Digital Minimalism in a Digitized World

In my quest this year to explore releasing what no longer serves to build or nurture me, I’ve been re-evaluating a lot of my habits. I have a few criteria that I’m using.

  1. Does it make me feel more connected to myself?
  2. Does it make me feel more connected to people with whom I want to connect?
  3. Does it instill me with hope, rejuvenation, inspiration, joy, etc.?
  4. Does it drain me?

I’ve been surprised to notice how much technology fails these questions, often with three no’s and the wrong yes.

Social media has increasingly become a dissatisfactory means of trying to connect with others. I find that I much prefer individual conversations either in person or through another means of distance communication. It also has long since ceased to instill hope and inspiration, much less joy. It’s draining…and I don’t feel connected to myself when I’m using it.

When I deleted social media apps off my phone, forcing myself to make more intentional choices about when I logged on, I began to notice a pattern: On days when I would log on and scroll for longer than a few minutes, I would feel frustrated, disconnected, and…almost dissociated!

Then I began to notice that a similar thing happened if I watched movies all day, played a video game all day, tried to write digitally all day.

Meanwhile, as I began to search for things to fill up the time that had previously been consumed by technology, I noticed that writing by hand left me feeling the opposite from writing by tech. Reading an actual book made me feel energized rather than increasingly lethargic. Working on a physical jigsaw puzzle made me feel focused rather than hazy.

The most poignant moment of this came when I was trying to force inspiration for writing on myself the other day. I was in a familiar pattern, sitting with my laptop on my lap and staring at a blank screen. I felt scattered and irritated the longer I sat, and the old itch to distract myself by flipping over to Facebook or Twitter took over.

Finally, out of sheer frustration, I shut my laptop.

I began to look around my living room, noticing my altar to welcome the spring, the tattered copy of Stephen King’s It that I’ve been trying to make my way through before the binding falls apart, pictures of friends and loved ones—things that served to remind me of what was important to me.

And then, I heard the ticking of the analog clock on the wall, a steady metronome of time.

I began to feel more at peace as I listened to the contentment of each moment having is second-long space before making way for the next. I re-entered my body. My thoughts cleared. I felt connected again.

Curious, I reopened my laptop, thinking maybe I could start writing. Instantly, I felt sucked back into this world of tension and fog. I could still hear the clock ticking, but the calm of it was gone. The pause of each moment was drowned by the hum of my digital tool. With my face staring once more at a blank screen, I could no longer see the world around me or feel my place within that world.

I closed my laptop again and sank once more into the peace of being physically, mentally, and spiritually present in the room with myself and time.

Whereas before I had planned to reward myself after writing by watching an episode of a show, I now realized I didn’t want to fritter away an hour in front of a screen for either purpose. I pulled out my journal and wrote, noticing the irony of no longer struggling with “what to write” once I had moved to long-hand. Then, I picked up my book and enjoyed a better escapist reward curled around actual paper and words, while the analog clock tick-ticked the moments contentedly by.

We live in a world where anything that exists in “analog” has also largely been digitized. From clocks to books to games to friendships. Some think that everything will be digital in the future, but I am increasingly interested in what it might mean to be a digital minimalist—someone who uses technology for intentional and specific purposes but who doesn’t make the television the center of the living room or computers the center of work and creative endeavors or the smartphone the center of entertainment and communication.

Technology is useful—necessary even if I want to participate in the modern world—but I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t need to be at the forefront of my world.

So I’m going to go work on sorting puzzle pieces with my friendly analog clock to keep me company.

 

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