30/100 — Hello, I'm gonna go become a digital minimalist

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Happy May!

As I already mentioned, a few days ago I had my third migraine within less than two months. On Monday I read a particularly trying work email on the S-Bahn, and almost sank to my knees with exhaustion. It then took another hour of sitting at my desk before the tears had retreated far enough for me to pick up the phone again.

You could say I’m not doing so great right now.

A lot of this is stress from the new job with, all its challenges. A lot of it is being in a new city, getting used to the environment, worrying about where to find a place to live, what to do on the weekend, and that ever-present question of whether I will ever have friends again.

Rest and quiet contemplation haven’t really featured on my schedule in 2019 so far, and that’s taking its toll now. The area I feel the most anxiety in is my technology use. I’ve long been aware that being near my phone gives me jitters, that I can’t tell the Instagram posts from the ads anymore, and that I get dangerously close to screaming at every new popup that interrupts something I’m doing. Every once in a while I find a nugget of information that I actually want (such as what my friend is doing on holiday), but overall, being online exhausts me.

That is, being online in the way I currently am. I hate the constant reaching for my phone, I hate that there’s barely ever anything worth looking at, I hate wasting hours on Youtube, and most of all I hate that throughout all the noise, I can’t hear myself think.

A few days ago, I bought the audiobook for Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. His concept of a “digital minimalist” sounds like someone in control of their life – someone who has figured out their own values, and only uses the technologies that best support those values. To become this kind of person, he recommends a 30-day digital ‘detox’.

Unlike the 30-day approach I already tried last year, Cal Newport’s system is somewhat radical: for 30 days, get rid of all optional technologies (‘optional’ being those that will not negatively impact your health or relationships when they are removed for a month). Use that time to recalibrate and figure out what your values are in life; what you really want to focus on. After the 30 days, reevaluate the apps and technologies you were used to, and only reintroduce those who fully help you live a life according to those values.

Today is May 1st, 2019. I’m starting.

Last night, I looked at each of the 55 apps on my phone and cut them down.

Some apps I’ve deleted (for the next 30 days at least):

  • Instagram

  • Netflix

  • Youtube

  • Pinterest

  • Messenger

  • Skillshare

  • VSCO

  • the Bullet Journal companion app

Some apps I’m keeping (because they are either essential or already in line with the kind of person I want to be):

  • Google Maps

  • Nike Run Club

  • Calm

  • Afterlight

  • the app my bank forces me to use if I want to transfer money

And here are some general rules for the rest of my digital use:

  1. no screens between 9pm and 7am

  2. max. 2hrs online time per non-work day (I’m using the TimeYourWeb Chrome extension to keep an eye on this; the only site not being counted is this blog)

  3. no Netflix on the small screen; the living room TV only

  4. max. 1 Youtube video per day

  5. max. 5 minutes of Twitter and Facebook per day (I’m promoting an event for mid-May, so I have to)

I will be keeping a few apps whose use I believe I already use appropriately (like Whatsapp and Spotify), but for the most part, I will be touching my phone as little as possible. Some of these rules are ones I’ve used before and I know they work (especially the 9pm–7am rule); I will see if anything needs adjusting during the next month.

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Here’s a bit from a conversation between Ryder Carroll and Cal Newport:

CN: Part of the unease people increasingly feel toward their online lives comes from the reality that they’re using these tools to escape from the hard but fulfilling work of cultivating a meaningful life. It’s easier to scroll through Instagram than to call a friend or read a good book, but it’s not necessarily better.

This is pretty much the way I’ve been feeling for quite some time now. Scrolling through Twitter is a lot easier than ‘the hard but fulfilling work of cultivating a meaningful life’, but I’m missing exactly that: a meaningful life.

I’ll report back if I’m getting closer to one over the next month.