- Digital Minimalism and The News
- The News Is Super Depressing
- Adult Conversation
- 30 Minute Digital Minimalism Challenge
- Beginning to think for yourself again
- Understanding Social Media
- Digital Minimalism Approach To Social Media
- The Bennett Principle
- Consequences of Excessive Social Media Use
- Seek out the positive and useful
- Avoid the negative and useless
- Be the boss of your smartphone
- Digital Minimalism and Netflix
- Summary of Digital Minimalism
Digital minimalism, as introduced to us by Cal Newport, may be the most important kind of minimalism we all need today. As a minimalist, or just someone seeking a better life, you always want to decrease the things that aren’t bringing you happiness and meaning in life.
Let me ask you something. How much has the news brought you happiness recently? When was the last time you logged into Facebook or Instagram and it gave you meaning?
If you’re like most people and it’s been awhile, perhaps it’s time to practice a digital minimalism approach to news and social media.
Digital Minimalism and The News
I’d say I’m probably one of the biggest news junkies I know. I like to know what’s going with political news, sports, and entertainment sometimes. But that can lead me to check Twitter a lot i my day. Often without even a thought in my head to think whether I want to or not.
If you’re like most people, this idea of turning into a mindless zombie feels unsettling. Wouldn’t we rather be more in control of our own choices? Here’s one digital minimalism tip that’s helped me to be more in control with my news habit.
You ever noticed that at a certain point you’re watching the news or scrolling your Twitter feed, you’re no longer learning anything new?
You’re just getting the same thing repeated to you from the last hour. Isn’t that crazy? Let’s imagine that idea in a different context. Would you read the same page of a book every hour? Exactly. You wouldn’t.
But here’s the thing about media corporations. They have to make money too. Even when there’s only old news, they have to keep reporting it like it’s new. So they’ll search as much as they can for a source that’ll tell them some new juicy detail. Then they’ll rush to report it as “Breaking News”.
Sidenote: It’s no accident that networks like CNN have “Breaking News” at the bottom of your screen most of the time. Because they know it’ll instantly draw your attention and keep it for a little while. Even if the “Breaking News” isn’t that significant.
The job of a news corporation (which let’s not forget is a business by the way) is not just to inform you, but to keep you watching. Keep you clicking. Because if you keep watching, you keep those ratings up.
If you keep clicking, you keep their web traffic up. And when you help them keep all those things up, that’s more advertising money for them. Millions and millions of dollars.
Recognizing how much the news business is merely repeated story telling and sensationalism helped me (and can help you) to recognize I wasn’t missing much by paying attention less.
As a matter of fact, by focusing more on my aspirations and things I enjoy in my life, I was feeling more joy and getting more done. There can be many consequences to watching and clicking on too much news.
The News Is Super Depressing
Let this sink in. The APA found that the more people watch news, the more feelings of anxiety and sadness increase. Because what we’re watching mostly is either somebody got killed, somebody got arrested, or everybody going crazy about Trump.
Is it me, or did it just get hot in here?
Some of you who are the biggest news junkies probably are because of politics. Depending on what side you’re on, you’d like to know if the Democrats are keeping Trump in check, or if Trump is owning the “liberals” again.
You’re either afraid the world is ending, or you’re afraid your country is being taken from you.
That about sums it up on both sides. But back to digital minimalism again. If our goals in life involve getting joy and meaning, one wonders where the joy and meaning is in all of that political drama? People talk about being politically engaged to make things better, but they rarely even get involved in their own communities.
Do we go feed the poor after we watch somebody yell about income inequality? Or on the other side, do we do anything to help women dealing with unwanted pregnancies while we’re listening to folks calling for bans on abortion?
This is the kind of stuff we can be doing, whatever we’re passionate about, instead of wasting our time watching people yell on TV or reading all the mean comments people say online.
As a result, we decrease our feelings of anger and depression, and increase our feelings of joy and meaning.
One of the biggest things research has shown about happiness is that giving back to others makes you happy. Altruistic behavior releases endorphins (that stuff that makes you smile) inside of you.
So go out in the world and help make people’s lives better. You’ll make people feel better, and you’ll make yourself feel better.
30 Minute Digital Minimalism Challenge
In Cal Newport’s book, “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World”, he recommends a 30 day break from certain technologies. If you’re really motivated enough to do it that’s great, but it’s possible that can be too much for some people to do.
If you’re in the latter group, here’s an alternative I call the 30 minute Digital Minimalism challenge. For one week, spend no more than 30 minutes checking the news online or on TV, or checking social media.
You could spend a few minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening. Write down your times on a piece of paper. Track how you feel throughout the week while doing it. You might see with each day that the challenge gets easier for you.
What I’ve found most profound as I followed the news less is that the world just keeps going on whether I’m watching it or not. So it doesn’t need my attention as much as I need my attention in making my life happy and meaningful.
Beginning to think for yourself again
So much of what we read or watch online related to news is no longer just reporting the facts of what happened. It’s also editorialized, or in other words, the news is told in a way that encourages us to have a specific opinion on it.
Whether you’re watching FOX News and being encouraged to have a conservative opinion, or CNN and MSNBC encouraging you to have a more liberal opinion.
I think what digital minimalism with news can accomplish is allowing you to take time to think for yourself. We can choose not to be passive in just taking the truth of a story we’re being told on TV or the internet at face value.
We can spend more time researching the truth of whatever is happening in our world. It’s best for us to gather our news from multiple sources to come our own informed opinion, and not someone else’s opinion on cable news or the internet.
Understanding Social Media
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I can barely even remember what life was like before they existed. But here we are. We have platforms that now allow us to be nosy about family and friend’s lives, or creeping on people we’ve never talked to in person.
No disrespect to anyone, I’ve been the nosy one too.
But then there’s the questions that always come up. How much does social media really help us connect more and be happy?
Cal Newport talks about an interesting concept known as the social media paradox. Social media can make us feel both happy and sad, connected with others and lonely. The point of practicing digital minimalism is to have less of the sadness and loneliness.
Numerous studies have linked excessive social media use to increased depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and many other mental health issues.
And you should know that the reason we’re looking at these sites so often is because of dopamine. What is dopamine? It’s a chemical that regulates pleasure in our brain.
Those social media sites are designed in such a way to activate those pleasure centers, making you want to keep clicking back. Periodic positive reinforcement in the form of likes.
Comments from others or seeing others receive lots of comments increasing your desire for social approval. Some people argue for these reasons social media addiction can be viewed as a real psychological problem.
So don’t be too hard on yourself if you struggle with starting your digital minimalism journey. Tech companies do shady things.
And maybe those shady things are perhaps even more reason to try decreasing your social media and technology use.
Digital Minimalism Approach To Social Media
So what do we do to cut back on this? First you have to decide you want to do it. Decide you want to take back the happiness and meaning social media stole from you.
Write down, “I’m going to spend less time on social media and more time on doing what makes me happy.” You can read it or say it out loud everyday to keep you encouraged.
Once you’ve made that decision, decide what you’re going to do instead of being on social media. Do you want to spend more time in person with your family and friends? Is there a hobby you’ve neglected that you want to get into again?
Decide that’s what you’re going to do instead of checking your phone and computer all the time.
Lastly, make a schedule. Some of you might be able to completely cut off social media, but others of you might have to gradually decrease your time.
Start off with committing to only 30 minutes a day on social media for a week. If you have any personal or professional obligations requiring social media, that can be excluded from the 30 minutes.
Schedule when you’ll have that time. You can break it down throughout the day or pick a specific time.
Keep track of your time on a piece of paper again, like a digital minimalist checklist. Then the next week, cut down to 20 minutes. Then 15 minutes, 10 minutes, and 5 minutes. Finally, then take the biggest challenge. Spend a whole week off social media (Yes, that’s possible.)
Sidenote: Funny (or gross) story. My girlfriend only checks her Instagram whenever she’s on the toilet. It keeps her from going “down the rabbit hole” of random crap she sees on there (no pun intended).
As you’re doing your digital minimalist exercise, write down how you feel. Figure out your ideal amount of time to spend on social media. Some of you may decide you don’t need to spend any more time on there. And others of you may think a few minutes a day works best.
Cal Newport recommends in his book to use the time off social media to spend on activities that you really enjoy in life. If you don’t know what those activities are, he suggests experimenting and trying new things.
I’d say look at it like a vacation. Relax and have the most fun you can with something not related to social media.
Once you’ve finished, determine from your week of writing what you missed and what you didn’t. Decide what technology you still view as having purpose in your life. Figure out how you can maximize that purpose without taking up too much of your time.
On a month to month basis, keep re-evaluating whether a technology you use is giving you the best use of your time. It’ll helpful in keeping you developing your most effective, productive, and meaningful life.
The Bennett Principle
Newport mentions this idea in his book, which I found to be one of the more interesting approaches to life. The Bennett principle argues that one should practice demanding activity over passive consumption.
Producing valuable things in the physical world with our skills, and purposely pursuing activities that require real world social interaction.
I think about how we spend most of our time essentially sitting and watching the world. Being influenced by those who are going out, doing demanding activity, and producing valuable things which change the world.
It kind of goes back to what I mentioned earlier about going out and being active in our communities rather than reading or writing mean comments on the internet.
And the idea of more real world interaction I think is a really important thing that should be increased during our practice of digital minimalism. Constantly communicating with these machines that are emotionless and hollow has a way of transforming us to be that way in our interactions.
And there are lots of scary and dangerous real world consequences that are playing out as a result of excessive social media use “hollowing” us.
Consequences of Social Media Use
One consequence of excessive social media use is our increased desire to film everything for likes and comments without concern for the seriousness of what’s happening in front of us,
This idea was fictionalized a few years ago in the TV show “Black Mirror”. The show does a great job of storytelling to make you think about how technology is impacting us.
But life has imitated art more with people filming school fights and other serious matters without any concern for the people being hurt. And then there’s people who take pictures of random people without their knowledge. Putting them online as a joke, and ruining their reputation.
All because of the value we give to likes and comments on a screen, versus thoughts and feelings in a person.
The consequences aren’t just what happens to other people, but what happens to ourselves as well. There have been unfortunately too many stories to count where people fall to the their deaths trying to get that perfect photo to post on social media.
We simply begin to care less about our personal well-being, and the well-being of others. Mean comments about people, ghosting people, posting people’s nude pictures, and the list goes on and on of the things that lead to somebody getting hurt.
More real world interactions can help remind us there are real people behind those screens. Perhaps the more we remember that, the more we’ll be empathetic to others around us, and to ourselves as well.
Think about some demanding activity that you could do. What can you create offline and in the world with the skill sets you have? Also, take time to participate in more group activities. It can help renew our sense of humanity through seeing how much all of us are the same.
Seek out the positive and useful
Cal Newport states in his book, “You want to arrive at the end of the declutter having rediscovered the type of activities that generate real satisfaction, enabling you to confidently craft a better life—one in which technology serves only a supporting role for more meaningful ends.”
The way I interpret this statement, technology isn’t all bad, and some of it can be positive and useful. I’ve learned a lot of helpful information from researching on the internet. I also enjoyed a lot of content that made me smile, laugh, and cry.
It should be true of anything we use in life that it should amount to positive and productive use of time. For me, when I’m working on something I’m passionate about like recording music, my technology has been productive.
When I watch a YouTube video that makes me laugh or read a happy story that makes me smile, that’s a positive use of my time.
So what is one of your real satisfactions in life? Take some moments to think about it. I know writing is one of my real satisfactions. I enjoy writing these blogs and journaling my thoughts from time to time.
Your real satisfaction might be playing music on your guitar. If it is, you can watch guitar videos on YouTube to develop your guitar skills. Or maybe writing is your real satisfaction too. You can start a personal blog.
That all seems to represent using technology to support a meaningful end. Growing yourself, and enjoying your real satisfactions in life more.
For news, you can apply the positive and useful method by seeking out more good news stories. There are plenty of websites dedicated to them. You could also find new health stories that can inform you of ways you can live a healthier life.
So with a majority of your internet, news, and social media usage, make sure the time spent is either positive, useful, or meaningful.
Avoid the negative and useless
What we think of as negative and useless can be subjective sometimes. In general though, try to avoid content that’s negative and useless to your deeper joys and meaning in life.
When we spend hours scrolling our Facebook news feed seeing how other people’s lives are going, we’re neglecting to live our own lives. It’s okay to want to know how people are doing every now and then. Just try to avoid making it an hourly habit.
You living your life is more important than always knowing how others are living their lives.
When we spend hours scrolling Instagram photos wishing our life was like what we see, we’re wasting time not doing the things we could to make our lives how we want.
Of course it should be noted most Instagram photos are edited in a way to seem more attractive than in reality.
Last but not least, when we spend hours arguing with people on Twitter, we’re missing our opportunity to go out and help make changes in our local communities.
Avoiding these useless or negative things can help us to be more intentional and purposeful in life. As a result, we can have more meaningful and valuable moments in life.
Be the boss of your smartphone
Often times our smartphones seem more like they own us, more than we own them. We’re almost like the dogs in Pavlov’s experiment. They were trained to drool at the sound of a bell alerting them food was coming.
Every time we get a ping on our phone, we’re trained to pick it up and start using it. Tending to them like we’re servants or slaves to their every buzz or sound.
And it’s amazing how we can be so focused on them we make silly mistakes like walking into poles or falling into water fountains. In some cases more serious mistakes like crashing a car (please don’t text and drive).
But you can remind yourself that you are the boss of your smartphone. That it’s in your life to serve your greater purposes. And if your greater purposes are for more valuable experiences in life, you can tailor your smartphone to help you with that.
Newport recommends deleting social media from the phone. He also suggests setting a specific purpose for the phone, and using it like a professional. While I don’t know own a smartphone, for me I’ve always used my phone mainly to talk to people (not text).
I see it as a more meaningful use of my time to hear someone’s voice instead of texting back and forth on apps like Whatsapp. It’s important we continue to still talk to each other. Hear each other’s voices to maintain our compassion for one another.
What are the bigger purposes that you can limit your smartphone to serving you for? Maybe setting your google news alert notifications to only alert you of new health practices. Perhaps setting up your phone in some way to only tell you of emergencies,
There are lots of different ways you can train your smartphone to only get your attention when it’s something important to your happiness or values.
Digital Minimalism and Netflix
Netflix, as well as YouTube TV, Hulu, and other similar platforms, can be argued as being the most time-consuming technologies today. More than news and social media. So much so, we’ve coined a term for it called binge watching Netflix.
But when we do things like binge watching, we waste hours of our day that could’ve been used for something more valuable. Getting out an exercising to keep up your health, or working on a creative project your passionate about.
And these platforms have been purposeful in keeping you wasting your time with auto-play settings that keep the shows coming at you in seconds.
So what’s the solution to this? Using the digital minimalism criteria, you have to adjust the usage of these platforms to maximize value for you.
Do you need to watch six episodes of Friends in a row to get a good laugh in your day? Maybe turning off auto-play and only watching one or two can give you enough of a laugh in your day.
Or if you’re the type of person that really likes to learn and gain new knowledge to improve your life, maybe you can reserve your Netflix usage to one or two documentaries a week.
Whatever the case may be, you can cut down your Netflix usage to a certain number of hours a week. Reserve the rest of your time for pursuing your goals and living your life out in the world.
Summary of Digital Minimalism
So here’s the takeaway message. News in moderation can be informative. Social media in moderation can keep you connected. But don’t let news and social media consume all of your time. And don’t let it rob you of the meaning and happiness in life you deserve.
While social media corporations may spend lots of money to keep you hooked on their websites like crack, you still have the power of choice. The power to choose what kind of life you want to live. The power to choose how you want to make the best use of your time.
With all the information and knowledge you’ve gained in this article and in Cal Newport’s digital minimalism, you have the tools for cutting down your news and social media, and becoming a digital minimalist.. And as you succeed in cutting down, you can be able to live a more meaningful life with each day.
Digital Minimalism articles you might like
How To Quit Facebook For Good and Start Living Again: I used to be on Facebook all the time. But I’ve been off my personal account for years now. In this article, I’ll share some digital minimalism tips focused on quitting Facebook for good. But even if you just want to limit your time on there, you’ll find the information helpful.
5 Experiences That Can Entertain You More Than Netflix: Are you looking for alternatives to binge watching Netflix? I offer some different and unique experiences that can possibly be more entertaining and meaningful for you than Netflix.
Why I’ve Never Owned a Smartphone: I mentioned this one in my article. I wrote a personal essay about my experiences not owning a smartphone. I also talk about whether I think I’ll own a smartphone in the future. You can read more of my personal thoughts on how smartphones are influencing us.
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