We are often so enticed by the promises of modern digital life that we fail to notice its dangers. It’s that feeling of losing control that we get a dozen times a day, from when we tune out a discussion with our phones to when we lose our capacity to appreciate a private moment without feeling compelled to document it for a virtual audience.
In my first attempt to get control over my technology use, I turned off my phone’s notifications and configured it to vibrate rather than ring. Soon after, despite the fact that my device was set to mute, the act of continually checking for notifications became a habit, and I realised I had created a new problem.
I knew then that using only tips and tactics to permanently reform your digital life is difficult. To regain control, we must go beyond modifications and reconstruct our relationship with technology from the ground up.
We should go past the notification settings on our devices or apps and consider the more essential topic of why we use so many apps in the first place. What all of us who are struggling with these challenges need is a technology usage philosophy, something that addresses which digital tools we allow into our lives, why, and under what conditions.
Cal Newport, who is an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, defines Digital Minimalism as a “philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
Digital minimalists transform technology from a source of distraction into instruments to support a life well lived by working backwards from their inner values to their technology choices. They break the spell that has caused so many people to feel as though they are losing control of their screens by doing so. He then goes on to explain the fundamentals of digital minimalism:
Principle #1: Clutter is costly
“Digital minimalists recognise that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation,” Newport writes.
Principle #2: Optimisation is important
“Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step,” he explains. “To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology.”