-pack furniture.

Newport also offers a few tips for when we do use our phones. Treating text messaging more like emails where we put aside a specific time of day to read and reply to text messages. If your friends or family need you urgently they will call you. Newport also writes that a good way to get around the anxiety people may feel when they think of calling us (and instead preferring to text), is letting contacts know you have conversation office hours – for example, that you are 100% available for regular catch-ups between 5-6pm Monday-Friday as that’s when you’re travelling home from work and would only be listening to music or a podcast otherwise.

In a time where optimization is the new obsession, is the key to slow down a little and embrace digital minimalism?

The Defining Decade: What People In Their Thirties Regret About Their Twenties

Contemporary culture tells us that our twenties aren’t that important. They’re for experimenting, travelling and generally fucking around. But Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade disagrees. As a clinical psychologist that mainly sees clients in their twenties and thirties, Jay wrote The Defining Decade to give readers an insight into how important the twenties can be.

The world is changing. Most people in their twenties are graduating from university to find that getting a graduate job in their field isn’t easy. Competition is higher than ever, and it seems more like it’s who you know rather that what you know that determines whether your applications will be seriously considered. As a result, many people in their twenties end up doing jobs that they’re overqualified for – jobs in bars, coffee shops or retail. Jay’s clients who end up in these positions often feel unhappy and disappointed. Too many of these types of jobs for too long can impact our future finances and career. Wages usually peak in our forties so we could be wasting valuable time to increase our earning power.

Jay recommends that people in their twenties focus on increasing their identity capital – the collection of skills, relationships, and professional resources that we build over our lives. This may be through taking a pay cut to work in a lowly job in a lucrative industry, in order to get your foot in the door and work our way up. A simple way summarizing it as Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad says, is: “Don’t work to earn, work to learn.”

A common problem Jay encounters while speaking to her clients is that they are anxious because they are comparing their situations to other people on social media. They’ll say “All of my friends are getting married and having babies,” when that is statistically very unlikely. The ones that are doing so might even be people they never talk to anyway, but just happen to be friends on Facebook. It’s important to remember that social media is usually a highlight reel, and even so, comparison is not necessary – what’s important is that you are working towards your own goals, not trying to imitate another’s.

There is a huge discrepancy to how people regard dating in their twenties compared to their thirties. People in their twenties tend to partake in the hook-up culture that has become more normalized over the last few decades. They often go into relationships with people that they know for sure that they won’t end up marrying, but they’re okay with it anyway. When people turn thirty, it can switch like a game of musical chairs when the music stops – everyone ends up pairing up with others, even if they may not be entirely compatible. Jay recommends that people in their twenties be more intentional with their dating so that they don’t have to rush or panic when they start to get a little older.

Jay also warns about the dangers of cohabitation with partners. People in their twenties often move in with their partners because of convenience, or to share financial costs. Before too long, they feel like the next stage is marriage, but they might not really be totally compatible for each other. This is what Jay terms “sliding, not deciding”. Jay recommends if partners are to move in together, to have a conversation about how committed they are to each other and where they see their relationship going in the future.

Another gripe that Jay’s clients often talk about is how their relationships with their family aren’t what they hoped or wished for. Maybe they felt neglected, unloved or unsupported. The good news is though, as an adult they can choose a second family through their partner – getting along with your partner’s family can be a large source of well-being and a sense of belonging.

In a study of people in their twenties, they rated that their most important goal in their life was to be a good parent, followed by having a good marriage, and then a good career. So if people know for sure that they want to have children at some point in their lives, they need to know this: Females become half as fertile from their peak in their twenties at age 30, they are only 25% as fertile at age 35, and 12.5% as fertile at age 40. That’s not to say that people in their thirties and forties cannot have children, but the chances of fertility issues or miscarriages are much more common, and it can be devastating. For men, quality of sperm decreases with age too, although it is not quite as drastic.

The biggest takeaway from Jay in The Defining Decade is that we must do the math on our lives. If we are planning on going to law school and becoming a lawyer, and then want to get married and have three kids after, then what age do you have to start law school? The answer most probably is right now!

For a lot of people reading in their late-twenties or early-thirties, the outlook can seem bleak. But it’s much better to know all this now before it really is too late.