Recently updated on: October 21, 2023
TL;DR - Digital minimalism is the digital counterpart of physical minimalism or owning fewer things. While they may differ, they both aim to reclaim our lives from the things that take too much of our time.
Last January 2021, I started reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, and it has been an eye-opener for our device-dependent generation. It revealed the dangers of our overindulgence in the attention economy, primarily through our smartphones and social media.
If we look at minimalism, I can say that physical minimalism is a little bit simpler because we can quickly identify the clutter in our surroundings. However, the clutter is not visible when it comes to our digital counterparts, and its dangers are not obvious. This is where digital minimalism comes in.
While reading Cal Newport's book, I became curious about how much time I spent on my smartphone. Using the ActionDash app to check my screen time, I found that I spent too much time on Mobile Legends, Facebook, Netflix, and Twitter.
Looking at my screen time statistics for the last ten weeks before January 15, I found that I was spending this much time on the following apps:
- Mobile Legends - 2 hrs and 30 mins per day.
- I also had 3 days when I played ML for more than 6 hours.
- Facebook - 1 hr and 36 mins per day.
- There were 23 days when I spent more than 2 hours.
- Twitter - 25 mins per day.
- There were multiple days when I spent more than an hour.
- Netflix - 1 hr and 18 mins per day.
- There were 11 days when I spent more than 2 hrs.
- YouTube - 24 mins per day.
- There were 5 days when I spent more than an hour.
- Reading App - 24 mins per day.
- There were only 5 days when I spent more than an hour reading.
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Putting the numbers in perspective:
Along with the hours I spent on specific apps, I found out that I am using my phone an average of 8 hours and 19 minutes per day.
According to a report, the average daily time Filipinos spend connecting to the Internet on any device is 9 hours and 45 mins. In connection, Filipinos use the Internet on mobile devices for about 5 hours and 11 minutes per day.
Looking at these numbers, I realized how much time people spend and waste on the Internet and mobile devices, which could have been spent on other, more productive aspects of life.
So, to change my habit of spending too much on my phone, digital minimalism seems to be a good solution.
The Attention Economy
Only drug dealers and software companies call their customers 'users'.Edward Tufte
In the age of Information, most digital products are competing to gain a limited resource -- our attention. That is why attention engineers are researching how their users will spend more time on their products (such as social media).
They discovered one effective strategy is giving small hits of dopamine for every reaction your post receives, such as likes or comments. These small rewards are needed to keep us engaged in their apps for as long as possible.
This led me to start a personal challenge to place barriers and inconveniences on my smartphone (and laptop) to limit my usage and decrease my screen time. This became my digital minimalism challenge.
My Digital Minimalism Challenge:
Last January 15, I decided to take on the digital minimalism challenge by doing the Minimalists' digital version of the Packing Party.
First, I uninstalled all of my commonly time-wasting apps on my phone, including the following:
- Mobile Legends
The rule is simple. I can reinstall an app if I find the absolute need to use it without other alternatives. If I really want to check social media, I'll have to use my laptop, which is not as convenient as my phone.
I also canceled my Netflix subscription to save up a few pesos while also redirecting my time watching shows on the platform to other activities, like writing on this blog.
Though I spent most of my time on Mobile Legends before taking on this challenge, I replaced it with a more productive game of Chess.
Since then, the only apps that I reinstalled are NBA to check the daily scores and stats of the games and Instagram to share some book excerpts and Bible verses in IG stories.
In the first few days of digital minimalism, I noticed that I still have the urge to check my phone, only to realize that I don't have any social media apps on it.
The urge may be due to the habit formed during several years of non-stop social media usage.
After a week, I became more accustomed to life without the convenience of smartphone apps. I also brought down my daily smartphone average to 4hrs and 46min which is almost half the time I previously spent on my phone.
Of the 4+ hours I spend on my phone, 1 hour of it is dedicated to reading and writing, which is still more productive than just mindlessly scrolling on my news feed.
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
One of the primary reasons we use our phones more than we need to is the fear of missing out (FOMO). We think that while we are away from our devices, important events are happening around us, and we are missing out - resulting in anxiety.
The subconscious urge to check my phone is why I turned off all the notifications on my phone and unfollowed many people and pages. I also realize that important events and news will always have a way to reach you.
We have more time than we thought.
Many of us think that we don't have enough time to do other things like exercise, read, or explore different hobbies. But since trying out digital minimalism and bringing down my daily mobile phone average, suddenly, I have more time.
Suppose you ever watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. In that case, you probably know that most of these sites were specifically designed to keep their users engaged as long as possible.
And if we don't disconnect as often as possible, then there will be more detrimental consequences, if not now, then in the future.
I found more time since doing this personal challenge to try digital minimalism and will continue to do so. I will also avoid using my smartphone to distract myself or simply pass the time.
I'll also try to challenge other people, especially my friends, family, and students, to lessen their screen time.
Smartphones, the Internet, and social media are not inherently bad, but they can be dangerous if not properly handled. We need to know how to use them correctly, adequately, and within set rules and limits.
We can also reallocate the time spent on social media into more productive activities that will be useful in the future. Reading, exercising, meditating, and personal interactions are a few activities that always pay dividends.
Digital minimalism is only the start of my journey towards a more balanced and fulfilled life away from the noise and clutter of social media and the Internet. I hope that through this post, you can also be challenged to try it.