Digital Minimalism - A Podcast Prologue
This week we’ve got a big and important podcast episode for you and I wanted to clear some the thoughts in my head for it prior to the recording because it’s a topic that I’m passionate about and have been studying a lot about in the past few years.
So before I go off rambling on the podcast I wanted to refine my thoughts and target the conversation to be actionable as well as perhaps eye-opening to some of our audience.
The topic is Digital Minimalism.
Who’s In Control?
Several books in the last few years have started to rally towards the need for more control when it comes to all the great and powerful technologies we have in our lives today. At the heart of digital minimalism is the realization that we are becoming slaves to our digital devices in many ways.
This sounds like some sort of sci-fi dystopian scare tactic but it isn’t. Not yet at least.
Technologies do a lot of great things for us but we are evolutionary beings with incredible susceptibility to the shiny object that stimulates the reward centres in our brains the most. This is what technologies like smartphones and social media apps do best, and not by accident. There are many scientists and engineers behind these technologies while their sole job being to make them as addicting as possible. The same people who design slot machines in casinos are working for companies like Facebook or inspiring the work of their software engineers.
Social media sites want you to stay on them longer, because as the whistleblowers and people making cautionary statements about social media say, we the consumer are the commodity being sold to the real customers who are the big companies and ad agencies buying ad space on the likes of social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Furthermore, these companies are taking ownership of the data of our lives - where we live, where we travel to, what we do every day, and the questions that we are Googling. These data points are refining our digital experience and also being sold for big bucks to the highest bidder wanting our personal data.
It sounds a little scary and it can be if you are an unwitting subject to this reality without making informed decisions and operating with some restraint and forewarning.
Is Social Media Really An Issue, Or Something We Need To Accept?
Many people on the opposite end of the spectrum say that there’s nothing wrong with this and it’s just the way the world works today but that’s not entirely accurate to say. Not only because it’s exploitation on our susceptible biology that we want the easy and immediate rewards in our lives - delayed gratification is a product of our consciousness and insatiable need for growth as human beings and not what we as animals have evolved to want to do. (Have you ever seen a dog pass up a treat in exchange for TWO treats later? NO! And not just because the dog will beg for more treats later).
But this delayed gratification is something that we can and often do as humans to achieve greater meaning. You can have your cake and eat it too but you’ve got to use moderation in the short-term to achieve those bigger goals.
The other reason that the argument that we just have to accept the way the world is today is missing the point is that excessive use of social media, which is ubiquitous, is harmful to our health. Social media has been correlated with an exponential increase in anxiety on college campuses. Social media researchers are showing that the ease of access to social media is making us feel more lonely and socially isolated. When it’s easier to jump on Instagram and double-tap that photo of your friend’s food rather than meeting to go out for dinner together and turn your phones off to have a deep and undistracted conversation or binge-watch Netflix instead of getting together with friends to go hiking when you feel a little “blah” it becomes a real problem for our ability to have those conversations and truly live as a tribe.
It’s true that we’ve far-surpassed our tribal connection which Dunbar’s number considers being 150 people and we may use that in a very empowering way to expand our reach and opportunities in this world but how many of those people would really be there for you if you needed them? That’s one of the issues and the dichotomy between having stable social relationships and those superficial relationships that “Liking” and “Retweeting” online give us.
So what can we do about it?
The Solution For Social Media Addiction
Recognize that feeling of malaise that you get when you’ve glued yourself to the couch binge-watching Game of Thrones (not to mention the sobbing uncontrollably when another of your favourite characters gets his or her head lopped off).
Recognize that you’ve swiped through all of the latest photos from your friends and all of their Stories are just pictures directing you to check out their feed post on their bio.
Recognize that there’s more to the world than what’s happening on the five-inch piece of glass glowing so bright that it affects your melatonin production and sleep quality.
And once you recognize, take small steps (or big ones) to make a change.
Digital Detoxes like the one Cal Newport suggests in his book Digital Minimalism are the best way to completely reset and pull the tentacles of addiction out of your skull for good. Small steps are less impactful but you’ll see pretty quickly how out of control of your brain you are when you try to check your social media profiles less than for the over 60 minutes a day we are on Facebook out of the 80 times per day we check our phones on average or reduce frantic email checking to one to two blocks per day.
We all lose our ways over and over again. Recognize that as well. There is no final solution, other than becoming a hermit and moving off the grid and into a cabin in the woods. You will get sucked back into the digital spiral again and again.
But just start again.
Do another Digital Detox, reduce your screen time. Turn your phone off at the dinner table. Check your screen time - all phones do it now - and reduce it by 10 minutes per day for a week. Then push that number a little further. Fill that time with something worthwhile to reduce the temptation.
Whatever strategy you choose to go with, your non-digital brain and body will thank you for it and you’ll be living with more meaning again.