Several years ago, I decided to forego the mainstream pressure of having the latest gadgets and instead moved to uncomplicate my relationship with technology. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I used to love gadgets. In fact, I still do. Except now, the only devices that I keep in my life are the ones which serve a specific purpose. But before I get too preachy, let’s back up a moment. If you’re reading this article, you are probably curious as to why I chose to uncomplicate my relationship with technology, or perhaps just wondering what the heck that means. Maybe it’s best if we start at the beginning.
What is digital minimalism?
In a nutshell, digital minimalism is a lifestyle choice, a movement even, where people question how they use technology in service of living a life that prioritises real world experiences over digital noise. The key to understanding this sub-culture of minimalism is in the name it shares with its parent, minimalism. Only, it’s not just about having less of something, but rather, getting more out of life.
Digital minimalism is less about counting the devices you own, and more about examining the relationship you have with them.
But how does that vision statement translate to everyday life? How does one actually life a richer life? Do I have to get rid of all my toys? Well, not really. Digital minimalism is less about counting the devices you own, and more about examining the relationship you have with them. It asks whether endlessly scrolling through a social media feed, constantly fidgeting with your phone or waiting for the next dopamine-delivering notification is truly worth sacrificing your precious time for? It’s a mindset centred on evaluating the best ways to utilise digital communications tools to live a life of meaning, intent and purpose. Be it social media, apps, devices or any other piece of digital technology, everything that potentially gets between you and the outside world is up for review.
With that in mind, the focus of digital minimalism should hopefully be getting clearer. The aim is to move away from tech that demands our attention and causes us to sacrifice joy in the process of using it. Does an app, service or device act more akin to a tool, something that enables you to get somewhere or do something faster or more accurately than before? That would make it a good candidate for keeping in your life, as it is something that adds value. Conversely, does an app that blasts you with notifications, inviting you to re-open it and re-engage with algorithmically targeted content (for fear of missing out), is purpose-built to steal your attention and keep you glued to your screen sound like a good time? The key takeaway here is being able to sort out what brings value to your life and what tech is wasting your time.
For those who are keen on learning more, I’d strongly recommend searching out Cal Newport and his excellent book on this topic.
How I adopted a minimalist mindset
So, a few years back I would have considered myself pretty far from being a digital minimalist. I wasn’t what you’d call a maximalist (in fact the opposite), but I was definitely living a life that was less purposeful. That said, I got into this movement by being somewhat adjacent to it, which did make the transition pretty smooth.
I prided myself on having the latest tech, and it burned a hole in my wallet with each new season of releases
You see, I was already a minimalist in other areas of my life. Everything I purchased had to have a purpose, there was no random crap in my household. My small bookshelf was filled with my favourite books, the few that I deemed worthy of owning a physical copy of. Everything else lived on my Kobo or as a PDF. My clothing was functional and interchangeable, with a closet filled with logo-free, timeless pieces. I regularly turned down gifts, with my nearest and dearest knowing I was far more interested in experiences that physical goods. When people came over, they would remark as to how clean and large my place looked, when really all I did was keep it tidy and let each piece of furniture, each element in my home, have the space to breathe and shine.
That said, I still had social media, multiple mobile phones, laptops, computers and several other gadgets, all with their own ecosystem of apps, notifications and chargers. I prided myself on having the latest tech, with each new release season burning an ever-larger hole in my wallet. Somehow, my minimalist lifestyle hadn’t spread to this area of my life.
Fast forward a few years and us Windows Phone users (yes, I was a die-hard supporter of the ‘third OS’) had it rough. Or so it seemed. For me, it was as if smartphones were never really a thing. Try as they might, Microsoft’s modern mobile play never really took off. The devices were sleek, fast and spec-competitive, but the apps and market share never came. They pulled out every trick, building an OS that advertised itself as ‘glance and go’. Life tile widgets and app-feeds aplenty were an attempt to change the narrative and eschew the notion that there was an ‘app gap’ by minimising the need for them altogether. For instance, you could see all your contact’s social updates without ever having to open an app. Bet that made the social media companies real happy.
As friends with iPhones and Android devices got the latest apps, Windows Phone users were left out in the cold. Without market share, developers wouldn’t bother to port apps, even with increasingly easier methods to do so and financial backing from Microsoft. And without apps, users weren’t interested in jumping on board. It wasn’t long before Microsoft pulled the plug, after sticking it out for nearly a decade.
Yet, somewhere along the way I failed to get the memo about having to live with my smartphone as an extension of my body. Because my device was more functional and not flashy, designed to get you in and out as quickly as possible, I never felt like I was truly missing anything. I was the guy who didn’t have his head buried in a screen, but instead was looking at the sunset at the beach. And when it came time to finally buy a new phone, I opted for a bare-bones Samsung A Series which could hold my required work apps. To this day, I only have about 20 apps, most of which are system apps I can’t delete. Still, I yearned for something else, an even lighter mobile experience, a phone that didn’t have a 6.5inch screen nor a 6-camera array that I rarely use.
In researching such a device, I came across the Light Phone 2 (see our recent unboxing and two-year review). No social media (the few accounts I had left I would close in 2019, a tale for another day), no email, no distractions. Tools, not feeds. On the days I left the house and took a phone, it would be the Light Phone. It was liberating. Just like my Windows Phone, I never felt like I was missing out. I was present, drinking in all the smells, sights and tastes that the world had to offer. Time spent with friends was much more engaging, dinners out were screenless.
Around the same time, I picked up my Garmin fēnix. Unlike other ‘smartwatches’, its focus is on precise exercise and activity tracking, packed full of sensors and features to help you get the most out of running, hiking and strength training, among other sports. And when not in use, it fades away, turning into a rugged watch that just tells you the time. I have no notifications configured, no caller alerts, nothing. Just the time, and some useful tools, like a compass, timer, alarm clock and step counter.
No distractions in my pocket, or on my wrist.
After the freedom I’ve experienced, the life I’ve lived, there is just no going back to pawing at a screen.
The same is true of the tech that remains in my life. My Surface Book 3 (upon which I am penning this very article) is a trusted writing device, sometimes video making machine from which I run AMR. A dedicated media-centre serves as my Plex-box, with all manner of digital entertainment available should I choose to chill. It’s hooked up to my LG 4K TV, which has no connection to smart apps or any digital TV channels, in part because I refused to sign over the rights to have my activity tracked. And I don’t miss a second of reality TV (not that I ever watched it). The theme of my digital life is as follows; if I need it, I can/will get it. Otherwise, I’m good.
The benefits of a simpler life
Look, I’m no digital luddite or technophobe, in fact, I’m the opposite. I can appreciate innovation and follow the tech industry with a genuine interest. But after the freedom I’ve experienced, the life I’ve lived, there is just no going back to pawing at a screen. My days are richer, experiences deeper and life much fuller, without the need to seek status updates. If a new laptop comes along with a faster processor, I’m happy for the people who genuinely need it, but I can wait. Notifications don’t rock my world, experiences do.
If you are struggling with time management, feel that your life is boring, are constantly throwing money at the next upgrade or are just plain overwhelmed with all the tech, apps and devices in your life, then you might want to consider digital minimalism. No, you don’t have to live like a monk. Just take a few minutes and stroll through the internet, start to research this mindset. There’s plenty to gain (and some things to lose).
We can all agree that life is for living, for actual connections and meaningful moments. Digital minimalism has helped me and countless others life a more purposeful life. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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