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Digital Minimalism – Getting your attention back
If you’re an average person, you can probably admit to spending a little too much time staring at bright rectangular screens. Can you imagine someone from 100 years ago observing the behaviour of the average person today? It would look like something out of a dystopian novel! And in a lot of ways, we are already in one. Just minus the flying cars and the electric sheep.
Historically speaking, the “normal” behaviour within a group statistically gave the highest chance of safety and ultimately reproducing. Maybe that’s why alarm bells don’t normally sound off when we partake in these behaviours that would look so alien to people from another time because everyone else is doing it too.
You have probably noticed this yourself. Go on public transport and try and find someone not staring at their phone and endlessly scrolling. Sure, there are some stragglers. But I guarantee the majority are partaking in this behaviour.
It is important to make a distinction here. Technology isn’t bad, far from it. However, when the internet was just starting out it was never intended to be used the way it is now. It was always intended to be a tool for information and for connecting people. But, maybe not like this. Feeling like you’re on call 24/7 is draining and not sustainable. A forever connected mind is a chaotic mind, and a chaotic mind is not healthy.
Are soical networks serving you?
Ignoring the massive invasion of privacy these companies commit by hoarding our data, it is no secret they have spent billions on social engineering in order to steal as much of your attention as possible in order to profit. Remember: if a service is free, you’re the product.
The addiction can creep up on you until eventually, you find yourself picking up your phone and endlessly scrolling on complete auto-pilot, forgetting why you actually needed to pick up the phone.
In my own experience, ironically I have found that deleting my social networks has actually improved many of my relationships as I tend to spend more dedicated time with them or talking directly to them on the phone. And the friends who didn’t want to bother faded away from my life, and that’s okay too.
Make no mistake, some people will disappear from your life. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Making yourself a little bit harder to reach will highlight the people who you thought were your friends that don’t make the effort. Those who care will be happy to accommodate.
Assessing your smartphone needs
A current-day smartphone can do almost anything, and so you would think they would be a minimalist’s best friend, right? The amount of items it can replace is beyond belief! Why wouldn’t you want a single device that can do everything? On paper, it’s more convenient, cheaper, and certainly takes up less space than having dedicated devices. And in theory, yes I agree. But when your apps are intentionally engineered to distract you, that’s when using them becomes problematic. The smartphone is both the solution and the cause of many problems, and maybe that’s what makes it so difficult to give up.
Well, what’s the solution? Your first instinct might be “I’ll just delete the apps”. And this makes sense too. But redownloading them takes less than a minute and just a couple of clicks, so sometimes it is better to just remove your options.
Personally, I think using a feature phone is the way forward. A phone that does what it is supposed to do. Phone calls and texts. More of an emergency device than anything else. But, if you need to use a smartphone for work purposes, here are some things you can do to make it a little less distracting:
- Go into the display options and turn your phone to grayscale, and change your background to pure black. This makes your phone less aesthetically pleasing and distracting.
- Turn off all notifications.
- Delete every app that can be accessed via desktop instead
- Get a dedicated alarm clock! Turn the phone off at night and put into a different room in your house. Your bedroom is for sleeping in, not being connected to the rest of the world.
- (Android) Get a third-party launcher (like Nova launcher). These allows you to hide apps from the app drawer, specifically the ones that may come preinstalled that you can’t remove.
For everything else, it is worth getting a single-purpose device. And the major plus is that the vast majority perform the task better than a phone ever could. For example:
- A dedicated camera will take better quality and more memorable photos
- A dedicated MP3 player will sound better (when you’re not distracted while listening)
- A dedicated flashlight will be much brighter and farther
- A dedicated gaming device will provide a more immersive experience
Simplify, then optimise your desktop environment
If your files and folders are scattered everywhere, you are going to spend wasted time trying to find them. Spend an hour or two completely reorganizing your directory. A file should never be more than 5 clicks away.
Modern computer storage can hold more files than you could ever possibly need. However, unused space is not wasted space. If you no longer have a need for a file then get rid of it completely from your system, don’t just organize it nicely.
This goes for your smartphone too (if I haven’t convinced you to stop using one). How many times have you wanted to show a friend a photo but have needed to scroll through hundreds and hundreds of icons trying to find it?
If you would like to try this cautiously, one solution is to put all the files you “think” you won’t need onto an external drive and put them in a folder named “Delete by XX/XX”, with the date being a year from when you put them there. If you need a file, great, put it back onto your main computer. If you never open it by the due date, delete it forever.
Internet free days
When too much of something becomes normal, your appreciation for it wanes. It becomes standard. When is the last time you went a full day without looking at a single screen?
I challenge you! Go for a full, entire day without using a device that is connected to the internet. Notify your friends and family in advance, do whatever you need to do. Just try it, and see how it goes. If everyone on the planet before 20 years ago could do this, I’m certain you can too. And if this becomes easy, maybe even try a day without screens completely. And if you’re really hardcore, maybe try a day without electricity. It doesn’t hurt to challenge your dependence on things we now take for granted.
Having days devoid of such constant stimulation will feel horrible at first. You will crave it, you will try to justify to yourself that someone might need you and that there’s no harm in checking your devices. But that soon passes. It is worth it.
Accept that you will be judged
Sadly, going against the grain in ways like this is considered by some to be a red flag. But that’s okay. If you’re strong enough to reject modern social norms then you’re strong enough to ignore those that may judge you. If you get anything from this is post, please remember this one thing:
If you behave the way other people do, you will get the results that other people have
Remember that quote when you wonder why the average person is so out of shape, miserable, distracted and foggy minded. It’s never too late to make a change in your life.